Monday, May 11, 2015

Old Mutual Trophy judges' feedback at The Grand Roche

This is one of the most exciting events of the year for the media, and for those producers who have entered wines. The judging had finished earlier that morning; the judges usually still have very blue teeth! We won’t learn who the winners are until after the awards lunch on May 27th. It is time to hear the opinions of the local and international judges of the wines they have tasted blind since Monday morning. They still do not know what they have tasted or what has been entered. Has the Cabernet group improved, are Chardonnays showing well, what about the Red blend class? The wines are tasted in grape varietal or blend groups by judges who are experienced in their category. And, each year, there are surprises: growth in quality, disappointments and successes in the categories.
2015 is the 14th year of the competition and 224 wine producers took part and 1082 wines (42 more than in 2014) were submitted to the show's three-person judging panels. Shiraz continued to be the single largest class with 120 submissions (2014: 129), followed by Sauvignon Blanc with 108 wines (2014: 102) and Chardonnay with 98 entries (2014: 95). Cabernet Sauvignon totals 91 (2014: 94), just ahead of Bordeaux Blends with 89 entries (2014: 90). Both Pinotage and Chenin Blanc entries increased this year to 65 and 74 respectively (2014: 58 and 57). Méthode Cap Classique entries at 48 are up on last year (2014 = 43). Museum Class entries represented 5% of all submissions.
Show Chairman Michael Fridjhon was delighted with the strength and spread of the entries. “In the past we tended to receive the bulk of our submissions in a few high profile classes.” he said. “This year, more than ever, we are seeing the country's leading wine producers submitting varieties which, a decade ago, were largely unknown to the local industry. This suggests that these new vineyards are now well-established and that those who have taken the not inconsiderable risk of planting cultivars which have done well internationally, are ready to submit them to the scrutiny of our judges and to bring them to the attention of South Africa's wine-savvy consumers. That said, the increased submissions from Chenin Blanc and Pinotage producers also speak of a growing level of confidence among producers of the two varieties most representative of the unique expression of the Cape wine industry.”
Our report back on the feedback of the judges will follow at the bottom of this blog..
Arrival at the Grand Roche conference venue
A warm welcome and a media information pack from Janice Fridjhon and Alex Mason-Gordon
Coffee tea and some wicked pastries for a mid morning snack
The Judges this year were: International:  John Gilman (USA); Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW (Singapore); Steven Spurrier (UK). South African:  Trizanne Barnard; Gary Jordan; Nkulu Mkhwanazi; James Pietersen; JD Pretorius; François Rautenbach. Steven Spurrier had to fly back to the UK to judge another competition and so was not present at the feedback session
Chairman Michael Fridjhon gets proceedings underway with some statistics of what was entered this year. 1085 entries, 3 withdrawn, 361 wines tasted per day by 3 panels over 3 days; ±120 wines per panel. There are 24 trophies, 12 gold medals, 88 silver and 430 bronze. 32% of the wines were under screw cap, 67 corked and one other. 175 wines were recalled, less and less cork taint as better corks are being used and more screw caps
Nkulu Mkhwanazi, South African Judge
Durban-based wine educator and KZN wine ambassador for Creation Wines. Chaired the UCT Wine Society in 2005. Completed diploma courses at the Cape Wine Academy and current Cape Wine Master student.  In 2009 founded the 031 Wine Society.  Founded the Shamase Wine Corp and the Johannesburg Wine Series (monthly themed tastings) in 2010. Chairman of the Highway Wine Society, Durban’s oldest wine club, since July 2014. . Judge at the RECM 10 Year Old Wine Awards in 2013 and contributor for the new Diners Club blog Obtained a Certificate of Competence with distinction from the Michael Fridjhon Wine Judging Academy in 2011 and attended the Advanced Wine Judging Academy in 2014. Trophy Wine Show associate judge from 2011 to 2014

