Team South Africa: An inside account of the World Blind Tasting Championships

Wednesday, 1 November, 2017
Jean Vincent Ridon
Jean Vincent Ridon, coach of Team SA, gives a blow-by-blow account of their participation in this year's World Blind Wine Tasting Championships, held in Burgundy on 14th Oct.

This is the 5th year that South Africa competed in the World Blind Wine Tasting Championships, and this year was the first time that a Zimbabwean team participated as well.
Team SA was comprised of Anita Streicher-Nel (Captain), Anton Swarts CWM, Jeanri-Tine van Zyl, Jolette Steyn and reserve Nkululeko Mkhwanazi, with Team Zim being Joseph Tongai Dhafana (Captain), Tinashe Nyamoduka, Marlvin Gwese and Pardon Taguzu, and coached at the competition by Denis Garret.

Jean Vincent reports...

While most participants will remember the points scored by each national team, very few will actually discuss the process of identifying wines as a team. Having coached five teams through the world championships, I am, more than anyone, aware of the fears, the tensions, the frustrations and the joy a team of four experiences.

This 2017 Team is no exception. Although Anita qualified for the third time, being the Team Captain does not come easier. Leading the other tasters, listening to them carefully, sharing with me as coach, making the final decision, these are not stress-free responsibilities. The hard fact is that a team is not necessarily a democracy.

The Captain makes the final call once everybody has defended their stance. It is a very heavy burden since the chances to be right are definitely outnumbered by the possibilities to be wrong. Nevertheless, Anita arrived at Chateau de Gilly full of joyful energy, meeting teams from around the world, taking pictures with the defending Chinese team, having fun with Team Zimbabwe and celebrating Pinotage day with a bottle of Kanonkop! We talk about Princess Charlene with Team Monaco, introduced Jolette, Jeanri, Anton and Nkululeko to our long-time friends before we were all called inside to the competition room. Excitement was peaking to hide the stress.

Suddenly the laughing stops and all teams sit under the instructions of Philippe Cantenac, the organiser from Revue du Vin de France.

12 wines, 10 minutes per wine, no notes, no books, no phones, just a team of four, Nkululeko acting as the substitute who stays on the bench. He can’t taste or talk to us. Being the coach, I am not allowed to taste or smell but I can look at the colour of each wine and play devil’s advocate.

As per our protocol, all team members taste silently for one minute before giving a first impression and only then start discussing as a team.

WINE # 1

Melon, citrus, pear with an oily body, but very neutral on the palate. Anton calls it plain, Jolette is not giving an opinion while Jeanri calls for a sylvaner but nobody else in the team finds any green acidity typical of the cultivar –  Anton and Jolette give a winemaker’s opinion, ripe but neutral, some oiliness but not high acidity – After discussing chenin, pinot gris  and Pinot Blanc, the Team was a bit lost to identify a wine lacking identity! The viscosity and low acidity balance reminded me of my trip to Switzerland so I suggested Fendant, a suggestion endorsed by the captain short of better options. Chasselas has never been an exciting grape, and Anton called this one plain! Our answer was 
SWITZERLAND Chasselas Dezalay 2015

N ° 1:
Main grape variety (grape variéty) CHASSELAS
Country (country) SWITZERLAND
Appellation (region of origin): FENDANT FULLY
Producer (Winery): CAVE DES AMANDIERS
Year: 2014

WINE # 2

High alcohol, apricot, green fruit, ripe guava, good acid! Very unsettling – The Team screens Semillon, Sylvaner, even Aligoté from Crimea, and Chenin from SA. Acidity was low but Anton remembered that the different facets of Gruner Veltliner sometimes confuses with granite soil chenin, so the team called for a warm vintage from Burgenland.
Austria – Gruner Veltliner – 2015 -Moric– Burgenland

N ° 2:
Main grape variety (grape variéty) VERMENTINO (ROLLE)
Country (country) FRANCE
Appellation (region of origin): BELLET (PROVENCE)
Producer (Winery): Clos Saint Vincent
Vintage: 2016

WINE # 3

A bit of CO2 in the glass, high acidity, lanoline and some clean lime cordial indicates we may have a Riesling, probably from a warm climate. Austria vs Australia is the question around the table. The CO2 seems old world while the texture is more phenolic, typical of OZ.

