Team Nederburg Unplugged

Wednesday, 21 November, 2018
Jean Vincent Ridon
While Team Nederburg's participation to the World Blind Tasting Championships ended up in a memorable performance, pushing South Africa up to the Top 10 world ranking is not the consequence of a lucky guess, it is the fruit of real team-building between the 5 members of Team SA and myself as team coach.

Yes, I am very proud of Team Nederburg, and in 2018 the selection of the best wine tasters in the country yielded a dream team who learnt to know each other, and managed to compete as one.

Captained by Anita Streicher-Nel, Team Nederburg is composed of Anton Swarts, the first Cape Wine Master to ever qualify for the team, Welma Smith who is a certified Worldsom sommelier, Pieter de Klerk who is a wine enthusiast well known in Gauteng and our substitute, Cyril Meidinger, export manager of fine wine exporter Robinson & Sinclair.

Every year I try to organise an educational trip for the team so they can build up their knowledge on foreign wines, including masterclasses with the best sommeliers of the world. This year the journey brought the team to Roussillon, Penedes, Rioja, Madiran, Bordeaux, Cahors and the Languedoc.

After one week  of travelling in a small van, the team felt stronger than ever, and arrived at the world championships organised by Revue du Vin de France with a true sense of unity. They were ready to give their best and it would be a collective effort!

The goal is to recognise the cultivar (9 points) the country (6 points) the appellation (5 points) the vintage (3 points) and the producer (2 points) for the 12 wines served to them every 10 minutes out of anonymous decanters.

This is the story of our findings, opening our book with pride, inviting any South African wine lovers to do better next year if they feel they have the “right stuff”.

Wine #1

White, fairly deep gold, Anton is the first to notice the possibility of Chenin, supported by Anita, but Pieter is on Marsanne while Welma is calling Roussane. The phenols of the wine are unusual, including some oyster flavours and an oily nuttiness supporting the call for a Rhone cultivar, while Chenin from the new world is slightly replaced by a Marsanne based wine, with pear and oily palate with a moderate acidity. The wine is left on the side and after evolving in the glass the call goes for a Saint Joseph Blanc, Marsanne, from the Cave de Tain, 2015. We should have followed our first instinct!


Wine #2

The freshness of the wine, its low alcohol, its green touch leads us directly to a very cool climate. The lemon side make Pieter calls for an unoaked Chardonnay, while Torrontes from high altitude is discussed. The lime greenness even brings Welma to a cool Riesling. Based on low alcohol, Rias Baixas with Albarino, Vino Verde and Muscadet are highly debated but the lack of CO2, and the low creaminess in the mid-palate rules out these options. Anton and Anita are steering towards Sauvignon Blanc and are puzzled by the light body. Could it be Chile or New Zealand? The glass is kept on the side to allow some aeration and warming up so the fruit profile may be more identifiable. Anita makes the call for New Zealand, but the very shy fruit pushes the team discussion towards the Otago region, the coolest one. Very good call, even if the region is wrong.



The nose is shy. Peter finds it flinty, but as the wine warms up some lanolin appears. The pale green tint, the high acid, the bone dryness leads the Team towards Riesling. Alcohol is not low, and the dryness leads us away from Mosel. The fruit ripeness with this high acidity leads the team towards Austria, possibly in the Wachau region. The ripeness can’t prevent the team to consider Alsace although it does not seem ripe enough for it, nor Pfalz or even Rheinessen, and  they all agree that it does not have the palate density of a Rheinghau. But the green lime nose makes Anton and Welma move toward a newer world type of winemaking. As the team agrees more and more toward Australia, the call is to be made for cool Eden valley, or cooler Clare Valley. Anita has to make the decision… and this was the good one selecting Clare Valley!


Wine #4

The dark yellow gold colour, with a hint of orange is puzzling the team. Bruised apple, bitter almonds, honeycomb, with Pieter reminding us the new oak use almost drying out the fruit of the wine. Anton as a very clean winemaker is surprised by the dirty soil, dusty, half from the oak, or from something less glamorous. He calls for Roussane, but it could be Chardonnay. Anita is in favour if the Furmint for its classic style but still lemony nose. Pieter is sure this is a Chardonnay while Welma wonders where such a dried-out Chardonnay could be produced, with a very modern oaky approach but a moderate alcohol. Final call was for Hungary, with a 2010 Furmint from Tokaji by Demeter… bad call…


Wine #5

Very surprising wine, a lot of richness, spices, floral on the nose, with a fairly high alcohol. We were puzzled although the wine was aromatic, the team could not pin point a clear marker. Harslevelu, Pinot Gris, and Traminer were considered, but the minerality of the wine, if not its acidity, was telling us about a great terroir. We warmed up the wine, swirled it, but eventually the team calls for a French Gewurtztraminer from Alsace Domaine Albert Mann 2010. We knew we were probably wrong as we could not find rose petals and litchi in this wine, but we had to give an answer… a wrong answer.


Wine #6

We move to red wine, already giving us the indication we may have a sweet white wine at the end of the flight. The colour is light but vibrant, between Pinot Noir and Grenache Noir. The fruit is powerful but the tannins show oak, and possibly some grape or stem tannins on the finish. Not silky enough to be Grenache, Pinot is the call from Welma and Pieter, while Anton points out the tannic structure, and the slight bitterness, the warmth of the ripeness, a slight sweet taste, bringing many attributes of Burgundian style Pinotage such as Chamonix, Beaumont or Rijk’s… Anita agrees, too rustic for a Pinot Noir, and the modern elegant Pinotage from SA seems like a good call.

Team’s call is South African Pinotage 2015, by Rijk’s in Tulbagh. It makes sense even in light of the results.


