Wednesday, September 4, 2019

AIWC - Asia International Wine Competition

AIWC - Asia International Wine Competition

AIWC - Asia International Wine Competition - Logo

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to participate, as one of the Wine Judges, in the AIWC 2019 (Asia International Wine Competition), held in Hong Kong. 

I had the chance to participate back in 2017 and 2018, and once again, Adam Levy (the creator of AIWC) and Beth Dorrough (Adam's "right arm" and co-organiser of the AIWC) kindly invited me to participate in the event this year too.

Royce Cellar in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon) Hong Kong
©LeDomduVin2019 (storefront)

The event was held at Royce Cellar in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon), in Hong Kong. A modern wine boutique store and wine bar, where customers can browse a very eclectic selection from the Old World and the New, including some of the most prestigious Chateaux from Bordeaux as well as some of the iconic Domaines and Producers of Burgundy, Rhone and Champagne, mingling with some of the top wineries of Australia, New Zealand, USA and beyond.

Royce Cellar in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon) Hong Kong
©LeDomduVin2019 (inside)

From what I could see on their shelves and wine fridges, they can accommodate any customer's needs, offering a wide range of wines (white, red, rosé, sparkling, sweet, fortified) and even some spirits, as well as Saké, at both ends of the price spectrum and in various formats too.

Royce Cellar in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon) Hong Kong
©LeDomduVin2019 (shelves)

The old Sommelier and ex-wine-boutique-store manager in me were very pleased to see such an enticing display of great wines in such a modern, yet comfortable, bright and inviting environment. The bar at the back end of the store and the private salon at the basement floor create a cosy atmosphere, which further enhances the visual experience.      

Royce Cellar in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon) Hong Kong
©LeDomduVin2019 (the bar)

Although the competition started at 10am, I arrived about half an hour early, as I like to do, (in case they needed help and could make myself useful), only to discover that the store was already full of people. And that's when I realized that not only wines but also beers and spirits will be tasted that day. Amongst the people were the store's staffs of course, but also some helping-hands to assist and aid the AIWC team with the preparation of the bottles and glasses for the tastings, and of course, the judges, all veteran specialists in their own field (wine, beer and spirits), from different horizons and backgrounds.

A welcoming copious breakfast of Viennoiseries and mini-sandwiches, as well as coffee and tea, had been set up for those of us who might want to have a bite and something to drink prior getting started with the competition's tastings. And, although, I need to admit that, usually, I prefer not to eat or drink prior to a tasting as it normally decreases the sensitivity of my tastebuds, (tastebuds being fully functional and more sensitive in the morning, usually around 10-11am, especially when starving due to lack of food or liquid for a few hours), I could not resist the temptation to discreetly devour some of these goodies... too appetizing!!!

AIWC's Adam Levy giving the wine judges
a quick briefing prior to starting the tasting
Royce Cellar basement room ©LeDomduVin 2019

Once sated, Adam and Beth invited us to go to the room at the basement (where the wines will be tasted, while beers and spirits will be tasted upstairs within the store and at the bar on the ground floor), to have a quick briefing on the process and the rules of the competition, prior to starting the tasting.     

The AIWC is a truly interesting and eyes-opening wine competition where wines are basically tasted blind and judged based on their Quality-Price-Ratio (or QPR as commonly referred to in the wine trade). QPR is basically a conceptual measure of the perceived value of a wine, in this particular case, the judge's opinion of the wine's quality weighed against its price.

So basically, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a wine buyer, (i.e. one of your customers or clients or even yourself), and with your wine tasting skills and experience as well as your knowledge of the market and its eventual changing trends, decide whether the wine is good or not based on its quality-price-ratio and, at the end of the day, your willingness to buy it. 

In short, is the wine worth the price you will pay for it? And will you buy it?

The answer often falls into 4 main categories:

  • Good (or occasionally geat) value for money, I'll definitely buy this wine at this price... 
  • Hum... Not bad, I could definitely see myself sipping on that wine occasionally at this price...
  • Hem... This wine is ok (occasionally good), but not at this price... no thanks... 
  • Yuck... This wine is outrageous... Next!

