Boasting the most gold medals at this year’s Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, Chenin Blanc continues to impress. Edo Heyns highlights the judges’ key take-home messages.
With a new format that promotes interaction between winemakers and the judges after the usual Q&A session, the annual judges’ feedback session has increasingly drawn more attention. While overall quality has gone up another notch, there were some pertinent comments, highlighting both areas for improvement and reasons for celebration.
1. LOCAL HEROES
The buzz surrounding South African Chenin Blanc is gaining momentum. This category garnered the most gold medals at the show and is continuing to surprise as South Africa’s varietal trump card.
Pinotage also did not disappoint, with acclaimed French critic Michel Bettane emphasising that the category has undergone “a great revolution” and particularly lauding examples that lean toward great Pinot Noirs.
2. WOOD WOES
The exchange rate did not deter investment in new oak, but perhaps it should have. More precise use of oak could narrow the quality gap between reds and whites. Excessive oak in reds was flagged as a key concern by a number of judges. Bettane noted that in many cases winemakers not only use too much oak, but also the wrong type of oak for a particular style. South African sommelier Nkulu Mkhwanazi encouraged winemakers to shift investment in new oak to precision in the vineyard. When it came to white wines winemaker and judge Trizanne Barnard branded wooded Sauvignon Blancs and Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon blends as “stunning”. Similarly Burgundy specialist and international judge Eric Goettelmann was more complimentary about Chardonnay than Pinot Noir, which he said still often lacks finesse.
3. NO POPPING CORKS FOR MCC
Despite the contagious enthusiasm of bubbly devotee and judge Heidi Duminy, the growing Méthode Cap Classique category failed to bag a single gold medal. She emphasised the wines were “clean”, which hadn’t always been the case. Purity versus simplicity was a key discussion point for this panel, with Bettane leaning towards purity over more expressive MCC styles.
4. MERLOT MAKES THE GRADE
At last, good news for Merlot! The category yielded gold medals for the first time in three years. Local judge Christian Eedes noted there are less weedy wines. He also cautioned that Shiraz has become a victim of its own success and winemakers should be careful that it doesn’t succeed Pinotage and Merlot as the disappointing category at the show.
5. CLOSING ARGUMENTS
Cork remains a contentious issue, with one trophy being withdrawn after no less than three corked bottles of a category winner were opened at a final tasting of all the trophy winning wines. Show chairperson Michael Fridjhon highlighted an increase in the use of screwcaps, indicating that progressive producers are increasingly opting for this closure for their top wines – white and red.