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Delhi Wine Club
WSA & HKIWSC: Tale of Two International Competitions

Posted: Monday, 17 October 2011 12:09

WSA & HKIWSC: Tale of Two International Competitions

Oct 17: Two back-to-back international wine competitions were held last week in Singapore-Wine Style Asia and Hong Kong-Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wines and Spirits Competition (HKIWSC), both with a distinct personality, each one important not only for importers in their respective countries but also within South East Asia, writes Subhash Arora who had been invited again at both these annual events as the panel president.

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Malcom Tham, Director WSA
Wine Style Asia Awards which is held in conjunction with Wine for Asia has been held every year since 2004. 5-10% Gold medals are awarded by judges who are all from South East Asia. In its previous edition where 460 wines were entered, 207 wines were awarded medals, besides 6 trophies. It is organised by MP International through its Director Malcom Tham and has the support from Singapore Tourism which helps them get the Customs Duty and GST exemption on competition wines. (India desperately needs a similar treatment) It had 9 judges distributed in 3 panels and included Kym Milne MW, a well-known Australian international winery consultant and various top experts from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Slightly smaller number was entered this year in the WSA spread over two days, 10-11 October.

A total of 1726 entries including about 120 spirits were clocked in at the Cathay Pacific HKWSIC in Hong Kong, only in its 3rd year. The HKIWSC was held on 12-14 October at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center where the Hong Kong International Wine Fair will be held on November 3-5 this year by HKTDC. The competition saw 1500 entries last year but had reached only around 1300 until a few days before the closing date. Suddenly it shot up to cross 1700, due to visibly unexplainable reasons but ostensibly due  to one-woman campaign by the unassuming and affable Chairperson Debra Meiburg MW who had made all-out efforts to woo the producers who are already primed to enter the Hong Kong market. India had a symbolic presence with 7-8 wines.

Judging at HKIWSC was a hectic but enjoyable learning process for the judges who blind-tasted over 400 wines in 3 days. I tasted wines from Georgia, Portugal, Brazil, Uruguay, Hungary, US, Chile, Argentina, Turkey, Japan, India, Spain, China, Canada, Thailand, Serbia, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Malta, Greece, Tunisia, Lebanon, Russia, Macedonia, Russia, Romania, Slovakia, Austria, England and even HK, besides France and Italy . By the end of it all, the palate was speaking languages one might not understand for a while.

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Panel Pres Subhash Arora flanked by Jury Chairman John Chua and Panel Pres. Kym Milne MW at WSA
Wine Style Asia, on the other hand gives out only the vintage and the grape varieties and also two price categories and the 3-member panel had to base its decision on the basis of the tipicity of the grape and the vintage characteristics and a look at the clarity, aroma quality, flavours that include the structure, balance and its length and potential to age. The 100-point scale awards a Bronze for 70+ with Silver and Gold medal and a few trophies at the higher end. Scores are based on points awarded to each characteristic like in most other international competitions.

HKIWSC also has 100 points scale but the wine needs to score 87 for a Bronze, 90 or more for Silver and 94 for a Gold medal. Each flight usually had 30-55 wines pre-poured in the glasses on a single table for each of the five judges in a panel, who are expected to mentally do the math after judging the colour, aromas, taste and end and note down the aggregate score they think the wine deserves and whether the wine it should be awarded a medal. An average is calculated and in case of a wide disagreement, the judge scoring outside the general consensus gets a chance to defend his score based on the individual tasting notes. One is free to express the logic behind the individual score and after discussion the consensus score is awarded to the wine. In case of a strong disagreement, Chairperson’s comments are taken place before finally awarding the score and recording the medals.

‘My logic of scoring after tasting a wine is personal but objective,’ says Debra. ‘If I think I would serve a wine to a senior colleague whom I respect, say Jancis Robinson, I would give it a Gold.  If I want to offer it to the wine connoisseurs of Hong Kong I would give it Silver. If it is a wine I would love to sip while cooking, it deserves a bronze.’ In zest and in lighter vein she said that the wine she would serve to her mother-in-law is the wine that would get no medal. (with due apologies to her husband Patrick- she gets along very well with hers)

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Tasting in Session at HKIWSC
Country, region, vintage and the grapes are disclosed at the HKIWSC so one knows what to look for in the wine as a benchmark. Robert Joseph, the well known English author, writer and the organiser of around 60 such international competitions globally, including India, would perhaps heartily concur with the philosophy and interactive style of HKIWSC which had Alberto Antonini, an international consultant winemaker from Tuscany also owning a winery, as the guest judge. Each year one such eminent personality is invited besides the judges who are from or residents of the South East Asian countries so that the awards reflect the palate of this side of the market rather than the Western palates.

A fellow judge in several competitions including the OIV-based German MundusVini where he is a Director and where the judges are not disclosed the grape variety or the country of production and are not allowed to discuss or change their scores, Robert feels this may strangulate the initiative in a judge and may dissuade him to take a strong stand for or against an individual wine. ‘The judges are also the lawyers for a wine. After they have scored their wine to the best of their capability, they ought to discuss and adjust the scores and take the jury chairperson’s advice, if need be, before deciding on the medal. Otherwise, there is also no learning possibility for the judges who often feel frustrated. 