The QPR Dilemma - Quality-Price-Ratio
by ©LeDomduVin 2019

To prevent from any biased answers, the wines are tasted by a minimum of 2 judges and brought in front of the judges by flights of 3-10 glasses of wine of the same grape variety (i.e. all Pinot Noir in the same flight), some from the same origin, but not always, usually coming from different regions or even countries (i.e. Pinot Noir from New Zealand and Oregon in the same flight), and not from the same vintage either. Yet, it also happens that some wines in the same flight may not be from the same grape variety either...

So, how can you judge them, will you say?

Well, the answer to that question is quite simple:

Each wine must be tasted for what it is and worth what you're willing to pay for it!!!

QPR = Quality vs Price by ©LeDomduvin 2019

Let me clarify by giving you the AIWC rules (*) as explained by Adam (you can also check the AIWC website here for more details on the rules)

  • AIWC (Asia International Wine Competition) medals are awarded on a merit basis by a majority vote. 
  • The judges are instructed to grant no awards or medals when, in their opinion, the wines are not ones they would import, distribute, buy or sell in their businesses based on product and price category. 
  • Judges are asked to evaluate the wines in silence until all panel members have finished their evaluation and then open a discussion to reach a consensus. 
  • Judge votes are recorded by an AIWC staff moderator. If there is a significant difference among the judges’ votes, panellists are encouraged to reach a consensus and, if needed, seek counsel from the Head Judge Adam Levy. 
  • Award levels are Double Gold, Gold, Silver, and Bronze. 
  • Double Gold: Phenomenal Product (Must be a unanimous decision by panellists) 
  • Gold: Buyers “Love” It 
  • Silver: Buyers “Like” It 
  • Bronze: Buyers would purchase it 
  • Double Gold award winners will be re-tasted by all panellists to establish which brands may be eligible to receive a ‘Best of Category’ endorsement in its pricing category

I think now you have a better understanding and a clearer idea of how this competition is conducted. 😊

So, now, let get on with the tasting, shall we?

Leigh-Ann Luckett, Director of Operations
at Madison Fine Wine Auction (MFWA) ©LeDomduVin 2019

After the quick briefing, they divided us into two panels of judges. Seating at one of the judge's tables, I was joined by my "partner-in-crime" for that day, Leigh-Ann Luckett, Director of Operations at Madison Fine Wine Auction (MFWA). Leigh-Ann also participated as a wine judge at the AIWC previously, so we were acquainted already and somewhat knew each other personality and palate, which immediately set a relaxed atmosphere for both of us. Understandably, it is easier to taste and reach a consensus with someone you know, appreciate and feel comfortable with, than with someone you don't. We were the panel number 2.

AIWC Asia International Wine Competition Tasting Session
©LeDomduVin 2019

While we were catching up on things since we last met, I glanced at the table set up with the usual suspects, the unavoidable tasting tools: a spittoon, a bottle of water, an empty glass for the water and a stack of tasting sheets on which the judges will be writing their notes and comments and eventual awards.

As this is a blind tasting, the tasting sheets bare nothing but a few numbers (Wine number, Wine ID and Wine Price), with only an indication on the type of wine mentioning the grape variety that will be tasted per flight (see below an example of AIWC tasting sheet **).

The first flight arrived on the table, the competition could start. Like in any wine tastings, the judges taste the wines, write their comments and establish, on their own, first, if the wine is worth an award or not. Leigh-Ann and I have rather similar palates and thus similar thoughts and tasting sensations, which eased the process to reach a consensus on the QPR of the wines and eventually led us to give some awards. 

Immediately as the flight arrives on the table, an AIWC moderator confirms the details already stated on the tasting sheet (flight number, grape variety, region or country of origin), and, also,  if a wine is missing, as it happens that, although originally planned to be tasted, some wines might be faulty, corked or oxidized, and therefore have been removed right before the tasting (thus after the tasting sheets were printed).   

The AIWC moderator also provides the vintages of the wines about to be tasted. It allows the judges to have a better idea on how to approach the wine, to process to the sensory examination and evaluation, in order to assess it's quality-price-ratio (QPR).