Wine #7

This wine was a long silence… closed on the nose, no clear spiciness, and some sign of age. A Cabernet Syrah blend was suggested by Anita, but then where to put it? Australia? It did not have the ripeness or sweetness, South Africa? But it was very elegant with ripe tannins… Chile, but it lacked the purity of fruit…Anton ruled out Bordeaux with the lack of his trademarked Bordeaux “Pong” on the nose, and we even considered a Cabernet or Cabernet blend from Bulgaria or Serbia… eventually Anita had to make a call, and it reminded her of a Lourens River blend from Morgenster that is actually ageing beautifully, and could meet the description… The call was Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 Morgenster Stellenbosch…


Wine #8

How nine points can be won, or lost, after a healthy debate… The freshness of the fruit seems to indicate a Chilean Merlot. Cherry, plum, but with an unsual finish reminding the team the way Merlot mixes with Cabernet Franc like we tasted in Saint Emilion… Anton says that when a Merlot tastes like Merlot but the tannins make you think it is something else, it must be Carmenere! Anton considered Simonsberg Merlot and Pieter reminded us that many Madeiran are a blend of Merlot and Tannat  But the rest of the team are looking at a Merlot with either a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. We feel so close to the truth, but the two options are valid at the description of the wine. I tend to support Anton and Anita toward Carmenere, but Welma’s Bordeaux background lead us to a possible French producer in Chile such as Cheval des Andes.

Every comment makes sense and is aligned with the description of the wine. Since we must only put one cultivar even for blends, we call for Merlot from Maipo in Chile, by Cousino y Macul 2015. At least we make 13 points out of this wine.


Wine #9

Travelling helps us, and the stop in Cahors gave us a very clear vision of what Malbec tastes like in its region of origin. Cherry, a touch of rust, extreme dark colour, some pips tannins and a vibrant acidity. In the 9th wine we have most of the elements, but the use of oak makes the wine more polished, and the acidity is definitely more tamed than Team Nederburg discovered in Cahors. It must be Argentina was a unanimous vote although Pieter found a very French touch in this wine…and he was right about the philosophy. After considering Dao and Uruguay Tannat, the team says Malbec from Argentina, Mendoza from Versado 2012… Almost right, and Pieter was right about the French bloodline of this wine.


Wine #10

Being the coach, I am not allowed to taste, but when I saw the wine being poured, it was screaming Grenache. The first tasting confirmed the iron first in the velvet glove we have been experiencing both in Chateauneuf du Pape and in top Spanish Grenache, including the Priorat from Alvaro Palacios that we bought from his sister, and that we were drinking in the car between Bordeaux and Cahors! Power, freshness, velvet tannins… Wine number 10 did not have the dried herb character a Chateauneuf du Pape can display, and unless it is Roussillon it had to be Spain. The Team called Priorat, 2014.


Wine #11

This wine is a monster. Tannin, tannin and  more tannin making it difficult to read clearly. A touch of sweetness leads the team toward Zinfandel, with a clear Christmas cake feeling. Tannat is brought to the table even if the colour is not confirming this option. We end up having four different opinions around our table. One Amarone, one Zinfandel, one Tannat.and even a Bulgarian Cabernet… We almost have to roll the dice here, and since nobody is really sure we believe it might be the unusual wine like the Nebbiolo from Mexico was the year before, so we play the gamble and call a Saperavi from Georgia’s Kakethi… bad gamble.


Wine #12

The Sweet wine was served, and looking at the decanter and its green tint my first sighted opinion was that we will be dealing with a Madeira, maybe a Verdelho. I share my opinion with the team but I am quickly disappointed as the acidity is low… so definitely not a Madeira. Old Tawny was first said, and after messing around the port in 2017, I had to listen carefully to what the team was saying. However the organiser said it would be 6 red and 6 white, meaning this wine had to be white, so tawny was out, as well as Banyul, Tarragona or Rasteau. It was clearly not a muscat, and the oxidation was due to age, not forced oxidation. Other clues were the alcohol level and all agreed that it may actually be low, around 16%, ruling out oloroso from Jerez.. We ended up with two main possibilities: Marsala from Italy or Rivesaltes from France. The complexity due to the age made the team go for France. Now the cultivar had to be found. Rivesalte can come from Muscat, Macabeu, Grenache Blanc, Carignan Blanc or Grenache Gris. Since most old vineyards are co-planted, and the Rivesaltes appellation usually has Macabeu as the main cultivar, we decided for this Spanish grape used in Rioja under the name Viura, and in Penedes to make the Cava. The team called for a 1998 Rivesaltes from Cazes made with Macabeu. They said it was pure Grenache, but I doubt it since the region never made pure cultivars so I hope Philippe de Cantenac, the organiser, gave us some points for Macabeu. And we were 20 years too young!!! Beautiful wine.



Some may smile saying that South Africa is only 10th in the world, let me remind them that 189 nations drink wine and we finished 10th… while 211 nations play soccer and Bafana ranks 62nd… we can be proud of our Team Nederburg, they made South Africa shine.

I would like to thank all the estates who welcomed us in Spain and France, Nederburg for supporting our quest to put South Africa on top of the world, for their permanent support, Air France for flying us safely, Spier for understanding that we all push South Africa in the same direction, but mostly I want to congratulate the fabulous competitors: Anita, Anton, Pieter, Welma and Cyril!

See you next year for the selection of Team SA 2019. If you feel you have what it takes, then come to claim your seat at the different SAWTC competitions nationwide. May we bring the cup home next year!

Anton & Anita in discussion
Anton & Anita in discussion

Anton Swarts
Anton Swarts

Anton, Anita facing, Welma, JV & Pieter with their backs to camera
Anton, Anita facing, Welma, JV & Pieter with their backs to camera

Jean Vincent Ridon and Welma Smith
Jean Vincent Ridon and Welma Smith

more news