Saturday, 30 November 2013

The fifth year of CX HKIWSC

Lunch on day four - after finished judging food/wine pairing
My October started with a judging at the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition (CX HKIWSC). This is the fifth year of the competition and my fourth as a judge. I ran the back room logistics in the first year during my holiday in Hong Kong and afterwards Simon Tam offered me a job at Independent Wine Centre, which ended my years of wandering around the world and brought me back to Hong Kong. Because of this, the competition will always be something special to me.

More importantly, it is the community spirit that I treasure. Even though we may be tasting some interesting and good wines, we still need support, jokes and laughter to get through over 400 wines in four days! I have had some experience (nowhere near as much as some other judges though) in other international competitions, but the CX HKIWSC certainly has the best vibe.

There are many different formats of judging. In some, the panel of judges sits together around a table, waiting for each other to finish a small flight, then briefly discusses it. This can put pressure on some judges who are slower. In others, judges score individually and there are no discussions in the panels so there may be errors where judges misread a wine. It also doesn’t allow the less experienced judges to learn from others.

What I like about the CX HKIWSC is that each judge scores a flight of about 30-50 wines at his own pace, then the panel gathers to discuss those that have a wide range of scores. Judges debate and re-taste those wines until a consensus is reached. Moreover, judges are rotated everyday for a better learning experience. This method does not have the shortfalls of the others and also fosters a team spirit among the judges.

The most interesting part of this competition is the food/wine pairing judging. It started off with only four Chinese dishes (braised abalone, Peking duck, dim sum and kung pao chicken) and has now extended to cover 10 dishes from four countries (the new dishes are sashimi, shrimp tempura, beef teppanyaki, yakitori grilled chicken, pad Thai and chicken tikka). I think this sends a very important message to consumers that wine can indeed go with Asian food—not only delicacies like abalone and sashimi but also everyday food like dim sum and pad Thai. We Asians don’t drink a lot of wine because we do not yet have the culture and we tend to think that wine only goes with western cuisines or expensive banquets. Pairing wine and everyday food will help us develop our own wine culture and eventually expand the market. Unfortunately, however, this potentially powerful message has yet to be communicated effectively to consumers. I really wish that both the organisers (sorry Debra) and the winners could do more to spread the word.

The most educational part of the competition is 'Test Your Palate'. CX HKISWC is the first competition to open its doors to the public at the end of judging each day so people can taste the diverse styles of wine of various grape varieties from different countries. And what’s more, they can ask judges face-to-face anything they want to know about wine. This is a great learning experience and a wonderful opportunity for wine lovers to compare and contrast — you have to admit that no one in their right mind would open 10 different bottles of wine in one go just to try. At Test Your Palate, there are over 400 wines available every evening! What is even better is that there is a ‘fault’ table carrying wines rejected by judges during that day. Consumers can taste what is really meant by 'reduced', 'oxidised' and 'corked'. Test Your Palate has been running for three years now. In the first two years guests were mostly wine students, but this year it was pleasing to see a more general  range of consumers, showing that the event is becoming better known. I even saw some of my secondary school friends, a few of whom I hadn’t seen since graduation!

But the best of the best has to be the dinners. Sarah, one of the panel chairs, always spoils us with her wines—not the most expensive ones but lesser-known and truly interesting. Of course, there are always a few bottles that our judges bring from their home countries. This year, Chinese wines were a constant fixture on table, thanks to Christian!

Wine competitions are about rating wine for average consumers and giving them guidance in this complex world of wine. CX HKIWSC is doing a good job for the Hong Kong consumer. Next time, pick a bottle of wine with a CX HKIWSC medal, and especially try the food/wine pairing winning wines. Check out the 2013 competition results here.

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