For example, if the moderator says "the first two wines of the flight are both Australian Cabernet Sauvignon from 2016 vintage", then the wine judge's mindset will be focusing on these particular details as he/she tastes and assesses the wine, by, carefully and methodically, examining the sensory qualities (visual aspect, aromas, texture and flavors). And if the moderator also provides the region of origin (i.e. Margaret river), then it is an extra bonus clue for the judges, who will further refine the focus of their mindset to taste, examine and evaluate the wine.

Sensory Examination & Evaluation of Wine
Graphic by ©LeDomduVin 2019

In most case scenarios, the mindset of a wine taster proceeding to the sensory examination and evaluation of wine during a tasting (a person's internal way of thinking and his/her primary opinions while tasting in silence first, prior to expressing his/her comments to others) works in the order indicated in the graphic above (clockwise):

If we take the example above, a 2016 vintage, Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River, Australia, then here is how and what the wine taster is thinking going through these 4 main steps, prior to finalize his/her sensory examination and evaluation of the wine.

1. Origin
  • Country: Australia - The wine taster is thinking: New World - Ripe Fruit - Bold Taste
  • Region: Margaret River - Western Australia - Thinking: Renown for its fine Cabernet Sauvignons - Classic
  • Climate: Warm, temperate, and although referenced as a Mediterranean climate, it is, in fact, more Bordeaux-like - Thinking: cooler climate than Southern Australia, therefore more freshness and elegance than Barossa (for example)
2. Wine Type / Grape Variety
  • Cabernet Sauvignon - grown in Margaret River - usual characteristics: red wine, medium to full-bodied, rich in flavors and quite complex, with a good tannic structure and good acidity too, yet more rounded and lighter on its feet (less heavy) than it's Barossa counterparts (for example) (Leeuwin Estate Cab is my personal reference and preference) 
3. Vintage

  • 2016.... in Margaret River for Cabernet Sauvignon... Well, hem... I'm a bit stuck here... help?!? And that's generally the main problem of most wine tasters during wine tastings, as, you may have very good overall knowledge about the region of origin, the climate, the terroir, type of wine and the grape variety, but you may lack the info about the vintage, more especially if you only have notions and never really read anything about it. Meaning that, personally, ask me about Bordeaux or Burgundy, and I will tell you everything I know about the vintage's specifics and variations of and within these two regions; yet, ask me about Margaret River vintages and, like in a cartoon during an awkward moment, you'll probably will hear the sound of an eagle flying in the sky (a red-tailed hawk actually, watch the reason why here 😉😁).    
  • So, I just read a few articles about the 2016 vintage in Margaret River, and, unfortunately, it was a difficult one (and it does not mean that all Margaret River wines in that specific vintage are bad by the way, some are surprisingly good...) Read what James Halliday says about it here (and in case you do not know who James Halliday is, do me a favor and get yourself educated here)  

4. Taste

So, with a mindset on the country, region and grape variety, and no clue about the quality of the vintage, the time has come to taste the wines. The judges of the panel have two ways to do it,

  • either by tasting and comment on the wines, one by one, tasting the first wine (in silence), writing their comments on the tasting sheet first, then consult the other judges of the panel for their comments, evaluate the QPR (i.e. Is it worth it at that price?) and reach a consensus to attribute an award (or not), then do the same for the 2nd wine, and so on 
  • or, by tasting all of the wines of the flight at once, and write their comments on the tasting sheet first, then talk about all the wines at once, and evaluate their QPR by comparing them (i.e. This wine is a much better buy at this price than the other one and deserves bronze? silver? gold? or double gold?), then reach a consensus to attribute an award (or not)
Leigh-Ann and I chose the first way, as it is somewhat easier to taste each wine individually and taste them for what they are, rather than comparing them as, in my opinion, it could influence your judgement on the quality of the wine and you may lower your rating or downgrade the award, or not give any award based on these differences, which, in my opinion, isn't fair.

Don't get me wrong, we eventually end up also comparing them a little at the end, even with the first way, of course, no choice, but I truly believe that we are less influenced when the wines are tasted individually.       

Meaning that, for example, if you taste an average Pinot Noir at $20 and compare it to a very good Pinot Noir at $35, you might be tempted to give no award for the one at $20 and give silver or gold to the one at $35. While, if you taste them individually, you might consider that the one at $20 is not that average (after all) within this kind of price range, and although the one at $35 is very good, it is kind of expensive and at the end of the day not necessarily worth paying $35 (it is all debatable, but this is just an example, after I let you judge the way you think is better 😊).