James Pietersen, South African Judge

SA Portfolio Manager for Wine Cellar. Previously Head Sommelier for the Slick Restaurant Group and a former wine buyer for the Vineyard Connection. Graduated with distinction at the Michael Fridjhon Wine Judging Academy in 2007 and attended the Advanced Wine Judging Academy in 2014. A taster for Classic Wine Magazine, Platter’s South African Wine Guide as well as the Christian Eedes Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay Reports

Gary Jordan, South African Judge
Owner/winemaker of Jordan Wine Estate. Trained as a geologist before pursuing his interest in winemaking to California, where he and wife Kathy attended the Masters programme at the University of California (Davis). After a further year spent working in California, they returned to the family-owned Jordan Wine Estate in Stellenbosch Kloof as South Africa’s first husband-and-wife viticulture and winemaking team, the first bottling from this 161-hectare property taking place in 1993. 2014 saw Jordan Estate receiving the Decanter International Trophy for Chardonnay as well as the Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Trophy for the best International Blended Red Wine and the Trophy for the South African Wine Producer of the Year.  Gary is a past Chairman of the Cape Winemakers Guild, has been a judge at the Trophy Wine Show for most of the past nine years and is a lecturer at the Michael Fridjhon Wine Judging Academy

John Gilman, International Judge - USA
After graduating in Political Science and History from the University of Massachusetts, John Gilman spent 25 years as a wine merchant, sommelier, rare wine broker and consultant.  During this time he held the position of purchaser and general manager at a number of top wine and spirits retailers in New York.  In 2006 Gilman launched the bimonthly newsletter  He has contributed to The World of Fine Wine and other wine journals.  In particular, he is recognised as one of world’s foremost experts on the wines of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Germany.  He is currently working on a book on Burgundy with Véronique Drouhin.  Gilman lives near New York

Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, International Judge - Singapore
Editor-in-chief of Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate and Lisa Perrotti-Brown reviews Australian and New Zealand wines for the bimonthly wine journal. Born in Maine, USA, and an English Literature graduate, she moved to London to pursue a career as a playwright.  Her passion and interest in the wine world developed while working in a wine bar to pay off student loans.  After gaining her WSET diploma she worked in various sales and marketing roles in the London wine trade.  She moved to Tokyo in 2002 as a wine buyer for one of Japan’s top fine wine importers and educator for the Academie du Vin.  She has since relocated to Singapore and became a Master of Wine in 2008. This year The Wine Advocate will publish Lisa’s first book, “Taste Like a Wine Critic: A Guide to Understanding Wine Quality”, available to purchase through The Wine Advocate from June 2015

Steven Spurrier, International Judge - United Kingdom
Old Mutual Image
Chairman of the Decanter World Wine Awards and the Decanter Asia Wine Awards, President of the Circle of Wine Writers (until May 2015) and organizer of the “Judgement of Paris” Wine Tasting in 1976. 
Spurrier joined the wine trade in 1964 as a trainee with Christopher and Co, London’s oldest wine merchant. In 1970 he moved to Paris where he  opened Les Caves de la Madeleine, which rapidly achieved recognition as one of the most highly regarded specialist wine shops in Paris. In 1973 he opened L’Academie du Vin, France’s first private wine school, and went on to stage the famous Paris Tasting of 1976, when a Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California scored more highly than some of the most prestigious wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux. Spurrier is the author of several books on wine and is consultant editor to Decanter magazine.  Trophy Wine Show judge in 2007

François Rautenbach, South African Judge
Heads up the ‘Singita Premier Wine Direct’ programme for Singita Game Reserves, sourcing and supplying wines for the Singita properties in Southern and East Africa.  Deeply invested in hospitality having lived and worked in the African continent, France, U.K. and Australia – always with emphasis on food and wine excellence.  Cape Wine Academy Diploma graduate.  Graduated with distinction at the Michael Fridjhon Wine Judging Academy in 2008, served as associate judge at the Trophy Wine Show that year and has been a senior judge at the show since 2011. Attended the Michael Fridjhon Advanced Wine Judging Academy in 2014