Learn baby learn

Of course, the names of grapes like  Saperavi, Chinuri, Mtsvane, Tsitska, Rkatsiteli, Tsolikouri – the indigenous grapes of Georgia might have been all Greek to the majority of the judges. But Roupeiro, Perrum, Rabo di Ovelha from Portugal would have been also their first encounter. Lunel, Koverszolo and Zeta may not sound sweet but made some excellent Tokaj sweet wines from Hungary. It was a first time for me to taste Muscadine from North Carolina-a non vitis vinifera and or a vitis lambrusca variety, grown in 10 American states in the eastern belt-it even has a North Carolina Muscadine Producers Association. I was impressed with the specialized knowledge of one of the Chinese judges who is a PhD Professor in Beijing. One needn’t have tasted a Vranac from Macedonia earlier to realise that it made intensely perfumed red wine. It was a discovery to realise that the Greek Moschofilero would need evolved palate to be popular in India but Assyrtico, Athiri, Liatiko and Aidani  from Greek islands made an excellent sweet wine. I had no clue that Palava from Slovakia was capable of making quite an aromatic sweet wine. I knew Vidal makes excellent Canadian ice wine, but a wine from Optima grapes from Okanagan Valley was a special sweet surprise. It would have been a great learning experience for judges from the other three panels as well.

Test your Palate

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Test Your Palate at Cathay Pacific HKIWSC
An interesting feature at Hong Kong was a public tasting in the evening  of the bottles opened for judging during the day. For a nominal amount of HK$250 (Rs. 1600) wine lovers would get a wineglass that they could use to taste hundreds of wines and even fill out a form and give their own ratings which when compared with the Gold medals awarded in various categories would win them a prize. It was a pleasing sight to see over 150 persons walk in every evening walk in, swirl, sip and spit the wines into the cups and take down notes furiously.

‘We want to create an excitement and interest in the Hong Kong wine lovers, even though we might not be able to fully recover our costs to organise,’ explained Debra. In a city that has been mostly a spirit consumer with wine culture ahead of India only by a few years, it was also heartening to see no one got drunk with practically infinite quantity available to drink, contrary to the fears of many in India that such tastings can make people get drunk out of their senses, like with spirits.

Malcom Tham in Singapore had the opposite view. ‘We promise our entrants that only award winning  wines will be made public-these will be showcased in the Wine for Asia (WFA) being held on 27th and 28th October after we announce the results on 26th. We discussed this possibility and decided against it,’ he says firmly. Instead, WFA is being extended for a day on 28th for consumers only, giving them an opportunity to taste wines of various exhibitors and distributors for a one time entry free.

Contrasting cities

In a wide contrast, one could smell that the wine culture was constrained in Singapore due to procedures and heavy taxation, especially on low ended wines- there is a fixed import duty of SD 7.50 (about Rs. 300) per bottle while Hong Kong with no taxes and the neighbouring super wine-consuming power China is being targeted by several producing countries which may explain the growth of over 30% entries this year and a total of over 1600 wine participants  which is a huge number for a competition in its third year only.

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All them judges at HKIWSC
Besides a warm South Eastern hospitality extended by the organisers being the common denominator in both the competitions which are also held blind (a given in all such competitions), it was an honour for India with Subhash Arora, President of Indian Wine Academy being appointed a panel president in both the competitions. Although it signifies mostly extra clerical work, the panel president also has the onerous task of getting the judges who are all wine experts and have in independent palate from different South Eastern Asian countries, to discuss any major differences of opinion and get a consensus. If needed, they have to get the opinion of the jury chairman- John Chua in Singapore and Debra Meiburg in Hong Kong. They also need to work extra time to re-taste the top awarded wines to decide the trophy winners.

The spot for Arora in Hong Kong was vacated by Simon Tam, one of the partners along with Meiburg and the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) of HKIWSC. A well-known consultant and a special in China market, usually one of the four panel presidents, Simon became the China man for Christie’s last year and was unavailable for the tasting.

Both the competitions have their respective place in the South East Asia’s wine market, though this Special Administrative Region of China since 1997 has benefitted significantly by the exemption of duties on wines and relaxed norms of operation in 2008.

Subhash Arora



Subhash Arora Says:

Thanks for the comments. It was actually a revelation for most of us. Interesting! But I must add we taste blind, i.e., without knowing the name of the producer. So we didn’t know who the producer was. Subhash Arora

Posted @ October 20, 2011 17:00


Bryan J. Dodd Says:

Hello I think your article is very interesting and happy to see you mentioned our Muscadine wine entries (CDG Wines- Cypress Bend Vineyards). We (CDG Wines/Cypress Bend Vineyards) entered 3 different entries of the Muscadine grape, however i need to add a correction about the grape in your article- this grape, the muscadine is native to American South eastern soil (mainly NC coast- sandy loam) and was the first grape cultivated in the US by european explorers/settlers.
The Muscadine is its own variety known as VITIS Rotundifolia. European Explorers discovered the grape in abundance back in the 1500's in North Carolina and documented in many historical documents.
North Carolina claims credit as the place where muscadines were first discovered, citing a 1524 log book of French navigator Giovanni de Verrazano, who was exploring the Cape Fear River Valley, as the first recorded account of the grapes(Anon, 2000). Our winery Cypress Bend Vineyards offers these exclusive Muscadine wines. has more info in our brochure- it is a flash website, so it will take some time to load.
We will be at the Hong Kong Wine fair in November under the USA- SUSTA area.

Nonetheless we hope you enjoyed the wine- this was 100% pure Muscadine grape wine, so it was at its true essence- although served chilled is better.Best Regards,  Bryan J. Dodd
President CDG Wines

Posted @ October 20, 2011 13:10


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