Eight thousand and fifty wines and tens of thousands of miles later I’m finally back in China after having the honor of being a judge at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles wine competition held in the Italian seaside resort of Jesolo.
Actually I personally tasted only about 160 wines as this competition boasts a cadre of 300 judges from around the world. Over the past few decades I’ve participated in over 50 wine competitions and even helped organize a few but I have to say that Concours Mondial de Bruxelles is my favorite.
Why? Because the competition has a wonderful mix of highly experiences tasters who are among the wine world’s foremost wine authorities. Some are winemakers, others writers, sommeliers and wine trade people. We take our tasting seriously but we also have fun.
At 4:30am last Tuesday morning on the bus to Marco Polo Airport in Venice I caught up with Baudouin Havaux the general manager of Concours Mondial de Bruxelles to gain some insights on his wine competition.
Somewhat surprised to be accosted at such an ungodly hour, he nonetheless graciously offered his perspective. Havaux stated, “After Lisbon in 2006, then Maastricht, Bordeaux, Valencia, Palermo, Luxembourg, Guimaraes, Bratislava, and last year Brussels, Jesolo is the 10th stage around Europe. This multinational itinerancy is one of the specificities of our organization.”
Indeed, Havaux and his team’s task is titanic. Annually they must organize and manage one of the wine world’s biggest and most complex wine events.
He added, “Every year, 300 tasters from 50 different countries take advantage of this long tasting tour around Europe to judge wines and discover and enjoy relevant wine regions. It’s a great contribution to increasing professional exchange and friendship between key actors in the international wine industry.”
I asked him how Belgium, of all places, could be the origin and headquarters of such a prestigious wine event. Havaux answered, “Another characteristic of our competition is the focus that we put on the consumer. With less than 200 hectares of vineyards, Belgium is not a producing country. But we are a major importing country with historically high knowledge. As a Belgian company we are very attentive in helping the consumer to buy great wine and increase wine culture.”
He also acknowledged that the competition is a great marketing tool for the producers who win medals. “This is why we make a huge effort to promote the medals with an important program of communication that includes the web, social media, press relations, events and assistance in major wine fairs like Vinexpo, Megavino, Prowein and others.”
The panel, or jury, I was on included the head of marketing and communications for Bordeaux Superieur, an Australian winemaker, an Italian wine journalist, a Spanish university professor of wine.
I also felt a special camaraderie with my fellow judges from China who were curiously all from Beijing. Of course I was especially proud to represent our great city of Shanghai. But this also begs the question: what do Concours Mondial de Bruxelles and other wine competitions — even those held in China — have to do with consumers here?
Be your own judge
The best competitions help consumers make better choices and reward producers that make excellent wines. But I’m compelled to stress that it’s important for consumers to act also on their own judgement. Everyone has their particular preferences.
Therefore learning to assess wines, even in a simplistic way, is requisite to learning about and enjoying wines. You need not use a professional tasting score sheet, as we did in Jesolo, but it’s important to record your feelings about wines. You should observe the color of the wine then the bouquet and palate. It’s helpful to jot down some notes, and over time you can create a database of the styles and types that you like best.
At competitions, wines are blind tasted. This means tasters only know the vintage and basic style of wine; for example, sparkling, white, red or fortified. At Concours Mondial de Bruxelles after completing each day’s tasting we were handed sheets that told us what we tasted. Often we were surprised. Two standout groups of wine that greatly impressed us were Grand Reserva Cava sparkling wines and Toro red wines. Both are from Spain and both exceeded our expectations.
When tasting the sparkling wines, some of us speculated that they were likely Champagne or Franciacorta wines because of their consistent high quality, intensity and complexity. Even our Spanish judge was surprised! Producers of fine Grand Reserva Cavas you can find in Shanghai include Freixenet, Codorniu and Gramona.
Our panel also greatly enjoyed the red wines of Toro. The deep rich character of Toro wines was no surprise to us but the evolving elegance and balance of the wines opened our eyes.
Made from some of Spain’s smallest and most thick-skinned Tempranillo grapes, locally referred to as Tinto de Toro, wine lovers have long know that Toro reds are powerhouses. But elegant? The wines we tasted certainly were. In Shanghai, look for Toro wines from Elias Mora, Bodegas Mauro and Campo Eliseo. You’ll be rewarded with an intense yet sophisticated red wine.