Nov 09: In an interesting coincidence, Viognier whites from the two producers in India, Four Seasons and Sula have won a Bronze medal each, writes Subhash Arora who was a judge at Wine Style Asia followed by Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Competition held last month, the results for which were declared at Wines for Asia on October 27 and the wine show held by HKTDC on November 3 respectively.
Ritu Viognier from Four Seasons won a Bronze in Singapore WSA. The same wine had won a Bronze medal at last year’s HKIWSC. Sula’s Dindori Reserve Viognier was the winner this time at HKWISC in Hong Kong. About 7-8 wines had taken part in this year’s competition. In a rather surprising statement, Abhay Kewadkar who is extremely pleased with the recent inclusion of this wine in the portfolio of London retailer Waitrose and was buoyant to learn about the award from the organisers earlier and that they would be showcased at the Wine for Asia held on 27-29 October, said ‘we did not enter the HKIWSC this year since our Viognier had won the bronze medal there already last year.’ As may be surmised, vintages are not expected to be an important aspect in the wine making in India (as a mark of recognition, I have therefore stayed away from mentioning the vintages intentionally). There was also an interesting comment by Abhay about their not entering their pleasantly dry Chenin Blanc which has improved in quality a lot during the last few harvests, ‘we are already selling so much of it that we don’t think we need to enter any competitions.’
Cecilia Oldne, the International Head and Chief Sommelier for Sula was very pleased with the result though she admitted they were expecting at least a couple of medals- especially one for the red wine too and the Sauvignon Blanc which keeps on winning medals internationally. If Sula followed the guiding principle of not entering popular wines in the international competitions, they would block out the Sauvignon Blanc which has been their flagship wine from the beginning and helped them catapult to the leading position today.
I was a judge and the panel president in both the competitions-for the second time. It is a pity that the Indian Grape Processing Board’s decided not to subsidize the entry costs at 50% and organise the centralization of the submission of entries. I strongly believe that they have erred and need to look at their priorities. Sulas and Four Seasons of India can enter on their own such international competitions so important to get independent experts’ views but the smaller producers need some hand holding, both in terms of costs and logistics. Not only will they earn the respect of producers over time for lending the helping hand, they would strengthen their own position as the entity looking after promoting Indian wines.
Incidentally, both the competitions are held blind and very professionally. Judges are Asians in both the competitions, giving a special significance to the competition if one agrees that the Asian cuisine and the palate is slightly different than for those in the West But in Wine Style Asia, the country of origin is not disclosed whereas in Hong Kong the country, vintage as well as grape varietals are informed to the judges. Coincidentally, all the Indian entries had fallen into my panel and I had immediately excused myself from judging or trying to influence the decision of the panel-as is usually done in case of borderline cases to up the score marginally. There was a remarkable level of similarity in the results of the rest of the panel and my own scores though.
In another interesting twist, I was able to convince the organisers of HKIWSC to include an Indian dish for food and wine pairing competition in which the wines are submitted to best match a particular dish. So far the wines have been primarily with the Chinese cuisine-like Peking duck, Abalone etc. Hopefully next year, one may find the judges tasting wines with a butter chicken or the chicken masala tikka- the foreign avatar, or even palak paneer and daal makhani., which I proposed while championing the cause of hundreds of millions of our vegetarian compatriots. Watch out this space.
While congratulating both the producers and exhorting others to take part in such competitions even if the IGPB has other priorities like participating in the international wine shows, it must be added that winning a Gold ought to be the objective for the quality producers and as Debra Meiburg MW, the vivacious chairperson of the competition tells the jury members before judging, ‘I would drink a Bronze medal winning wine while cooking, and serve the Silver medal winner to the Hong Connoisseur friends but when I invite an expert and people like my idol Jancis Robinson, I’d like to serve the Gold medal winning wine. Let us hope, some of our producers will have the opportunity of presenting at least one such bottle to Mrs. Robinson next year…or the one after that- and say cheers to the Incredible India.