Monday, August 03, 2015

Mutual & Federal Agri Wellington Quest for the Best at Au’ de Hex

Once a year Wellington Wine Route asks its wine farms to enter their wines in this competition to find the best wines that Wellington is producing. The Award ceremony was held last Wednesday at Au de Hex conference venue in Wellington and there were some surprises.
We also note that not all the wine farms in the area enter this competition. We think this is a mistake and would encourage them to rethink this next year. We like the fact that the competition is judged by some very experienced local and international Sommeliers who have an excellent insight into the requirements of the target market. We have attached Higgo Jacobs speech (He convened this panel) and the sommeliers' comments on the wines they tasted and also the list of winners.
The wines we tasted. The awards are not in categories, if there are two excellent Chardonnays they can both win awards
The entrance to Au' de Hex in the rain
Nicer on a summer's day to sit under the pergola. This time, it was winter wet
Canapés of seared salmon with sesame & lemon aioli. The food was prepared by Wellington chef Mariza de Jager
Rice suppli balls with sundried tomato
Calves' liver paté topped with onion marmalade
Beautifully laid tables and everyone enjoying a glass of La Cave MCC Brut, 2011, one of the top ten winners
The venerable Dave Hughes, who used to chair the committee, with Sommelier Greg Muthambe of the Twelve Apostles Hotel, one of the judges
Seated for the first course
Neil Buchner of Bosman Family Vineyards made the opening speech. This is the 6th year of the awards. He said he hoped one of the results of the competition would be to encourage more people to visit Wellington to come and taste their wines. It is only a one hour drive from the city
The menu. It was a really excellent meal, light, perfectly balanced and full of delicious food and the pairings with all the winning wines were very well done. So many wine lunches have heavy, over rich food
The list of winners
The starter, a Chicken and Pork Terrine with roasted beetroot was a delight, so unusual to be served a terrine in the Cape instead of paté. It was well made and just like one you might be served in France. Served with La Cave 2014 Pinotage, Welvanpas 2012 Pinotage and Diemersfontein 2013 Reserve Collection Malbec. Lynne thought the savoury Malbec a great match
Dave Hughes made a very short speech, with the message being to keep striving for the best
Sommelier Higgo Jacobs, the convener of the judges, then made his speech - we have included it below as we think he made some very important comments
The audience listening intently
Marko Roux, head of the technical team at Wellington Wines, told us more about the Wellington Ward
Jacque Roux of sponsors Mutual and Federal
The winners and their awards with Dave Hughes, who used to convene the competition, and Higgo Jacobs
David and Sue Sonnenberg with the team from Diemersfontein and their 3 awards
Time for the main course, a perfectly pink tender duck breast atop broccoli spears, with a sweet potato & turnip dauphenois (Banting friendly) with spiced quince jam. Served with Bosman 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and Diemersfontein 2013 Black Berry Cabernet Sauvignon (it does taste of ripe black berries)
Dessert was not for those who are Banting, but it did taste lovely. Two crisp spring rolls filled with Milk Tart custard with an eggnog ice cream. This was served with the Dunstone 2113 Shiraz and the Diemersfontein 2013 Summer's Lease
The rain lifted leaving a fresh countryside and beautiful views

The text of Higgo Jacobs' presentation:
The South African Sommelier Association (SASA) is happy to once again be involved in the judging of Wellington Quest for the Best, now marking our third year of participation.
To introduce the panel:
In absentia David Clarke – Australian Certified Sommelier, owns his own distribution company – ‘Ex Animo’
Kent Scheermeyer (the) – German qualified Sommelier, hospitality consultant and broker – ‘KS Consult’
Greg Mutambe – Head Sommelier, Twelve Apostles Hotel
Joakim Hansi Blackadder – Head Sommelier, The Hoghouse Brewing Company
and myself, Higgo Jacobs – Certified Sommelier at Large, independent hospitality consultant
Tasting format:
Wines were all tasted blind
Scored out of 20, and then discussed in each flight
Lots of deliberation over wines. Given the benefit of the doubt
Wines with highest average, regardless of category / style were awarded with Top 10
This spontaneously resulted in a nice spread across categories for Wellington

Feedback with overview of past 3 years:
2013 Top 10 was 1 Chenin, 1 Chardonnay, 1 Pinotage, 1 Malbec, 1 Cab, 1 Shiraz and 4 Red Blends, most of which were Cabernet dominant, and 2 of which came from Museum class

2014 Top 10 was 1 Viognier, 1 Chenin, 1 Chardonnay, 1 White blend, 2 Pinotage, 1 Cab, 1 Shiraz and 2 Red Blends, again Bdx style and both from Museum class (which is a strange name, by the way – perhaps cellar or vinothek collection?)

