Sunday, 3 March 2013

Wine Competitions

Hong Kong's wine scene is getting busier with international competitions heading east. First to arrive was the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition (CXHK IWSC), which had its inaugural competition in 2009. Led by Debra Meiburg MW, it is held annually just before the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Fair (HKIWSF), and the trophy winners are revealed during the Fair.

The Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) is the latest on the scene. Chaired my Jeannie Cho-Lee MW and Steven Spurrier, it was launched in 2012 and the top prizes have just been announced recently.

At competitions—they can also be called wine shows or challenges—wines are tasted blind and rated according to their quality and typicity. Medals, usually gold, silver and bronze, are given to the best in show in various categories (Best Chardonnay, Best Bordeaux blend...). The best of the best are typically awarded trophies. Results are arrived at either by consensus among the judges or by their average scores, depending on the competition.

CXHK IWSC and DAWA have a lot of similarities. Both have their roots in England and are long established and reputable. What’s more, both are geared towards Asian judges, especially the former where, apart from Debra and one international guest judge, only Asian judges are chosen. DAWA features both local Asian and Asian-based expat judges. Both recognise the benefits this brings in being closer to the market and highlighting the Asian palate. CXHK IWSC also has an Asian food and wine pairing category.

So, do these competitions really add any value?

Some sneer as they think only mass produced wines will be entered and judges may be unqualified or biased. True, a competition can only be as good as the wines entered and the standard of the judges. We have to realise that the big Bordeaux brothers or equivalent will never enter in case they don’t win, and nor will cult wine producers as they don’t have big volumes to sell. The standard of judging is directly related to the reputation of the competition. It is in the interests of the organisers that only competent judges are invited. They may have different stylistic preferences but judges of all nationalities should be able to rate a wine purely based on its quality.

I do believe competitions can be of great value in the developing markets. The results serve as guidelines for the inexperienced consumer, helping him select wine from the myriad available in the marketplace. He may not like the style of a wine but at least he knows its quality has been independently assessed. After accumulating some experience he can then move on with confidence to try other non-competition wines and be able to differentiate their quality levels for himself. Wine competitions can thus bring wine closer to consumers, helping to expand the market and so benefiting all wines whether they are entered in competitions or not.

With so many competitions around—big and small, international and local—their reputations and degree of recognition are all-important. Proactive consumer marketing of a competition is as essential as attracting entries. The more that consumers recognise a competition and its credibility the more confidence they will have in buying the winning wines. And these purchases will generate a positive feedback, attracting more and better entries next year.

And whatever the status of a competition, producers and distributors should be proud of their trophies and medals and utilise them as marketing tools. It should never be an embarrassment to tell your customers that your wines are among the best!

Click for the latest results of CXHK IWSC and DAWA.

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