Trizanne Barnard, South African Judge
Graduated from Stellenbosch University in 2002 with a BSc Viticulture and Oenology degree. Following vintages in Alsace, Bordeaux, Northern Rhône as well as Portugal and Western Australia, served as chief winemaker for Anwilka in Stellenbosch from 2005 to 2008. Released the maiden vintage of her Trizanne Signature Wine in 2010. A distinction graduate of the Michael Fridjhon Wine Judging Academy in 2009 and Advanced Wine Judging Academy attendee in 2014, she has served on the judging panels for South Africa’s Young Wine Show and Wine magazine.  Winemakers’ Choice Awards judge for 5 years. Trophy Wine Show associate judge in 2010 and 2012 and judge in 2014

JD Pretorius, South African Judge

Graduated from Stellenbosch University in 2007 with a BSc. Viticulture and Oenology degree. Worked at Beyerskloof and Graham Beck Wines as well as at Stonestreet Winery in Sonoma County, California. Appointed winemaker at Steenberg Vineyards in Tokai on the Constantia Wine Route in 2009 and promoted to cellarmaster in 2012. Obtained a distinction at the Michael Fridjhon Wine Judging Academy in 2010 and attended the Advanced Wine Judging Academy in 2014. Vice-chairman of the Sauvignon Blanc interest group from December 2013.  Trophy Wine Show associate judge from 2011 to 2013 and judge in 2014. Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year 2014

The audience of media and wine trade
The workers who make the tasting physically possible
aka The Grande Crew
On a really beautiful day,
lunch with the judges after the feedback was on the terrace in front of the manor house
The menu. The food has so improved from previous years.  It was modern, fresh and delicious. And a bit sinful

Meaty and succulent sea bass with a crisp skin, a just cooked crayfish tail, a mussel broth with large mussels and some saffron puffed rice on the swipe of squid ink, purely for decoration. Lynne also found a scallop but missed the spring vegetables. They must have been the micro greens. A lovely dish redolent of the sea
Beautiful slices of rare butter poached duck breast, with ravioli containing decadently rich duck confit. This was on a rich cream, sprinkled with truffle and  assorted mushrooms and dotted with cranberry. Oh, and a lovely crisp piece of duck skin. Lynne didn't get any sautéed Brussels sprouts mentioned on the menu, thankfully
John’s version of the main course was without the mushrooms and came on pea puree with crisp fresh sprouting broccoli and a good duck jus
Some of the wines we were able to drink with lunch
Dessert was just enough decadence for a very good meal. A soft caramelised chocolate mousse with port wine braised apple, crunchy star anise cake soil and yoghurt crème sorbet. The small jellies tasted porty; we were not sure what the other dotted accompaniments were, but all were demolished. We were also served friandise and coffee
An MCC wine we have not seen before and which everyone wanted to try

