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Posted: Thursday, 17 May 2018 13:09

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CMB 2018: Concours Mondial in China More than Wine Competition

May 17: Concours Mondial de Bruxelles held in Beijing from May 10-13 was a hugely successful 25th edition, ably and enthusiastically supported by the Haidian District of Beijing with excellent hospitality, opulence and efforts making it the most memorable Concours that moves to its home territory of Europe next year, writes Subhash Arora who participated for the 10th consecutive time; it was also his 60th international wine competition, with all eyes now on the town of Aigle in the French-speaking Canton of Vaud in Switzerland on May 2-5, 2019

The 25th  edition of the travelling Concours Mondial de Bruxelles appeared to have finished too soon,  with various activities keeping the judges from 330 countries including 68 from the host country really busy for 4 days. There were visits to Dajue Temple, Huawei Exhibition Center and Cuihu Wetland Park in the morning, followed by a plethora of wine master classes on Chinese wines by experts like Li Damei that saw the venues overflowing with people.  The Welcome Dinner showcased Chinese culture too, what with the live presentation of making Peking Duck by three Chefs on the stage and plenty of music, dances and sumptuous food setting the tone for the next 3 days.

Mornings were busy for tasting and judging (imagine, tasting wine at 8 30 in the morning! It might even be frowned upon in some countries!) 50 wines every day, with 5-6 judges assigned to 65 panels, each headed by a President (including Arora). Afternoons were meant to soak in Chinese culture and plentiful food with visits to wineries and the Summer Palace. Since I had been to wineries like Dragon Seal  and the Lion before, I took advantage of the proximity of the Great Wall of China, a UN Heritage site and huffed and puffed walking up the wall from Northgate side.  

It is never easy to organise a mega competition like CMB outside the comfort zone of the home base. But the organisers seem to have mastered the art of organising such events in any location. Bringing the wines in a charter plane might not have been the biggest challenge, nor the customs clearance thanks to the paperwork so meticulously handled at the airport. The Haidian District officials ‘extended immense help and in the process, learnt about how to handle such affairs in future’, says Thomas Costenoble, the Managing Director of CMB.

One marvels at the way they trained the local Chinese youth to serve wines like professionals and the back-end IT work required maintaining the highly professional standards. ‘We have been working with the Chinese hosts for around 4 years now-the first 8 -10 months were only to develop contact and relationship. The hosts have been extremely co-operative with us in organising the staff for the competition- we have been training them for weeks, some even months,’ explains Thomas. The Sommelier at our table and the IT girl assigned to our panel were both university students, trained for their respective non-wine related jobs. The diligence and discipline they are used to, helped them perform seamlessly, making it a highly professional event-as good as in any European country.  

The 25th edition of Concours Mondial de Bruxelles (CMB) was also a momentous occasion for Subhash Arora; it was the 10th Anniversary of his judging at the Concours. Six judges including him were given the Golden pin recognising their 10-year presence at CMB, by Baudouin Havaux, Chairman of the Competition on the second day of the tasting. Incidentally, it was also the 60th international wine competition in which Arora took part.

For the first time in the history of CMB, tablets (MI) were used in lieu of the paper score sheets. Smaller competitions like Cata d'Or Wine Awards in Santiago and Hong Kong IWSC where I have been judging for years, have been already using computers for scoring. But when you scale up to 65 juries and 330 tasters, it’s not an easy task. Your software could be perfect but if the internet is on the blink, as it did on the second day, you could be in a mess. Thomas Costenoble, Director had the vision to keep the Plan B ready;  after 5 minute-wait, the system was back on paper score sheets-ready for such an eventuality. However, the third and last day was smooth and it can only get better from here.

Breathing Swiss Air CMB style

The travelling competition CMB moves to Aigle, the historic capital of the district of Aigle in the French- speaking canton of Vaud in Switzerland on May 2-5, 2019. Dai Binbin, the chief of Haidian district of Beijing, the venue for this year’s competition, handed over the Concours Mondial wine glass to Frédéric Borloz, the Mayor of Aigle. Earlier, in an eclectic speech H.E. Mr. Jean-Jacques de Dardel, the Swiss Ambassador to China talked about the wine heritage of Switzerland and in lighter vein said that Swiss wines were not exported enough since the Swiss preferred to drink up their own fine wines.

But he was happy that their bid to host was accepted by the organisers, giving them the opportunity to explore the local gastronomy Swiss was so well- known for.  (Costenoble explained that they received on the average, one request a month to host the event!) The Swiss had brought 4 musicians to bring in the Swiss element in the Concours. Later, they hosted a buffet lunch at the nearby island of Maya Gardens with a taste of Swiss wines –Petite Arvine wine from their indigenous grape seemed to be the darling of the judges.

Closing Ceremony at Yu Xian Du Royal Cuisine Museum was very impressive – with gastronomy playing a key role in the evening programme with a Royal feast accompanied with Chinese wines, interspersed with a few speeches and a lot of Chinese Royal dances and opera. There was also a riveting dance performance by Chinese girls to a Bollywood song. Before the 400 guests sat down in the beautifully decorated banquet hall in Chinese colours and style, the sponsors had got people hungry after the hostess/guide took them around the museum with a virtual history of several dynasty cuisines including the last Ming dynasty.

With the guide taking you through various historical periods, with hundreds of dishes displayed through electrical and electronic medium, and you enjoying the beautifully plated dishes signifying different dynasties, it worked like an appetiser.  When they finally took their seats at the big circular tables, elegantly decorated in Chinese Royal tradition, the mood was majestic. The food was equally royal, with over a dozen dishes including the Peking Duck, meatball soup and the most delicious chicken-roasted in Chinese style on offer. You could serve yourself from the serving dish brought on the table by girls dancing on the ramp; it was so well- cooked at low temperature that one could remove meat from the bones merely by using chop sticks There were wines, plenty of Chinese tea but it seemed irreverent to request for water or extra serving plates at the table.  What stole people’s hearts more than even the palates and the opulent ambience, was the infinite number of dances performed at the stage hooked up with a long ramp-full of dancers- very ceremonious , with delicious food served concurrently.

China has proved again that if anyone can do some job, they strive to do it better; financial constraints do not seem to limit their enthusiasm. They turned the wine judging event in to an extravaganza. It would be futile for Swiss or other future hosts to try to better it –though they certainly can be different- unless the Concours is held again in another region of China... or perhaps India which had the Indian flag in the ceremonial line up in the tasting room thanks to the three invited judges but unfortunately there were no Indian wines to judge.

Video : Judging at Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, Beijing

Subhash Arora



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