2015 Top 10 was 1 MCC, 1 Chenin, 1 Shiraz, 2 Pinotage, 1 Malbec, 2 Cab (1 from Museum class), and 2 Red blends (1 Rhone, 1 Cape)

Reds yet again showed better than whites this year.

Sparkling wine was a very pleasant surprise. Although we only tasted 3, one got a top 10 inclusion, and another just missed the top 10 with small margin. I don’t speak from any viticultural insight here, but perhaps there is potential here for the district in this very strong and flourishing category.

White wines:
Once again no winning Sauvignon this year. We tasted 3 wines. All three of them without fault, and market ready, but one dimensional and similarly ordinary, and certainly not in the fine wine echelons. 

Chenin is where it’s at for Wellington. Still lots of room for improvement, but immediate step-up from Sauvignon. We tasted 8. Would love to see more. Or even Chenin-based white blends. Perhaps a little more vineyard (and less cellar) focus can offer more complexity in this category, as the fruit shows promise.

Chardonnay – Unfortunately was unimpressive this year. Reductivity is also an issue across all the categories. Perhaps important to look at lees management and also bottling practice under stelvin.

No White blends?! – Our feeling is that in warmer climate blending is your friend (if you look at successful equivalents worldwide). Last year one out of 2 wines tasted received top 10 entry

Only one other white variety?! – There must be exciting opportunities here with Mediterranean varietals (also said it last year). We tasted 1 Viognier, liked the typicity and balance, and it only just missed out on a consecutive award.

Older whites – 3 Tasted, generally lacked tension and freshness. Hasn’t been strong over the course of the 3 years.

No sweet wines?! This is very disappointing. Don’t underestimate this category. It doesn’t only consist of noble lates as a category. I’m thinking sweet Muscadet style sparklings, Beaume de Venice style fortifieds. Be gutsy to be innovative and experimental here.

Improved managed ripeness across the categories this year. Perhaps vintage orientated. Good varietal expression also across the categories. Over-extraction on too large a component, missing freshness. Still lots of chariness on the reds, but generally better oak integration too.

Side note: We believe that there is lots of potential for Wellington to own the light-medium bodied red category at attractive price points, and from suitable varieties. 

Pinotage – 2 winning wines. Most improved category. Lots of promise here. Exciting in the market currently also. Clearly has a spiritual ‘home’ in Wellington. Less coffee flavour drivers than before. Be open to less oak on the lower to mid-level price points, or even no oak (sacrilege!) 

Merlot – quite simply doesn’t work well. At least not among the wines we tasted over the 3 years.

Cabernet Sauvignon – plenty of commercial, worked expressions. Sugar coated greenness often. Purity of fruit and detailed wines were awarded. 2 winners, one from museum. Cabernet is clearly a serious concern for Wellington, as it should be, but once again, don’t try to emulate Stellenbosch. Wellington Cabs must have their own identity. 

Most potential for reds seems to be with Shiraz. Once again one very good Top 10 winner. We experienced this wine to be effortless and pure (elements that the panel were looking for). Stalks are welcome, as long as it’s not used cosmetically.

Shiraz also represented in Red blends with one Rhone style winner. The other being a Cape blend.

Very small representation for Other red varieties. It certainly would be interesting to see what Wellington can achieve with earlier ripening, thick skinned, robust red varieties. Malbec has been a winner for 2 out of 3 years of judging.

One little note here. You gotta get onto the Cinsault train. You won’t be sorry.

As a parting comment, and a similar message to last year – Plenty of the wines seem to be made for supermarket shelves rather than dinner tables. The way forward for Wellington must be to find the style expressions & cultivars that are best suited to Wellington as a whole, AND also the smaller defined terroirs within Wellington.

As the cradle of the wine industry (stokkies trade), Wellington is well positioned and should really be at the forefront of experimentation and innovation around new varieties.

In an ever expanding ocean of wine choice, the consumer of fine wines is more savvy than we think, and their purchasing choices shouldn’t be underestimated. The new fine wine consumer looks for and follows wines with personality, detail and sense of place (especially relevant here considering the origin of QFTB, as founded by Dave Hughes).

Above all they look for wines that they would love to drink.
These are the wines that we look to award for Wellington QFTB. Congratulations to all the winners.