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that, in this type of competition where wines are tasted blind, it is better (in my opinion) to taste them individually to determine their QPR and evaluate what they really worth, rather than comparing them. 

Not sure if we were too strict, but Leigh-Ann and I did not give many awards, needless to say not much gold, and only one double gold. But that said when you reach our level of wine-buying experience, your palate pays more attention to the obvious flaws of the wines, and often become less tolerant, more uncompromising towards these flaws.

Flaws that are too often accepted, at a lesser professional level by the "wannabe-wine-professional-hipsters" and other "supposedly-posh-wine-connoisseurs", like being a distinct part of the character of the wines. Like excuses to convince themselves that the wine is good when actually it isn't, ring the bell?

Wine Hipster vs Connoisseur by ©LeDomduVin 2019

- "The horse manure and other faeces notes of this natural wine make it so enticing",
- "Well, what? Are you kidding? This wine smells like shit...?!?"
- "Yes, but it is a specific kind of shit, I can smell like... and some... and a hint of...."
- "Ok, spare me the details, this wine smells like shit and is probably bad, but obviously I can't convince you otherwise...(sigh)... Are you always that Hip with wines?"

Basically, the more experienced and professional you are, the more sharpened are your senses, and thus you'll end up being more restrictive on giving accolades and awards, and more difficult to please as with experience, especially when judging wines, flaws are not a "je ne sais quoi" which enhance the character of the wine, they are flaws! Full stop. 

Going back to the competition tasting, once done with these 4 steps, the judges can now discuss with each other and exchange their opinions on the quality of the wine and together assess the QPR of the wine based on its price. As, as the graph above clearly suggests it, no matter how good the wine is or how much you like it, or not, everything revolves around the price! As, in the end, what really matters is the price and your willingness to paying that price or not!

And, for most of the wines presented at the competition, the tasting conclusion ends up being (most of the time): "I like the wine, but not at that price... too expensive, and better wines are available in this price range or lower... I'll rather buy something else!". 

Yet, and fortunately, some of these wines received some awards as a reward for their intrinsic qualities, and more especially for their quality-price-ratio (QPR) for being exceptionally good values for money in their respective category (region, grape variety, wine type) and price range.

Once finished, the tasting sheets of all the judges/panels are collected by the AIWC team, which, in turn, compare the judge's notes, then verify and confirm the awards, which are available on AIWC website. (***) 

What a great day! And what a great competition to participate in, too. Thanks again to Adam Levy (the creator of AIWC) and Beth Dorrough (Adam's "right arm" and co-organiser of the AIWC) for inviting to participate for the 3rd year in a row. Thanks to Leigh-Ann Luckett for being my "partner-in-crime" for that day. A great experience! Highly recommended.

Adam Levy (creator/founder of the AIWC Asia International Wine Competition)
and Dominique Noel (a.k.a LeDomduVin) in Royce Cellar (TST)
©LeDomduVin 2019

Well, wait a minute, that's it, finished? and you didn't eat?!? (will you say...)

But of course, we did. Adam and Beth are taking very good care of their judges. We took a break to go to a nearby Chinese restaurant, called Tai Woo Restaurant (TST) (****), which was actually really good I must say. All the judges (wine, beer and spirits) sat together, which called for interesting subjects convivially discussed while enjoying dumplings and other Hong Kongese and Chinese delights paired with some of the gold and double gold awarded wines and beers from the morning session. 

Adam Levy and some of the AIWC team and judges
at Tai Woo Restaurant (TST) ©LeDomduVin 2019

Beth Dorrough and some of the AIWC team and judges
at Tai Woo Restaurant (TST) ©LeDomduVin 2019

Beth Dorrough and some of the AIWC team and judges
at Tai Woo Restaurant (TST) ©LeDomduVin 2019 (2)

Some of the AIWC team and judges
at Tai Woo Restaurant (TST) ©LeDomduVin 2019 (1)

Some of the AIWC team and judges
at Tai Woo Restaurant (TST) ©LeDomduVin 2019 (2)

Love Craft beer (tasted at the AIWC competition)
at Tai Woo Restaurant (TST) ©LeDomduVin 2019

