Decanter Asia Wine Awards co-chair Jeannie Cho Lee MW reports on the inaugural DAWA judging week.
The idea of the Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) was hatched nearly two years ago over a lingering lunch at Le Meurice in Paris. Over glasses of wine and delicious food, what was merely a concept started to take on shape and colour. After countless emails, telephone calls, and trips by the Decanter team to deal with the enormous task of the logistics behind the wine competition, the day finally arrived.
Anyone entering the foyer of Cyperport 3 at 9am on Monday, September 17th, would have instantly felt the energy and excitement of being part of a very special group. Steven Spurrier, my co-chair for DAWA who inaugurated and chairs the Decanter World Wine Awards in London, flew in from London for the week. Also from London was Andrew Jefford, Decanter columnist with a poet’s sensitivity for words and also the extremely talented Gerard Basset, a Master of Wine, Master Sommelier and the Best Sommelier in the World 2010. Michael Hill-Smith MW, an extraordinary judge with decades of experience, joined us from Australia.
Our international judges, however preeminent, were dwarfed in number by the local Asian and Asian-based judges who participated. Over forty local judges were selected to judge from countries such as China, Japan, India, Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. We had some of the finest and most experienced palates from Asia including Shinya Tasaki, the Best Sommelier in the World in 1995 and the current President of the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale, and Ch’ng Poh Tiong, pioneering wine publisher, author and educator.
Over four days, we sip, tasted and spat hundreds of wines, at a civilised pace of 80 wines per day. We took the time to discuss the wines after our individual scores were called out, mulling over those that may have diverging scores and retasting those that were rated Gold or Silver medals even by one judge. Many of us got to know each other better or for the first time, between flights and during breaks and meal times.
By Wednesday, those listening to the conversations in the spacious judging room with floor to ceiling windows, would have felt they were privy to a friendly banter among friends rather than a stiff wine competition. It helped that the room was extremely comfortable, well-lit with an adjacent outdoor balcony. It helped that the well-trained local wine service staff were so attentive to our needs that by the second day, a look sometimes sufficed to call them to action. It also helped that we never had to worry about any of the wine details and our sole task was to judge each wine fairly and at a leisurely pace.
For many judges, it was French wines that took up their time during their four days judging at DAWA – it was the category with the largest number of wines with 11 Gold medals, 10 of which are from Bordeaux! This beckons the question about whether Asian judges, many weaned on Bordeaux, have a preference for its flavour and style. France was followed by Australia and Italy at second and third place respectively. Australia and France have always been head to head in this region in volume though in recent years France has surged ahead. Italy has been making a big push over the past two years to gain ground and the number of Italian wines submitted echoed this trend.
The next largest wine entries came from Chile, Spain, New Zealand and South Africa. I was happy to see that we had nearly 50 Asian wines that entered and over 70 Central and Eastern European wines. I spent quite a bit of time with the Spain panel and enjoyed our discussion about modern versus traditional styles and Spanish producers’ use and over-use of oak. Lively and interesting conversation must have been prevalent throughout the room because quite a few judges afterwards told me they enjoyed the social aspect as much as the tasting and judging experience.
This was the spirit of the first DAWA -- one of friendship and respect. Michael Hill-Smith summed it up very nicely when he said on the last day of DAWA, “This has been great fun. It is one of the most enjoyable wine competitions I have ever judged in. Can I come back?”
See also: Co-chair’s report: Steven Spurrier