Gregory Muthambe
I was impressed with the red wines presented. I noticed that there was correct ripeness very few wines were neither green nor jammy/porty.

The most improved category was the Pinotage, the coffee styles were noticeable some of them were charming and some had purity of fruit and had varietal character expression.

Merlot and Cabernet and blends thereof were very average. 
There is great potential for Shiraz.  One of our top scores was for a Shiraz. More should be done to promote this category in Wellington. 

Chenin can do much more than currently.  Sauvignon Blanc not so much. Most were light and thin.

MCC was a short category but impressive.

Kent Scheermeyer
It is clear that they are very cautious producing wines away from the main stream varieties.  

Chard were very disappointing - also Sauvignons. The Chenins ok, I did like the Viognier…

Quality of red grapes  -   Bordeaux Red blends (or the grapes they used… it looks like they are using the blend category for mixing their lesser quality grapes in) and Merlot are not good - Shiraz, Cab and Pinotage  have improved from last year - quality of grapes. Ripeness was much better  judged  with less wines being porty/raisiny, overripe (could be just a vintage variation)

Pinotages - too heavy on oak, too much toast and oak”sweetness”  -  perhaps less extract on the fruit which would lead to less oak - question is if they want to go this route as they are clearly seeing their future in this style of wine.  Nevertheless this group has improved from last years Pinot. Which might be a simple vintage variation… 

White wine blends - this should clearly be a class for them to work on.  Many Chenins could have benefit from some herbaceous features. This is why God created Rousanne, Marsanne, Grenache blanc etc etc…. 

Shiraz Blends - performed much better than Bordeaux style - but could also benefit from grapes such as Morvedre, Grenache, Carignan ets etc to add more complexity and freshness.

Chenins are very ripe and upfront.  Perhaps fermenting on the skins could give these wines a different dimension - now most of them are falling flat on the palate.

Historically they should have many old Semillon vineyards - but not one shown  -  There are many good Semillons from warm climate regions…

Chardonnays were in general disappointing and uniformed - as were the Sauvignons. 

Also seems that they are pushing for ripeness with the whites, and then counter act it with lees contact to gain weight. I was missing a bit of texture / pithiness. Fermenting on the skins could help.

Whites in general - pick less ripe and reduce sulphur  -  many of the wines the sulphur was very “visible"

Museums red & white - not a class they can be proud of if they continue this way (growing & making). Not many wines were older than 6 years - that isn”t really museum…. I would expect  from a red to show well at least 8 to 10 years after vintage.

David Clarke
Not enough entries 
•      Expected stronger Chenin and white blend categories
•      Surprised with the quality of the bubbles. Well done.
•     Sauvignons and Chardonnays were mostly banal, simple and flat
•      Viognier example was very good
•     White Cultivars more suited to warm climates (ie not Chardonnay or Sauvignon) seem to do very well here. The market may not be ready for them, but Wellington should start telling people what works there.
•      No one on the outside really knows what Wellington is about. They mostly think it is Paarl’s little brother. And Paarl isn’t exactly killing it either. Big opportunity to really make some noise. But you need the right stuff in bottle
•    Pinotage bracket much improved (can I say almost exciting?), please keep away from oaky monsters, the best wines were fresh and had light fruit and chewy (not charry) tannin
•      Syrah bracket had the best wine of the day by far in my opinion. Perhaps Wellington Syrah is something to build and get serious about
•      Cabernets were consistent and strong, but ultimately replicable in other areas
•        Sweet wines? Where are they?
•      With the climactic conditions, rose could make sense here also. Relatively early picked reds would still have acid and probably enough fruit weight. The bar is pretty low in SA in general, so your competitors would be minimal. Is it a big enough market? Maybe not. Mulderbosch seems to do pretty well. I doubt there’s much Stellenbosch fruit in there.

Joakim Blackadder
Good varietal fruit-expressions and healthy fruit in general. Some reductive issues.
Not many over-wooded wines, which is nice to see.
A lack of diversity - No white blends, no sweet, no fortified, only 4 (!) white varietals

Positives where the surprises - the only viognier, the only malbec, the mcc range. 

Uniform whites - high yields and powerful yeasts makes many of them taste very similar
Very extracted reds - A couple (literally two I think) were done smartly but most of them overt ending up with - bitterness, lack of balance and freshness and very poor ageing ability

Surprisingly many wines, reds and whites, lacked fundamental freshness which lowered the average scores. I think it also looks like the main part of the lineup we tasted are aimed at supermarket shelves and not restaurants or food
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2015
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