The 2015 Show results will be announced at the awards function to be held at the Mount Nelson Hotel on 27th May. A countrywide roadshow will follow immediately after the results are announced. Public tastings take place on Friday 12th June at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (18h00 – 21h00) and on Thursday 18th June at the Sandton Convention Centre (18h00 – 21h00). Tickets are available via Computicket at and cost R175. The Early Bird Price of R160 is valid for tickets bought by 25th May.
Some brief feedback notes.
Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW found some bright sparks throughout the judging. She judged Pinotage, Shiraz and Cabernets. Pinotage is not a wine to be dismissed, some are very exciting, but not many. Greenness and tannins must be held back. Does SA Pinotage need wood? Shiraz – she had a higher expectation than she came away with. It has potential; it's a forgiving grape. With lots of variety, but we must not be complacent. Lots of hard and lean examples. Australia makes more elegant shiraz. Fully developed flavour profiles on either style need complexity and softness, no harsh tannins and judicious use of oak; it swamps the wine, especially US oak. She had a most exciting day tasting Cabernets. There are classics and bright sparks. We need to get if fully ripe and develop it, so that expresses a South African character. Possible with ripeness and right terroir. The older wine tasting showed stunning examples of how our wines can and have aged for 20 to 30 years. She viewed the cabernets entered as collectors' wines in the future.
Gary Jordan. The highlight was the old wine tasting. Three wines from 1965 were in immaculate condition, a snapshot in time of the development of SA wine. Good to see older examples where they were doing things so differently from today. What did they understand about chemistry and oaking, less irrigation, drier conditions and lower yields. Cinsault with Cabernet is a lost tradition. What is happening now? Shiraz has changed from Brettanomyces, leather and dried out fruit to wines with far fewer faults. The use of stalks in Shiraz is having a negative influence if not used judiciously. Some use it well, others way overdone.
Nkulu Mkhwanazi found the Chardonnay a highlight of his tasting with good oak and purity of flavours. Pinot noir was hard work. He had great expectations but few were smartly made, there is too much oak being used for this delicate wine. With Sauvignon blanc there was division on the variety of styles: floral and fragrant and a few older examples. Only 5 to 7 that showed well. On MCC, Viognier and Pinotage, there were some smart, pure and fresh examples.
JD Pretorius. A fun week, challenging and rewarding. On the Other White varieties there were some older whites, wooded Sauvignon blancs, where Steven Spurrier was so excited that he couldn’t contain himself, especially a Roussanne. Wooded Sauvignon blanc/Semillon blends, there were really nice, some well done, wines.  Shiraz was more challenging, stalks and whole bunch pressing doesn’t always work.  Adds character  but not always.  Red blends  and Cape Blends need to change the use of whatever else is available. Some Shiraz blends were brilliant, Some Cape Blends were very nice and elegant and not viciously oaked.
Trizanne Barnard. Chenins showed beautiful diversity in a strong category, with purity of fruit. There is an overuse of unnecessary oak, needs care.  Some reduction should not be there, also closures. Merlots were a tricky category and still need work. We are coming along, we have to be very site specific and not overoak. The greenness comes out. Bordeaux and Cabernets were two strong categories with so much potential, if site and picking and what is done in the cellar are right. You cannot just throw things together and greenness cannot be masked with oak. But we are moving in the right direction.
John Gilman (The first US judge, is from New York and he’s spent a lot of time in Europe). He is excited with the quality and wide variety of styles, old vines and mid palate concentration. It is effortless in style and has great potential. We must be judicious with oak. He really enjoyed Chardonnay, it was the highest category overall for him, some safe, some with lots of personality and he thinks terroir might be very important. Have a look at the Trophy wines locations. Pinot Noir is a work in progress. They have great aromatic noses but, on the palate, they are dried out from over use of oak; go gently or use none – Burgundy is reigning back on wood.  Red blends - use of bin ends, and corner tank used in blends obvious, and not good. The older wines on Sunday were great. But blends were illogical mixes producing some very middle of the road wines.
James Pietersen. Over the last two years, he has seen a refinement of palate definition in the wines. Cabernets and Chardonnays were fantastic. Cabernet was particularly exciting, with personality and less greenness. Pinot Noir was tough. White blends showed some really interesting wines with Rhône varietals like Roussane, Cinsaut, Malbec etc. Here we are doing a better job. 70% of the old red wines came blended with Cinsaut. There were only three Cinsauts entered this year, it has pretty much vanished as a wine.
The evidence is strikingly clear, we should be paying it attention.
François Rautenbach. Pinotage: some with wonderful fruit but virus and ripening a challenge. Over-oaking was substantial.  Bordeaux the next day had even more oak. Steven Spurrier said that it was an idea that wasn’t working; a lot of the blends were not working, especially when Merlot is used. Other red blends are way ahead, well crafted grapes with nuances added,  just add a few percent  - not great chunks, use good merlot judiciously. There were many 2011 Bordeaux blends. Make a move to get rid of them out of your cellar, overall they are in trouble, browning and tiring.
Sauvignon Blanc 2014 is a large vintage and you can’t prejudge 2013 and 2014. Some producers had really concentrated wines. The older Sauvignons stood out head and shoulders above. Sauvignon Blanc can age.
Judges' biographies and the header logo have been obtained from the Old Mutual Trophy website and are copyright thereto
All other material is © John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2015

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