India Wine Challenge kicks off in London

Blind Tasting

Robert Joseph- The pied piper with the wines ready to roll'Blindness' of wines tasted is as natural as eating meals- every wine must be tasted without any clue of the producer from the bottle. This was achieved meticulously by Robert and his groupies of 5-6 persons who maintained the records and secrecy.

No judge had any such clue- they were informed about the country and vintage only. 'It takes super-tasters to judge the vintage and countries-we we make the job easier and more focussed by telling them the country in advance, says Robert.

Order of presentation was also decided by Robert's team and his computer. An interesting change in thought process is taking place internationally for the order of tasting. The earlier concept of tasting whites, then reds seems to be replaced by the new paradigm where the flights are inter-changed to keep the flavour-buds alive longer, the pattern followed here too.

Robert did warn the judges against the usual fallacies of different levels of markings (some being more liberal than the others), the later flights getting more liberal (or at times stringent) attention and points getting affected due to exhaustion and the tiring of taste buds. In short, he advised to avoid the potential pitfalls and human failings in such competitions.

Democratic style of judging

Robert's philosophy is that the judging at the international competitions should be democratic. After individual assessment, the wine should be discussed in case of difference of opinion. 'Every wine should have its few minutes in the court-truly and well represented, as the producer is not there to defend his wine.'

In a majority of competitions, especially the OIV (France) regulated ones, the extreme top and bottom points given by he judges are filtered out. 'This could be grossly unfair to the wine,' insists Robert. "If you put Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson and me in different corners with the same wine, our expressions may be poles apart, depending upon the individual preferences of styles. It would be unfair to simply take the 'best' from one judge and 'worst' from the other and brand it an average wine, as much as considering the extreme points as irrelevant".

Each wine was tasted and judged by the panel of 3-5 judges; there were two panels tasting different wines-about 65 on each day. When there was general agreement (surprising that this was the case in a majority of the cases) on whether a wine deserved a medal, the chairman of the panel would total the points and move to the next wine. If there was a disagreement, the panel would discuss its strengths and weaknesses and the reasons for their high or low scoring.

Discussion would carry on till an agreement was reached. In case of lingering doubts, the other panel would be requested to taste it too. A consensus was arrived at, the Chairman having a say too.

The essence of the style of judging style was described by Abhay Kewadkar, one of the judges from India. He was ' most impressed with the democratic concept of the tasting and the willingness of the judges to patiently listen to each other and even change their opinion in the most humble way, whenever there was serious difference
in opinion.  The interaction to arrive at the conclusion was very educative, and gave an exposure to the international styles and opinions and most importantly, gave the first hand experience to the way the judges extended mutual respect to one another,' he adds.

Abhay was also positive about the quality of judges. 'With authorities like Mr. Robert Joseph in Chair, international judges and wine masters like Messrs. Keith Isaac, Sarah Jane Evans, Illy Jaffar, Brett S Crittenden and Phil Golfe on the panel, the judging was of the highest standards.  The participation of judges from India indeed added a
touch of variety and an exposure to Indian wine market,' he commented.

Steven Spurrier, the well known Decanter Editor who conducted the famous 1976 tastings between California and Bordeaux wines and repeated the same exercise last year, is a juror for Decanter International Wine Challenge. He concurred with the IWC competition philosophy when I met him for a glass of wine in the evening. ‘This is how we also conduct the competition at Decanter where wines may be more but the format is very similar, ‘ he told me.

Next Phase of India Wine Challenge

The medal winning wines are being sent to India for further tasting by the panel in Delhi to determine Great Gold etc. The international wines that are being presently sold can be sent directly to their office in Delhi as also the Indian wines to take part in the second phase.

Indian wines have the advantage of competing directly with the international category and win a medal. They will also have an opportunity of winning in the specially created category of Indian wines.

The results are of course kept secret and will be revealed at the IFE-India after the tasting on 3 rd and 4 th December. They will also be published on various websites and magazines, including and

Wines with Indian food

Matching Indian snacks with award winning winesAn attempt has been made to pair Indian food with award winning wines and judge the synergy. The judges were invited to pair these wines with Indian food. Four snacky dishes including Papri chaat , lamb puffs and spicy chicken prepared specially by Chef Cyrus Todiwala were served to the panel to taste with different award winning wines and the judges were asked to give their comments about the possible matches.

The results will be shared after the second leg of the competition in Delhi when similar snacks will be served with the wines. The objective is to get an indication of which type of wines goes well with which food and whether the award winning wines can do justice to Indian food. The exercise will be repeated with similar food in India.

Level of competition

Robert is very pleased with the number of international entries and is hopeful of an enthusiastic participation by the Indian contingent from the importers and producers alike. 'After all it is in the interest of the importers and producers to showcase their products to the judging palates and they are the ones to directly benefit from this programme in their marketing effort,' adds Robert.

Indian producers and existing importers would be well-advised to take part in the Challenge by contacting the organisers during the next few days.

Subhash Arora

November 10, 2007

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