Sorry everyone, I failed.
Last week, I said that I’d try to post some tidbits from my time judging at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in Beijing, China. Except I didn’t event get close. Long days and dodgy wifi meant that I posted nothing.
But now I’m back, and the photos tell a tale themselves…
What’s great about wine in China is the unbridled enthusiasm. Here’s a country with a nascent wine drinking culture, yet is already one of the biggest wine consuming nations on earth. And the Concours Mondial was an entertaining example of what happens when you take an established European wine competition and plonk it in a spot that is anything but traditional vino country.
In some ways it was an occasionally maddening experience (5 more minutes in Beijing can mean hours), but in Beijing there is a sense of scale and spectacle that just can’t be beaten. Bigger, flashier, and always with more people. China is going to be a giant of wine, and you can just sense that this is an exciting place to be (if frenetic).
As for the wine show itself – well, it was a genuinely enjoyable experience. From surprise packet Moldovan whites to the high calibre of judges, it was a pleasure. Small flights (18 wines max) and just 50 samples a day made it relatively light going in the context of other wine shows, and the quality of some brackets was really very high. Superb!
Actually, my only gripe is that discussion is deliberately stifled – each judge enters a score and there is no changing it, unlike the ‘collegiate’ Australian type judging system. I understand the reason for this (judges can’t influence other panel members), but there were many wines that probably missed out on a medal because they just missed the points cutoff.
The way to work with such a system then was to either commit to high and low scores. If you really like something, then give it big points and drag the score up. Or if something is rubbish, score it really low. I’m still not convinced that it’s the ideal system (and I enjoy the discussion), but conversely it doesn’t need to change much either.
HQ was the Nirvana Resort set in the Haidian District in NW Beijing. Located on a set of lakes at the outskirts of the city, the Nirvana Resort was halfway between resort and theme park, complete with a rowing lake, waterslides, petting zoos and a climbing gym. But the best bits were the empty paths around the water, especially first thing in the morning (click to enlarge these photos).
This was the clearest day of the whole trip. I couldn’t see the mountains in the background on most days as the air quality was so bad.
Now, the worst day, with this photo taken near Tiananmen Square. Apparently the AQI reading was close to 300, which is approaching ‘don’t go outside’ territory. You could taste the air…
Scale is what Beijing is all about. Everything is bigger. The streets are wider. The buildings taller. It’s impressive just to stand and gaze around.
This isn’t a window, it’s a 16k screen at the Huawei facility in Beijing that spans a whole wall. The quality was so good and the picture so vivid that it was barely believable.
A robot delivering water around the tasting hall. Chinese tech at work.
The Beijing subway is efficient, well-priced and goes everywhere, and it puts many other modern cities to shame (especially Sydney). Love the overtaking lanes on the escalators!
My setup at the Concours Mondial. Everything in its right place – and this show ran like a well oiled machine.
This was the first year that tablets were used for the scoring and I liked it. The system works and is ultimately smarter and faster than paper. The only challenge was when the wifi went down. It wasn’t just me struggling with connections..
My panel. We covered off Italy, Germany, China, Hungary, France and Australia. A real ‘united nations of wine’.
Over 300 judges and 9,000 wines appraised. Europe still makes up the bulk of entries for Concours Mondial, but it includes wines from all over the globe.
You might need to zoom in to see this (a bigger version here), but it’s a great graph and presentation from Professor Li Demei. Simply put, China is not one market, and it doesn’t have a single cuisine. A ‘unified Chinese palate doesn’t exist’.
‘Mushrooms’. These were actually pork buns. Tasty too.
The duck at Siji Minfu, with condiments. Easily the best food I had in China, with a duck that was so good I might be ruined forever. It’s like suddenly flying business class after years in economy. That perfect skin is the stuff of duck dreams.
Traditional dish of turtle. That’s his head in the middle there. It was an experience, but wrong on many levels too. Tastes like a cross between fish and frog with lots of bones and weird leathery skin. Can’t recommend. The Beijing lamb though!
Beijing has a vibrant brewing scene, with a few excellent microbreweries. This was at Jing-A and the pork belly BBQ was so very very good. Their DIPA is a multi-award winner that was simply delicious.
One of the first European restaurants in Beijing, though the sign (click to enlarge) is clearly lost in translation…
The Great Wall is even more spectacular (and busier) than expected, though if you travel outside the city there are empty sections for the brave. I can’t mention enough how steep the climbs are.
Finally, I’m pretty sure we created history on Monday. The picture above is a group of alphorn players from Aigle, Switzerland – the host town for the 2019 edition of Concours Mondial – playing their 12ft long horns on the wall. It created a massive commotion and about 4 gajillion selfies from the crowd on a beautiful day. What a pleasure to be there for the ultimate Swiss/Chinese contrast and I’m looking forward to seeing more in 2019!