Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show 2013 on screw caps, Shiraz, terroir and being French

Friday, 10 May, 2013
Shante Hutton, wine.co.za
The Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show 2013 kicked off its annual feedback session with some great positives and interesting critiques of some of South Africa’s wines.
The judges of this year’s show consisted of 3 internationals and 6 local judges, all of whom brought with their own levels of expertise and experience. Tom Carson, chief winemaker at Yabby Lake Victoria (Australia), Oz Clarke a wine writer and author and Eric Goettelmann, Executive Sommelier based in Burgundy, were the international judges. The South African judges were Christian Eedes, Gary Jordan, Angela Lloyd, James Pietersen, Francois Rautenbach and Rianie Strydom.

Michael Fridjhon, the show chairman, was delighted to announce that there was a higher depth of quality throughout all the classes though the awards were down from last year with Golds finishing on 31 compared to the 37 of last year. Shiraz continues to be the largest class and also the one which showed the most favour.

Tom Carson commented that the trophy line-up of red wines was just fantastic and that “it’s a good sign when you struggle to pick a favourite…the purity and vibrancy in many of the red blends as well as the lovely mouth-feel and finish was so exciting.” His previous stint as a judge showed red wines which were big, burly and overworked yet there was elegance this time around. “We are seeing a very clear renaissance of red wine quality which has been absent in the past 5-10 years.”

Gary Jordan echoed these sentiments stating that the Shiraz “for me personally, was one of the strongest categories and has dramatically improved.” A danger though is still to add too much new oak which ruins the wine. Jordan also raised the issue of Merlot saying that “Merlot is a problem category. They all appear with aggressive tannins and too much char(coal).” It would seem that winemakers forget that Merlot is much more site-specific than people give it credit for. Oz Clarke agreed to this, citing that “Merlot must not be bashed and cursed - if you must have Merlot then be gentle. It's not used to this climate.”

Whilst the number of awards ascribed might have been fewer, Clarke was quick to mention that it was because “all of us, all around the world are demanding more”. Every single category has to mean something, it has to matter. “The bronze matters to us, we don't use it for dumping stuff.” He was desperately keen for SA to maximize the white wines they have stating that South Africa has the potential to make fabulous white blends. As far as terroir goes, Clarke indicated that he would love to see winemakers start “taking notice of Mediterranean, Italian, Portuguese, and Greek varieties - they will make great wines in 20 years’ time.” Furthermore, he remarked that South Africa has “the ability to make more styles of Sauvignon Blanc than any other country, even more than New Zealand, France and Chile. I really want to see the difference!” He passionately pleaded for South Africa to remember the “pleasure measure” and to make a wine out of a love for the different tastes and not because of awards or being swayed against pyrazines, “The anti-green movement is a curse!”

For South Africa’s own variety, Pinotage, it was sad to note that many had been hot, dark and generally too pressed. However, the ‘darling of the vineyard’ Chenin Blanc, was a fast favourite though, in a serious jest, Clarke remarked “Say what you like about the French, and I know we will, but they cherish what they have. They are patriotic and Chenin is really stating something about the SA personality.” He revealed that those who make the great Chenins, have a real vision of flavour which in turn, carries them to perfection.

A matter of great exasperation was that of the cork versus screw cap debate. To a gasp of shock, Fridjhon revealed that it had been the “most interesting trophy judging with more corked wines than ever before.” Indeed, “66% of white wines were corked.” This is a monumental failure especially in an era where cork manufacturers should have their act together. “It's been the feature of the week. The urgency to address cork is with us more than ever before.”

Carson was particularly baffled by South Africa’s unwillingness to commit to a superior method of closure, “if your white wines aren't under screw cap, you need help. 95 per cent of my bottled wines are under screw cap and I have been doing that for 11 vintages without any reduction problems. You are behind. Get closure.”
Fridjhon agreed, saying those who are pro-cork and who state that there are problems with screw caps are mistaken, “if you're having a problem with screw-caps, that is at the point of closure, not with the screw cap itself. Cork is beyond our control and this year's show was a real eye-opener as we can still see a significant amount of wines compromised by their closure.” Angela Lloyd further agreed by declaring that even consumers have readily accepted screw caps so “there is no excuse not to adopt it.”
In closing, a point made by Eric Goettelmann on the way the world views South Africa is crucial to its progression. Seen in terms of separates - South being warm and Africa, again much hotter than other countries - the message we can portray is that we offer heavy, big wines with too much warmth and not enough balance. Yet Goettelman had been surprised to find so much elegance. Fridjhon honed in on expressing the importance of spreading a message of elegance and refinement to the World.

Finally, Fridjhon finished by asking “If anyone in this room, now or later, knows how we can broadcast the message of these engagements to the vineyards, cellars and marketers etc., then we can fast-track the way in which we evolve and progress and thus, elevate our status worldwide”