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Posted: Monday, 13 May 2019 08:14

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Concours Mondial Bruxelles 2019 in Switzerland with a Difference

May 13: The 26th edition of Concours Mondial Bruxelles, world’s largest travelling international wine competition concluded successfully on May 5, with 9150 wines tasted by 340 judges at the UCI World Cycling Center in Aigle in Vaud region, smoothly as if it were being held at the same for the past 25 years with no challenges of logistics and a new city every time, writes Subhash Arora who felt it was the best organised event since he started judging in Valencia in 2009 and made 11th consecutive appearance

The 9150 wines, almost the record number of 9180 wines in China last year, from around 50 countries were judged by a never-before 340 qualified international tasters (including 5 from India), spread over 63 panels tasting up to 50 samples every day; not including the 4 calibration wines over May 3-5. As always, no Indian wines were represented. The competition offered an opportunity to taste 300 grape varieties from across the globe, with 50 alone from Switzerland with 252 registered varieties.

This was in contrast with a total of 5992 wines that took part in Valencia, where Arora had attended for the first time in 2009, with over a third being from France, Spain with over 20%, 1235 wines and Italy with 604 wines. Interestingly he was the only judge from India then and there were no Indian wines but 3 labels of spirits had kept the Indian Tri-colour flying.

Perfect 10 Venue

Of all the venues chosen by CMB since it started to travel outside its home base of Belgium in 2006, Aigle- a small wine producing town in the Canton of Vaud, was the ideal location for hosting the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2019. It boasts of a magnificent position along the banks of Rhone Valley in the neighbouring France, surrounded by the majestic Swiss Alps and pre-Alps.

For the first time, the stay was organised in a small ski-town called Leysin, which I discovered was a favourite destination for Indian tourists to Switzerland, where they love to take the cable car to La Berneuse. Due to smaller size of the hotels, the visitors were divided into several hotels, chalets and apartment houses accommodating 360 judges and officials. The special mountain cog train I called the chhuk-chhuk train that has heated 2 carriages and covered a distance of about 12 kms from Aigle to Leysin-Feydey in 27 minutes going up from the valley to the steep mountainous city. It was a delightful trip and a rare sight with 4 wagons ready to transport in the morning about 360 people.

From Brussels to Aigle via Portugal over a glass of beer

Founded in 1994 by his father Louis Havaux, Baudouin Havaux decided to take the competition from 2006 to Lisbon from where it went to Maastricht (2007) in Netherland, Bordeaux (2008), Valencia (2009), Palermo (2010), and Luxembourg (2011) before bringing it to Portugal for the second time, in Guimarāes in 2012.

Why did they decide to take the competition to different countries with the difficulties of logistics and increased costs? The story as told by Baudouin Havaux to delWine, goes that he and Jesus de Carlos, Marketing Director of Amorim who are co-sponsors for 20 years, were having a glass of beer that was followed by another and yet another, at the end of a successful competition when Carlos said to Baudouin, ‘we have been co-sponsoring the event for several years but I think Amorim will get better mileage if we could have the tasters actually see the cork making facilities in Portugal.’

Said in part jest, Baudouin Havaux accepted the challenge and organized the next edition in Lisbon. Several tasters did go to the factory and the rest is history. It has turned out to be smart commercial decision and has brought renewed vigour even for the tasters. They can look forward to new wine regions and taste their wines as well. Last edition was in Beijing, China 2018. The move has worked well. There is hardly a taster who misses judging at any edition. Next one in BRNO in Southern Moravia, Czech Republic will offer an opportunity to explore yet another new region hitherto unexplored by CMB judges.

“By holding the competition in a different country each year, we have a unique opportunity to uncover the hidden gems of the wine world and to turn the spotlight on wine regions which many are still unfamiliar with”, says Baudouin. In fact, this has become a major strength of the competition that gets international journalists and tasters hooked to the competition. The idea of visiting new wine region is a big turn-on for them. The optional Press Trips to various wine regions is another attraction like Heidiland and 3 other options this year.  

Breaking the 10,000 barrier

With the 9,150 samples this year, 9180 last year in Haidan District, China (2017) and 9080 in Valladolid (2017) the 10,000 benchmark seems to be achievable in the near future. But Baudouin Havaux, CEO of the competition founded  by his father Louis Havaux who  transferred  it to him and is now happy to be only a taster, says, ‘we certainly don’t have such targets in mind. Not only is it difficult, but we want to go slow on further additions as it is a great responsibility to make sure the producers get the best quality of tasting.  We want to make sure that we provide the best possible judges too.’

The competition is one of the biggest competitions in the world when considered on a consecutive 3-4 day format at a single venue suggesting that some competitions may be bigger but they taste at different venues throughout the year, explains Havaux.