Captain Anita endorses the warmest climate, disregarding the possibility of the Pfalz wines that we just tasted because the wine was not elegant enough to be from the warmest Riesling location of Germany. So the call was made for
Riesling – Australia – Eden Valley – 2013

N ° 3:
Main grape variety (grape variéty) RIESLING
Country (country) GERMANY
Appellation (region of origin): Sonnenberg Palatinate PFALZ
Producer (Winery): FREDRICH BECKER
Year: 2011

WINE # 4

This wine has been a real puzzle for the team. Mixed clues were picked up by Jolette and Anton indicating old world fermentation style with a new world power. Definitely oaked, sweetish, very ripe fruit with apple pie and caramel. Jeanri is passionate about defending her opinion on albarino but nodoby in the team can think of a high alcohol albariño with a sweet touch.  The team may have missed the green hint in the colour and the apple clue – the complex fermentation style brought Anita to rule out the team opinion going for a central Valley California Chardonnay, then the team went South Rhone on a Marsanne -  Clairette – Grenache blend -
Chateauneuf du Pape White, Grenache Blanc, France, Ogier, 2013.

N ° 4:
Main grape variety (grape variéty) CHENIN
Country (country) SOUTH AFRICA
Appellation (region of origin): STELLENBOCH
Producer (Winery): KEN FORRESTER the FMC
Year: 2014

Once again Team SA fails to identify the South African wine, like we fail every year….

WINE # 5

Very elegant white peach, melon and citrus led the majority of the team toward a Chardonnay. However, Chardonnay is produced around the world and can be made in a specific style by the winemaker. Anton described it as a new world Chardonnay made in a Burgundian way. Jolette agreed so we tried to look around the world who does these modern Burgundian styles – Wine was very clean and luscious, very elegant but with a very modern twist and slightly too much oak. Captain Anita decided to spread the risk and we combined country and producers:
USA Chardonnay by JC Boisset since they produce in California and Burgundy – As a result, Team SA banked 9 pts for cultivar and 3 pts for producer! Even with a wrong country.

N ° 5:
Main grape variety: CHARDONNAY
Country (country) FRANCE
Appellation (region of origin): PULIGNY MONTRACHET
Producer (Winery): BOISSET LES TREZINS
Year: 2015

WINE # 6

Another unsettling wine is poured into the glasses of Team SA. Nobody dares any suggestion. High acidity, fruity palate, some phenol and a visible bottle age, with almonds/marzipan notes. On this wine we missed the citrus and lemon clues, and the phenol were too high to clearly place the wine in Soave. Soave usually has a very silky palate which was not the case here. After a long deliberation, we answered.
South Africa Chenin from Swartland – Mullineux 2013

N ° 6:
Main grape variety (grape varéty): GARGANEGA
Country: ITALY
Appellation (region of origin): SOAVE CLASSICO
Producer (Winery): GINI LA FROSCA
Year: 2013

WINE # 7

The First red wine being poured is bringing deep confusion in the team. Brumble fruit, cherry with wood undertone – Alcohol was high and the colour intensity indicated it may be Grenache based, but then the wood was not French and the texture not typical of Rioja or Toro. Jeanri claimed it was Nebbiolo, but she could not justify it to convince the team, so with the time running, a delicate Zinfandel was chosen – good intuition from Jeanri. For the rest of the team, even Jolette who makes Nebbiolo at Steenberg, the colour and the texture could not be placed anywhere on the wine map…
Zinfandel - USA - Ridge - 2011

N ° 7:
Main grape variety (grape variéty) NEBBIOLO
Country (country) MEXICO
Appellation (region of origin): BASSE CALIFORNIE
Producer (Winery): LA CETTO
Year: 2012

WINE # 8

Jolette and Anita immediately went for a Bordeaux type blend, but definitely not from Bordeaux. Jeanri called for a high percentage of merlot and Anton tends to agree with the unusual softness. Fruit seems to be very ripe and spiciness is here potentially indicating a warm climate. The wine was luscious and exotic but very refined and elegant. After contemplating a top USA Merlot like Dominus, the choice was made to bring the choice home.
South Africa Merlot Morgenster 2012 Stellenbosch

N ° 8:
Main grape variety CABERNET SAUV 57% SYRAH 30%
Country (country) LEBANON
Appellation (region of origin):
Year: 2012

WINE # 9

Ripe fruits and spices in a ripe and elegant package, with soft integrated tannins – Anita went for Grenache but the team contemplated a juicy Pinot Noir, ripe and fresh, made in a classic way, but not French in style. Gamay and blaufrankisch were discussed, and I even came with Zweigeltas as a possibility but it was not fitting the wine description. Call was made for a pinot noir from Chile, a region able to produce beautiful fruit bombs with this cultivar. But last minute change was made toward France with a great vintage.
Grand Cru – Pinot Noir – Clos Vougeot – 2015 Boisset