Pasteur Street Brewing Company Passion Fruit
Wheat Beer (tasted at the AIWC competition)
at Tai Woo Restaurant (TST)
©LeDomduVin 2019

Master Gao Lunar Eclipse
British Style Imperial Stout Beer
(tasted at the AIWC competition)
at Tai Woo Restaurant (TST)
©LeDomduVin 2019

Some of the food, wines, beers and spirits
(tasted at the AIWC competition)
at Tai Woo Restaurant (TST)
©LeDomduVin 2019

Kevin O’Leary 2017
Pinot Noir Reserve Series
(tasted at the AIWC competition)
at Tai Woo Restaurant (TST)
©LeDomduVin 2019

What a great lunch! Good food, good company, good wines, beers and even some spirits, good atmosphere, what else to ask?

I would like to apologize to all the people in the pictures above and below for not mentioning all your names, first because we met for the first time that day and I'm very bad for remembering people names on the first day, and secondly because you were far too many for me to remember all of them. (*****)

After lunch, we went back to Royce Cellar to finish the afternoon session of the competition. Once finished and our testing sheets given back to AIWC team, we were authorised to enter the room with the samples to see the wines we tasted that day...

Wine Samples tasted at the AIWC 2019  (1)
©LeDomduVin 2019

Wine Samples tasted at the AIWC 2019  (2)
©LeDomduVin 2019

Wine Samples tasted at the AIWC 2019 (3)
©LeDomduVin 2019

Wine Samples tasted at the AIWC 2019 (4)
©LeDomduVin 2019

Wine Samples tasted at the AIWC 2019 (4)
©LeDomduVin 2019

Judges at AIWC 2019
and a happy couple about to get married soon (1)
©LeDomduVin 2019 

Judges at AIWC 2019
and a happy couple about to get married soon (2)
©LeDomduVin 2019

Judges at AIWC 2019
and colleagues in the real-life
©LeDomduVin 2019

Judges at AIWC 2019 in deep thoughts ;-)
tasting some of the samples afterwards
©LeDomduVin 2019

AIWC 2019 - The team and the Panel of Judges for Wine, Beer and Spirits
behind the bar at Royce Cellar (TST) ©LeDomduVin 2019

AIWC 2019 - The team and the Panel of Judges for Wine, Beer and Spirits
behind the bar at Royce Cellar (TST) ©LeDomduVin 2019 (black teeth smile)

I'm finishing this post on a high and happy note with these pictures of the joyful and smiley people who constituted the team and the judges for the wine, beer and spirits tasted that day for (respectively) the AIWC (Asia International Wine Competition), the AIBC (Asia International Beer Competition) and the AISC (Asia International Spirits Competition).

Talented and seasoned people, all expert in their own field, respectively wine, beer and spirits, for whom I have much respect. I really hope to see you all next year, if once again Adam Levy and Beth Dorrough kindly invite me to participate in the competition, which I will do with great interest and enthusiasm.

Thank you,

That's All Folks! for today, but stay tuned for more post like this one coming soon.

Santé! Cheers!

Dominique Noel (a.k.a. LeDomduVin)

(*) Rules fully or partly taken from the briefing as well as from the AIWC website here

(**) This AIWC tasting sheet example was created for the purpose of this post only and all original design of AIWC tasting sheets copyrights belong to AIWC (this is just a gimmick of the tasting sheet we had during the tasting used as a visual to complete the paragraph above the picture. 

(***) If interested you can find out which wines received the awards for the 2019 Competition on the AIWC website here

(****) The restaurant we went to for lunch is called "Tai Woo" Restaurant, located at 14-16 Hillwood Road, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon. Find more about it on their website here

(*****) If you recognize yourself in any of the pictures, please email me and I will add your name to the corresponding picture. (or remove the picture if you prefer...) Thank you 😅

More about AIWC - Asia international Wine Competition at

More about Royce Cellar at

AIWC, Asia International Wine Competition, Tasting Events, Wine Competition, Wine Tasting, Wine Education, Wine Knowledge, Illustrations, #lesillustrationsadom, #ledomduvin, ©LeDomduVin, Wine Store, Wine Experience, Wine Judge

1 comment:

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