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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Monday, February 01 2010. 10:43

Taste: South Africa King in Medal Drought

South African wines were crowned as the king at the recently concluded Indian Wine Challenge at Taste Expo Mumbai with three of their wines claiming the solid Gold out of a mere 10 awarded internationally, with less than 5% getting the coveted Gold, writes  Subhash Arora.

One often reads about the bricks and bouquets thrown at the South African wines but they had their moment of glory at the third edition of the India Wine Challenge, where ironically, the country as a nation was missing as a participant while countries like Austria, France, Italy, and Spain and of course India marked their national presence through some Association or the other.

There were only 8 silver, 34 bronze medals awarded, making medal winning in this Challenge very prestigious. This was a medal drought if one compares with the recently held SIWC where a deluge of medals caused many even to back off from sending samples, fearing the stricter medal tally. There was also an impression created in that competition that the Indian wines were synonymous with ‘Incredible India’ and had suddenly arrived with band baja with the Gold medals winners feeling they had conquered the last frontier and were now the ‘king of the world.’

Robert Joseph did not mince words when he said before the start of the competition that although the country of origin would be known to the judges, they were expected to keep the standard of judging same for all the wines. This brought memories of the first edition of the Challenge held in London where the country name was not indicated on the judges’ sheet and the few wines that were submitted did not even cross the sipping stage.

In the current context, any medal won by Indian wines would be an equivalent of Gold or at least Silver at the SWIC. Case in point is the Bronze won by the Barrique Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Four Seasons Winery belonging to the UB Group. Also
notable was the Silver won by Sula’s Chenin Blanc Late Harvest which had to compete against the fabulous sweet wines with centuries of wine making experience behind them.

After a dismal performance in the first edition of the Challenge in 2007, Nine Hills reportedly had taken corrective measures to better manage their viticulture and went on to win the Best Red Wine last time. This time around, their two Bronze medals for Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc indicate their resolve to keep on working on the quality rather than crying themselves hoarse from the roof tops about their quality.

Another surprise was a Rosé from Chateau d’Ori winning the Bronze and Best Indian Rose. Surprised but pleased since it was their first edition, Ranjit Dhuru, owner of one of the more progressive wineries nevertheless was critical of the high entry charges around 3.5 times that of  SWIC and would have liked to send all their labels had the charges been more reasonable. He has been a great proponent of the Indian wines competing against the wines of the world rather than hide behind the skirts of protectionism.  

While Robert Joseph expressed doubts that a competition could be run at such low entry charges (even at these so called high charges, India  Wine Challenge is expected to lose money third time in a row), a possible answer to Dhuru’s concern could have been the submission of samples for the Indian producers through the Indian Grape Processing Board (IGPB). They ought to have been proactive, negotiating for better rates from the organisers due to the collective clout, and  subsidising the entry charges at 50% like many developing countries like Slovenia, Croatia and Slovakia are doing.

Stung by the problem at IFDE in Delhi last month, where the big stall booked by them was practically empty, they seem to have gone into their shell and are more worried about avoiding controversies rather than being aggressive. One hopes they would not move towards being another bureaucratic venture and will continue with the good work they initiated at the Hong Kong wine show in October last year.

Whether they were subsidised or not, the entry from Croatia winning the Gold must be a moment of pride for the producer Kutjevo, boosting their chance of entry into the Indian market as also for their compatriots. A noteworthy feature in the third edition was the announcement of trophy winners at the end of the first day of Taste-Expo, followed by the printed list of winners announced on the late afternoon the next day. Hopefully, next time, the governmental impediment (so what’s new, pussycat!) forcing the organisers to hold the competition only on the day of the show opening will be resolved next year so that the trophy and the medal winners can proudly display their honours in their stands, earning their wines the respect they deserve.

It is also an indication that if SWIC wants to survive, they might want to tie up with some wine show where the winning entries can hope to get a marketing boost. Merely raining medals may not be an automatic route to success.

Meanwhile, the efforts of South Africa to increase their presence in the Indian market will certainly get a boost. Importers, many of them being reluctant to promote the country will be forced to re-think. The World Cup this year will be a good ally for them to promote their wines provided they do not get carried away with their incessant efforts to seek higher prices for their wines. Quality wines at a good price quality ration will help them garner a higher share of the Indian market. 

