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CMB 2016: Sweet Success for Concours Mondial and the Host Bulgaria

Posted: Tuesday, 10 May 2016 12:10


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CMB 2016: Sweet Success for Concours Mondial and the Host Bulgaria

May 10: The 23rd edition of Concours Mondial de Bruxelles (CMB) organised in the ancient city of Philippopolis (Plovdiv), Bulgaria on April 29-May 1 was another successful even that saw a record number of 8,751 wines from 51 countries including first-timers like Israel, Serbia, Jordan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Armenia, writes Subhash Arora who was one of the 320 wine judges invited from 54 countries and making seventh consecutive appearance in the wine competition in which the host country Bulgaria won a record 104 medals

Click For Large ViewConcours Mondial de Bruxelles (CMB) is not only a well-recognised international wine competition but a spectacular extravaganza where 5-6 judges sit in symmetrically arranged tables for each panels (56 this year), within one single hall and rate around 50 wines every day for 3 days, awarding Great Gold, Gold and Silver medals to the deserving wines. The wines tasted are totally blind- the only known parameter is the vintage. CMB 2016 started with the usual theatrical aplomb with Thomas Costenoble, Technical Director of the Competition formally welcoming the jury and declaring the competition ‘open’ after an audio-visual of Plovdiv. He also went over the process of judging for the benefit of the debutant judges, tasting two same wines served to all for calibration. As always, there was a separate area designated for the VIP tasting.

Started in 1994 by the father of the current Chairman Boudouin Harvay in Brussels, the competition has gone from strength to strength in 22 years. In 2006 the venue went international, starting with Lisbon. It went on to Maastricht (2007) and Bordeaux (2008) followed by Valencia in 2009 where Cavaliere Subhash Arora was also invited as the first and sole Indian judge. He has been invited on the panel every year since- in Palermo (2010), Luxemburg (2011), Guimarães-a town situated between Vinho Verde and Douro in Portugal (2012), Bratislava, the Capital of Slovakia (2013), home city Brussels (2014) and Jesolo in Italy last year (2015).

According to Costenoble, CMB is the only wine competition in the world that is held in different country every year. This gives the international judges an opportunity to also visit the wineries and vineyards of the host country and learn and taste diverse wines. This year the evening before the start of the competition began on April 28 with a Master Class on Bulgarian grapes followed by tasting of domestic wines organised by the Bulgarian Wine Association, with over 100 labels of Bulgarian wines available for tasting with the producers and later at dinner at Hotel Imperial with local cuisine.

A trip to two wineries was organised for different groups on two days besides an interesting walking tour of the Old Town on the last day. I visited a local winery and distillery- Domaine Peshtera in Peshtera, and Bessa Valley located in the Pazardjik region about 40 minutes from Plovdiv and owned byStephan von Neipperg of Chateau Canon La Gaffelière in St-Emilion.

Click For Large ViewThe judges have the option to extend their stay to explore the wine regions on their own. In fact, a Press Trip was organised for a few journalists this time to visit wineries and other areas of cultural interest post-competition, perhaps for the first time.

It seems to be a herculean task to organise the logistics for almost 9000 wines including the storage and service at proper temperature. But thanks to the local school of enology and its students, the service was rather impeccable, leaving many people smiling. Boudouin concedes it was a challenge during the first couple of outings but they have become quite proficient at it and have well-oiled machinery. If other competitions ever tried to copy the style, they would have insurmountable difficulties during the initial years. Perhaps that’s why one has not seen any other competition daring to copy the style.

Since the last couple of years the competition has been bearing the tagline as ‘A United Nations of Fine Wines.’ One can understand the ‘United Nations of Wines’ as it has samples from 51 countries, more than the members if OIV under whose patronage the competition has evolved over the years. But ‘Fine Wines’ in a competition was a bit difficult for me to swallow until Boudouin explained, ‘we are getting better and better wines every year. Producers know that sending samples of any wines won’t do. The Medal winners, especially the Gold and Great Gold winners are really fine wines.’ The completion awards Silver, Gold and Great Gold, the latter two are limited.

CMB was the first competition to introduce post-event checks of award-winning wines and in-depth statistical analysis of judging performance. Every day, unknown to the judges, one sample of the same wine is served twice to note the consistency of the taster in rating the wines. Data is also collected about the individual taster’s marking compared to the rest of the panel and the relative spread of scores as compared to the other panellists in the group. The competition works with a University to improve the consistency of results and keep them as professional as humanly possible.

Hosts Bulgaria sets a Record

Click For Large ViewIf the CMB set a record for getting the highest entries of 8,751 wine samples, the hosts Bulgaria also set a record of winning 109 medals – 4 Great Gold, 47 Gold, and 68 Silver. The detractors might argue that like in Olympics, the host country may have sent an unusually high number of samples. Only 256 samples were submitted; the success rate of 43% is highest in the competition and the Bulgarian producers deserve congratulations. Tasting their wines at various forums in 4 days would convince anybody that they have been taking big strides towards modernisation and the number of medals proves their wines are of excellent quality.

The venue for the next Competition, which is kept a well-guarded secret till it is traditionally announced with much fanfare during the tasting session of the last day, will be Valladolid (Castilla-León), close to the famous wine regions of Ribera del Duero, Toro and Rueda so the judges are assured of a wonderful discovery of perhaps the best-known cluster of wine regions of Spain.

The results which were announced perhaps in a record time this year on May 8 may be viewed on Don’t look for India which ought to participate for wines exported to Europe. But the producers seem to be still watching from the sidelines. Perhaps, 2017 may see a few entries and well-deserved medals.

Here’s to a well planned and executed CMB 2016! Jai Ho!!

Subhash Arora

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