N ° 9:
Main grape variety: GRENACHE 60% SYRAH 40%
Country: FRANCE
Appellation (region of origin): VACQUEYRAS
Winery: Domaine de la FOURMONE
Year: 2014

WINE # 10

Once again Grenache came from most team members while Jeanri called for a Tempranillo, seconded by Jolette – With these clues and slight grippy tannins from oak on the finish: Spain was safe bet – but where? Toro? Ribera del Duero? Rioja or even in Catalonia in Montsant or Terra Alta? I reminded the team of the wines we tasted together while training, and one of them was the 80% Grenache Rioja I used at the national finals. Palacios has this unique smoothness due to a high percentage of Grenache and sometimes a touch of carignan!
Spain Grenache Rioja Palacio 2006

N ° 10:
Main grape variety (grape varéty): GRENACHE
Country (country) SPAIN
Appellation (region of origin): RIOJA
Producer (Winery): Remondo PALACIOS Propiedad
Year: 2010

WINE # 11

Anita, Anton and Jolette first claimed Cabernet Franc while Anton was sure we were in Bordeaux – but Bordeaux has 6 cultivars and we could only name one. The elegance and restraint of the wine did not call for Medoc and it was too earthy for grave. It called for a great wine probably St Emilion with some bottle age, good call since we missed the Figeac by 10km.
France, Cabernet Franc, Saint EmilionAngelus, 2005

N ° 11:
Main grape variety MERLOT 30% Cabernet S 35% Cabernet F 35%
Country: France
Appellation (region of origin): SAINT EMILION
Producer (Winery): CHATEAU FIGEAC
Year: 2009

WINE # 12

Last wine was a red sweet fortified with visible crust and deposit. Usually what you find in a vintage port, but here the colour was much more orangey and it was described as very viscous! This might be a trick I said since only my friend Dirk Niepoort makes such a style in Portugal, we shall look at other options. The deposit is rare in Madeira, Maury or Marsala, so Banyuls became the option since the colour was very much calling for Grenache, more so than for Touriga Nacional or Tinta Roriz – sometimes I’d better shut up!
France Banyul Dr Parcé 1990 Grenache

N ° 12:
Main grape variety (Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Amarela, Sousão, TintaRoriz
Country (country) PORTUGAL
Appellation (region of origin): PORTO
Producer (Winery): DIRK NIEPOORT
Year: 1987


Tasting as a team is a great strength even if sometimes it is frustrating. In a team you can’t point finger at a goal-keeper conceding a goal catch after stopping 3 potential ones. Team SA was very united here.

We could witness sore losers among other teams, walking around telling that they could find a wine the others haven’t found and that if they had been trusted they would have won… childishly forgetting that the rest of the team actually made the bulk of the good answers… Team Italy or Belgium stayed united behind their captains even if it has been a catastrophic year for them, and our friends of Team Zimbabwe celebrated joyfully their first participation with no regrets but a deep feeling of gratitude for the experience.

For Team SA being in the middle of the ranking is a great achievement, showing deep strengths in the team. One decision can change everything and we could see this year that Team SA could beat the #3(USA), #4(Belgium) and #5(Andorra) from last year!

One can always have second thoughts, and I admit that I should have been following my first suggestion on the wine from Niepoort, but on the other hand my contribution was positive with the suggestion of the Swiss chasselas that even Jancis Robinson could not identify. We win as a team, and we must accept that we met the best tasters of the world, and that on this specific day, the Swedish team was clearly the best.

I am very proud of Team SA 2017 and we are already training for 2018 to make an even better team and show the world that SA has talent!

Team SA 2017 was made possible with the generous support of Nederburg, Rupert & Rothschild, Spier, Amorim, Creation, Air France and

Also a big thank you to all the private supporters who have been donating time, wines or money towards this unforgettable adventure.

We will be back! Next World Championship will be on the  13th October 2018


Team SA - Jeanri, Jolette, Anton, Anita & Nkulu
Team SA - Jeanri, Jolette, Anton, Anita & Nkulu

Jean Vincent with Team SA
Jean Vincent with Team SA

Gilly bottles
Gilly bottles

Teams Zim & SA
Teams Zim & SA

Team SA in action
Team SA in action

Team SA
Team SA

Jancis Robinson
Jancis Robinson

Anita Streicher-Nel & Jancis Robinson
Anita Streicher-Nel & Jancis Robinson

Team SA papers - Wines 1 to 6
Team SA papers - Wines 1 to 6

Team SA papers
Team SA papers

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