Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Old Mutual Trophy Wine Competition Judges' Feedback, Grande Roche, Paarl

You may not agree with wine competitions or guides. You may also, as we do, find them quite useful in gauging the current status of the industry. This competition, run by Michael Fridjhon, allows the media and the wine industry access to the judges - local and international - on the last day, when judging is over, and we get to hear their unbiased opinions of the entries they have tasted blind during the week. They do not know at this stage which wines they tasted, these are only revealed on the day the awards are presented, so hearing their opinions is always fascinating. And, some years, it can be quite exciting...

We were bidden to arrive at the Grande Roche hotel at 10am, when the last of the judging had just finished. On the last morning, they taste the top scoring wines again and decide which are worthy of golds and trophies. Here we see Christian Eedes, JD Pretorius and Trizanne Barnard
Snacks for those of us who got up too early or too late for a proper breakfast
and more inducement in a glass of bubbles
Judges, still discussing the results while the industry players and media arrive
The feedback session of the Old Mutual Trophy Awards was opened by Michael Fridjhon
It is in its 15th year. This year, the format of the feedback had changed. There would be opportunities for us to interrogate the judges. They each spoke on the categories they tasted and Michael directed specific questions to them
The judges for 2016 from left to Right: Christian Eedes, Fran├žois Rautenbach, Heidi Duminy CWM; Michel Bettane (France); convenor Michael Fridjhon; Trizanne Barnard; Simon Tam (Hong Kong); Eric Goettelmann (France) and Nkulu Mkhwanazi. JD Pretorius was absent from the feedback session

1067 wines were judged; 509 bronze, 113 silver and 37 gold medals were awarded. There are 21 trophy-winning wines, and  a total of 27 trophies will be awarded (including  the Old Mutual Trophy for Best Red, Best White, International Judges’ Trophy, Discovery of the Show and Most Successful Producer)

Last year’s stats were: 1084 judged, 430 bronze, 88 silver, 27 gold medals; 17 trophy winning wines and 20 trophies awarded
For more information about the judges and the associate judges go to
The backroom staff, who make this competition work, were thanked profusely for their hard and dedicated work. Michael said that there is nothing to match the efficient and purity of the stewards’ wine delivery at Grande Roche
The large audience
The three foreign judges, Simon Tam, Michel Bettane and Eric Goettelmann have all judged before

Michael directed his first question to Michel Bettane, who tasted the Pinotages
He was surprised to see many South African judges are not keen on the varietal. Many were not well made 20 years ago; cleanliness and Brettanomyces have to be fought. There are two different styles 1. more pinot in character with floral red fruit and elegance and 2. more Mediterranean; heavy, spicy, warm from the Cinsaut parent. He prefers the first style and found a better balance in this class than in the Pinot noirs he tasted. And, he says, they deserve to be at the same prices as Cabernets. He wants to see more entries in the Riesling class please. We have a long tradition of sweet wines, (there was only one dry Riesling entered) and our late harvest can be wonderful, so can our Ports. One that can have a great future is our unfortified Muscats. Floral flavours and those with noble rot. We will make some of the greatest dessert wines in the world. Fortified is a simplification! Swartland is a very good place for wine

Heidi Duminy
There were 57 MCCs; a small class of entries, but the class has grown. They worked through them forward and back. The Riedel glasses show up the more restrained varieties. There were no golds sadly in this class. They are very clean, no dirty yeast, with better purity and simplicity. Bottle fermentation showed up the competition, great autolysis, tight nervy side. The younger wines had the disadvantage of not being able to express themselves, as they were too tight. Other things to improve are the oak and the dosage. Some are just too young, they need age. There are a couple of silvers going in a positive direction. Top champagnes are 6 to 9 years old; most MCCs are too young

Nkulu Mkhwanazi
He tasted the Bordeaux blends, a big category in South Africa. Oak is a big problem, as are positive and negative pyrazines. There is a huge improvement; cleaner, less Brettanomyces, more fresh wines. Many producers are still investing in oak rather than in vineyards. Less new oak is needed. 3rd or 2nd fill, so the fruit can showcase itself. A few were elegant and constrained and will last

Eric Goettelmann
He was last here in 2013. He tasted the Burgundies: Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs There are diamonds, but raw diamonds. What do we look for in Burgundy? It is finesse; there is not always elegance and purity. Pinot Noir is the same, the level is not very high at the moment. Terroir is important and we have a huge range of the grape, we need to be more selective of clones. What does the customer want? We can give the identification of terroir first, this special area is very important. Diamonds are underground, we need to dig. New vs Old World. We are selling the varietal rather than the area - wines like Montrachet are the branding example we need to follow. When you buy a great Burgundy you are buying its origin and appellation. We need to do more around establishing single appellations

Trizanne Barnard
White wines and Sauvignon Blancs. She commends Sauvignon Blanc winemakers. Technically very sound this year, no pinking or oxidation as weer evident last year. They have moved away from pyrazine green wines. Some have popped up not perfectly ripe. Pristine wine with salt. At the next level, we must be more creative with the wine. These are not a cash cow wines, we can work at them. The wooded Sauvignon Blancs were stunning and the older wines show how they can age. The white blends lack focus. Sauvignon Semillon blends are working but the others seem just to be varietals put together without focus. We must focus on what they are and what works

Fran├žois Rautenbach
SA red wine styles and international requirements, What are we expressing and are we getting it right? Red overview - the group looks strong and exciting. International guests are looking for smart wines and for character over quality because they expect that. Where are they from? They are enthusiastic to send wines home and know that these will come of age and not tire in five years. The wines must be able to develop and age when they export them