Tasting outside Judging

Thanks to an extra day this year, the CMB was full of hectic and enjoyable activities- starting with a welcome dinner by the students of the Swiss Hotel Management School (SHMS) in Leysin-Feydey. The exciting part was that the whole evening including food, drinks and entertainment was organised by the student within the school compound and every aspect was truly astounding not forgetting the beautiful view from everywhere.

There was a trip to Neuchatel where we visited a historical winery Chateau d’Auvernier followed by lunch at Chateau de Boudry- an old historical museum which also doubles up as a wine bar. An optional trip to Geneva, La Cote or Bornvillars –Cote de l’Orbe was a big Oui to the Swiss wines from these different regions.

Master Classes by the likes of Paolo Basso, Best Sommelier of the World 2013 and the well-known Swiss Ampelographer, Dr. José Vouillamoz kept people attentive as did a beautifully made film on Chasselas, the popular white grape of Vaud (detailed article later).

These were followed by a visit to Le Kuklos Restaurant in Berneuse Mountain at over 2000m altitude by cable car with a glass of Chasselas, and where one had to navigate snow on the ground after alighting from the ski-lift and which served interesting Tapas for dinner with the famous La Gruyere Cheese of the region dominating with an abundance of wines from several producers of AOC Chablais.

A short distance from Aigle is Lake Geneva and the Lavaux wine region which is world famous for its terraced vineyards that are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007. A boat ride from Vevey on the lake towards Lausanne and bringing us back to the Chateau de Chillon beyond the world famous Montreux was the most memorable boat ride on Le Simplon’ boat where wines from different parts of Lavaux were offered for tasting as we enjoyed the fascinating view of the vineyards on the one side and snow peaked mountains on the other.

A visit to Valais and a Wine tourism Center- Les Celliers de Sion in the town of Sion gave us the glimpses of wine tourism a-la-Swiss and a taste of 3 wines from 2 partnering wineries.  How can one be in Valais without tasting Raclette dinner with potatoes and pickles! In what looked like an impossible situation to handle, the Raclette experts managed to feed over 300 people who enjoyed the different Valais wines with the dinner before returning to the hotel.

The organisers also organised an interesting tasting of wines from the local Producers of Aigle whose vineyards we had been passing by or enjoying the sights from the train, bus or on foot. Chasselas was again the king wine but there were enough varieties to charm the judges.

Noteworthy Partnerships

Events of this size and magnitude are not possible without active involvement and support of  many organisations like the City of Aigle and the World Cycling Center most noteworthy have been Swiss Hotel Management School (SHMS), Swiss Tourism, Swiss Wine and Swiss Travel System.  The School worked well in conjunction with wine storage, service and all allied services. One could see over a 100 smiling faces looking at various facets of the competition including the back-end laborious work. A perfect example of how well-oiled the Swiss rail, bus and boat system is co-ordinated was there for all to experience and exclaim. The FAM trips were organised superbly and many a palate were impressed the way the program was handled with near perfection.

On to Brno in 2020

27th edition of Concours Mondial de Bruxelles will be held in South Moravia, in the city of Brno in the Czech Republic on May 1-3, 2020. The venue was revealed on May 5, the last day of the competition among much fanfare and rituals, precisely at the traditional time of 11:45 am. This is an exciting part of the competition since the venue is always kept a close guarded secret till this moment. The Tasting was followed by a traditional Lunch from the host country, which was organised at the over-crowded restaurant at the Castel of Aigle with several Czech wines on offer.

Wines of Switzerland

There are 6 wine regions in Switzerland in 26 different Cantons (equivalent of States in India/ US or Regions in Italy)- Valais, Vaud, Geneva, Three Lakes (including Neuchatel), German Speaking Switzerland and Ticino. It is noteworthy that barring the famous Italian speaking Ticino in South, I was able to visit the 5 regions and taste several of their wines from Chasselas and Completer whites to Pinot Noir which is excellent to outstanding quality generally and is the only red wine made in all the six regions.

This was all thanks to the excellent planning and organization by CMB 2019 and their enthusiastic partners.

For my first outing in 2009, please read the following Article:

Concours Mondial concludes successfully in Valencia

For a few of the other related Articles, visit:

CMB 2018: Concours Mondial in China More than Wine Competition

Concours Mondial (CMB) 2018 begins 25th edition in China with Aplomb

CMB 2017: Spanish Wines Excel at Concours Mondial de Bruxelles

CMB: Concours Mondial completes 10 Years on Tour

CMB 2013: Record Ratings for Rosés from Roussillon & Mancha

Concours Mondial de Bruxelles opens at Guimaraes

Swiss Wines: Beyond Watches and Chocolates

Swiss Vineyard Region gets Heritage Site Status

Subhash Arora

 

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