List of Gold Medal Winners
Rietvallei Estate, Esteanna 2007- South Africa.
Saronsberg, Seismic 2006- South Africa.
Veenwouden Merlot 2006- South Africa.
Champagne Lanson Black Label NV- France.
Gulfi Nerojbleo Nero D'Avola 2006- Italy.
Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009- New Zealand.
Vallegre Vinhos do Portugal, Vista aAllegre Vintage Port 2007- Portugal.
Vallegre Vinhos do Portugal Vista Allegre 30 year old NV- Portugal. 
Kutjevo DD Traminer 2003- Croatia

Subhash Arora



Yegas Naidoo Says:

The issue is moot but the reality is Indian wines have a long way to come, it is a fledgling industry that will require enormous funding and complete investor dedication but will eventually find its ground in the newly emerging forest of atypical wine making countries - look at England for example - they too are jostling for a place on the map. However let us face it this will not happen in our Generation ! Yegas Naidoo

Posted @ February 12, 2010 12:44


Robert Joseph Says:

Just after posting my comment, I read the news that an English wine - Nyetimber - had just beaten 51 sparkling wines including Bollinger and Roederer in a blind tasting in Italy. The wimemaker was quoted as saying "This isn't the end. We want to do more and go further by pushing the industry as a whole. English sparkling wine can compete with Champagne on the world stage. There's an exciting momentum in the improvement of quality at the moment."

Posted @ February 03, 2010 13:10


Robert Joseph Says:

As a long-standing friend and admirer of Steven Spurrier, and as a veteran chairman-organiser of over 50 international competitions across the globe, I'll refrain from commenting on the proportion of medals given by the SIWC.

Each event is different, with its own collection of wines and tasters. I will, however, happily stand by the results of the three IWC events, and the fact that Indian wines did not receive more top awards. The Indian wine industry is one of the youngest in the world, both in terms of the age of its vineyards and the experience of the winemakers. By comparison, New Zealand, which has just celebrated its third decade of growing Sauvignon Blanc is almost a veteran.

I hope that someone else will run a local competition that sets Indian wines against each other and before a set of Indian judges and hands out Gold Medals for the most successful. That's simply not the role I believe to be appropriate for an outsider like myself. Our role is to see how Indian wines perform on an international playing field. Just as it is in London to see how English wines fare against examples from other countries. At the IWC in the UK, we never strove to tilt the pitch in favour of the local wines, which is why the occasional success of English sparkling wines against Champagne has been taken so seriously across the world.

Indian wines are definitely improving with every vintage, but quality control - essential to maintain consistency - remains a big problem. Today, within one state, Indian wines - or at least the ones produced in that state - have a price advantage over others. The situation is a little different elsewhere, In Delhi and Goa for example, Indian wines are less helped by dice loaded in their favour. For an Indian Sauvignon or Chenin to be chosen instead of one from New Zealand or France in those places, it will have to be of a comparable quality. And that's where the validity of our medals will be so important.

With regard to the cost of the competition, in this respect I do sympathise with the points that have been made within India. I was not personally involved in deciding the entry price and would certainly like to see this reviewed in the future - at least in the case of wines produced in India, and possibly wines that have already been imported. Having - with Charles Metcalfe - run my first International Wine Challenge way back in 1984, I've become increasingly aware that each year brings its own set of lessons that need to be learned. I look forward to hearing constructive comments from within and outside the Indian wine industry.

Posted @ February 03, 2010 13:04


Subhash Arora Says:

Thanks for your comments, Charles. I for one have always felt that the Gold should be a SOLID Gold. Unfortunately, in another competition held recently with Steven as the Chairman, the philosophy was to be quite liberal, with even mediocre wines getting the Gold. I am glad you are helping in setting the direction right. Hope things are as well as they can be in the biting cold of England this time of the year.Cheers Subhash in Verona 

Posted @ February 02, 2010 10:34


Charles Metcalfe Says:

Robert Joseph and I founded the International Wine Challenge (IWC) in 1983. Although Robert is no longer involved, the IWC is still one of the most widely-respected international competitions in the world. We have never given even 4% of our entry Gold medals. Highest was at the 2009 IWC, when nearly 3.5% won Golds. Welcome to the real world of properly-judged wine competitions, India!

Posted @ February 02, 2010 10:20


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