Simon Tam gave us some important messages

What is the Eastern market’s expectation of SA wines? Simon certainly made everyone sit up and listen.
Lifestyle in the East is alive and well; It is a young market, but wine is embraced ferociously. Asia is very big. China is a large market, but very diverse. Wine is regarded as a good thing, it is a luxury product, a reward for hard work. Only premium products and high price points are important. Things here in SA are affordable, Get the money there, charge more! We don't have a strong image, we are unknown, go and wave the flag! Chenins are the single varietal with the most promise. No one else does it. GO FOR IT. Don't sell your cash cow to Europe; sell the premium wines to Asia. Launch there. Pricing and distribution needs to be arranged. They drink lots of French but only 5 or 6 years old. This will change as they drink more and learn more world wines. We have talent, we must believe it, we can do it. Low prices do damage to our image

Christian Eedes
 An overview in 2016. SA wine quality has exploded in the period since the Trophy began and the Trophy competition has helped by giving the industry an overview. The gap between the quality of red and white wine is huge. Reds need to catch up with whites. Over-oaking is a problem. And using the wrong oak as well as too much. Bad winemaking, volatile acidity, and oxidation are still there. Chenins are looking fantastic, we have made the varietal our own. Branding is very international, it could come from anywhere. But Chenin is our recognisable label. Why not use the name Steen again? We own it; are we compared to the Loire? We have different styles, wines of origin. Some areas need to be split into wards rather than large areas. The Hemel and Aarde guys are on track - Should it be branded Hermanus because of the whales, which come up first on Google
Producers are lobbying the Wine of Origin board to register Cape Town as a ward

Michael then spoke briefly about corked wines
If three bottles of the same wine are corked, it is knocked out of the competition. There was one which should have been a Trophy wine. Showier wines with screw caps allow more edgy wines to shine. Cork affected wines this year were a very small part; TCA affected wines are still an issue, but it is not too significant

Questions from the floor
How did the Merlots show? 50 entries, quality has edged up a level There is one gold medal. They are less weedy or overdone. Now pure and more balanced
Shiraz? It is a victim of its own success. New producers often have no idea of what they are doing
How much of SA wine industry is held back by our own mindset? Simon Tam sees the beauty of the land, the great people, the freshness of the food, the lifestyle. Talking to people, he says, it is an unmistakable, uncompromising fact that we are up there with the rest of the world. Believe it. Stop watching the depressing news and enjoy life and the wines. We have a lovely package to offer

Heidi Duminy
Re emerging markets and taking opportunities. We are pulling up rather than pushing up. It is a cut throat market, wheeling and dealing in middle markets; beautiful wines get lost in the scrum
Then it became exciting. The Question was: "Red blends, where would you view offspring? Where do our strengths lie?
Michel Bettane (from Bordeaux):
He has never believed in 100% varietal wine, it’s not civilised. Begin with blending complimentary wine to make better expressions of context. Don't extract, express it from a great place. (He) likes blends, nature can be kind, we have made marriages i.e. Bordeaux. Malbec needs to be used more as a blending wine, it warms the wine. Look at Mediterranean blends, Languedoc and Spanish varieties, and Syrah is a mountain wine grown in cool places; in warm places it is a bad one! Grenache, Mourvedre are wonderful wines, suited to blends. The art of blending is important. The same for white wines, Semillon - you can come back to the expression of a place or winery. We need signatures which people will come back to. We must build iconic wines and charge for them in the best restaurants; people will come for them

The lively spirited riposte came from Eric Goettelmann (from Burgundy)
“I will defend Burgundy's single varietals. Terroir. It is normal to make blends with awful grapes while with just one grape and 100 different terroirs you can make 100 different wines. You can't see terroir. Pinot Noir is a cultivar and not a variety. The blend is made with the different clones. With Chardonnay there was always clone selection. Pinot Noir has some older varieties and the difference can be from 1 metre to 1 metre to 1 metre. In Burgundy, human factors are more important than natural”

This could have gone back and forth for ages, but Michael calmed it down and it ended almost amicably
It is tiring, concentrating and taking notes for such a long but very informative session
Then it was time for us to move to the amphitheatre for some wine, food and a chance to talk to the judges individually
Chicken and sweet corn samoosas with a beetroot dip and duck spring rolls with another
Prawns and noodles
Duck spring rolls
Vegetarian Couscous and some yoghurt and cucumber cold soup. There were lots of wines from different farms to enjoy
Should you wish to attend any of the public tastings, here are the details.
Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show Public Tasting - Cape Town
Date: Friday, 3 June 2016
Venue: CTICC (Ballroom, Level 1), Convention Square, 1 Lower Long Street, Cape Town
Time: 18h00 to 21h00
Parking: Secure underground parking available in CTICC parkade

Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show Public Tasting – Johannesburg
Date: Friday, 10 June 2016
Venue: Bill Gallagher Room (Level 2), Sandton Convention Centre, Maude Street, Sandton
Time: 18h00 to 21h00
Parking: Secure underground parking available at the convention centre and neighbouring shopping malls

Bookings and Tickets: Ticket sales via from Tuesday, 3 May or call 0861 915 8000. Early Bird tickets cost R165 each until Monday, 30 May. Thereafter and at the door, R190

Wines: The results of the 2016 judging competition will be announced on 31st May, when the full list of winning wines will be available at or on the Old Mutual app from 15h30
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus

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