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Experts gather to judge the grape

SOME of the world's best wines available locally were put through judging rigors not before seen in China as an international standard wine competition made its debut in Shanghai last week.

The China Wine Challenge 2010 was set up to show the wine world that China is a vibrant market and should be taken seriously. And the 250 wines on show in 35 categories were put through their paces by some of the world's best wine judges.

The awards ceremony was held on Friday at the Hilton Shanghai.

As China sustains its momentum as the fastest-growing wine market in the world, the "Challenge" competition makes its debut during a period in which there has been a flood of foreign wine makers, authors and marketers beating a path here to find out more and to sell more.

Wine education courses are popular and wine dinners in five-star hotels are common, hosted by foreign CEOs, vignerons and salesmen for customers educated in the nuances of the grape to taste their latest products.

Yet, unlike other countries with a proliferation of national and regional shows awarding "medals" to the top wines, tasting competitions are not widely known in China.

In keeping with its prominence as a quality five-star hotel and the trappings that go with it, such as fine dining venues and an extensive selection of quality wine, the Hilton Shanghai has been a prime mover in introducing the China Wine Challenge and ensuring that it is comfortable in Shanghai.


"It's fantastic to have it here and we're very excited. Although it's a foundation year when people get familiar with the concept, it has the potential to be the most significant wine event in China every year," says the hotel's General Manager Guy Hutchinson. "There's nothing in China today even close to this level and it will grow from strength to strength."

The Hilton is supporting the event's early development and if the first program held over three days last week is any indication, the standard is at the highest international level.

In collaboration with developer of the 13-year-old Japan Wine Challenge, Brown & Company Ltd, and with the support of Riedel Glasses as main sponsor, Hutchinson recruited a collection of major league international wine judges.

They included judging Chairman Steven Spurrier, considered by many of his peers to have the world's finest wine palate but also respected as a contributing editor of Decanter magazine, a leading figure in many international wine awards and the man who established the first wine school in Paris.

Other foreign judges included Lynne Sheriff, deputy chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine, David Wrigley (UK), Andrew Caillard (Australia), Michel Bettane (France), Dr Rowald Hepp (Germany) and Anthony Dias Blue (US).

"I felt a year and a half ago the time was right to organize the same competition in China that we have in Japan," says Ron Brown, principal of Brown & Company Ltd and initiator of the Japan Wine Challenge.

"It's the fastest-growing wine market in the world, there are fantastic outlets, great importing companies and great sommeliers. But there is a real dearth of education at a certain level so the stage seemed set to bring greater wine understanding," he adds.

Spurrier, who has been a regular visitor to China for the past 10 years and collaborated with Brown in the Japan project, is confident of the fledgling China event's potential.

"The China Wine Award sticker on the bottle will actually mean something in this emerging market," he says. "Wine producers and importers are looking for a market and all the consumers are looking for information. And a very proper way to get the information to them is to have the wines judged in professional circumstances by a proper team of judges who know what they're doing," he adds.

"The standard of wines is very high, even better than in Japan and much higher than the average wine competition worldwide," says Brown. "One of the reasons is that people in this market are far more interested than elsewhere in top-level wines."


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