|Despite enormous financial pressures – the result of the global financial crisis and the continued strength of the Rand - 224 wine producers delivered an average of five different wines each to South Africa's most important wine benchmarking event.
Chairman and judge Michael Fridjhon was particularly pleased with the spread of entries. “In the past,” he said, “the focus has often been on a few high profile classes, at the expense of the more niche categories where increasingly we find the undiscovered vinous treasures. This year the representation across the classes suggests a broader, as well as a greater depth of talent.” Shiraz nevertheless remains the largest class with 136 submissions, followed by Sauvignon Blanc with 105 wines and Bordeaux Blends with 104 entries. However, Chenin Blanc (48 in 2011, 62 this year) and Chardonnay (88 in 2011 and 96 this year) both saw significant increases compared with 2011.
Museum Class entries continue the 2011 trend of accounting for at least 5% of the submissions – and reveal what is clearly a change in focus amongst the country's super-premium wineries. “In the past, they were intent on using the show results to drive sales of current release wines,” observes Fridjhon. “Now they are also sending a message about the age-ability and age-worthiness of their best vintages.”
Old Mutual, headline sponsor of the competition, sees great value in a process which identifies the country’s finest wines and makes this information available to the South African wine drinking public. Recognising the importance of the rigour which goes into the Show's judging methodology, Old Mutual takes the top wines on a national roadshow to introduce them to discerning wine lovers in seven cities in Southern Africa.
“Old Mutual is proud to have been a part of South Africa’s most respected national wine competition since its inception in 2002. For us as the title sponsor, it provides the perfect opportunity for local winemakers to do great things and we see tremendous value in supporting a competition that identifies and recognises the country’s top wines and the people who make them,” says Joy Khaole, Old Mutual’s sponsorship manager.
The wealth management company’s support of the competition makes it possible for the show's organisers to assemble a panel of tasters that includes several with long-established international reputations and for the judges to be based at a venue like the Grande Roche Hotel which meets the highest international standards.
Meticulous attention to detail throughout the process is part of how the Trophy Wine Show maintains its reputation as one of the toughest and most rigorous events of its kind in the world.
The Show’s rules and guidelines are detailed in the entry kit and cover certification requirements, the market-readiness of the wines and the composition of the blends. Producers are compelled to declare the actual volumes of the batches bottled for submission to the show and medal-winners may only order medal stickers to the volume covered by this declaration and confirmed by SAWIS (South African Wine Industry Information and Systems).
While technical issues are referred to Fridjhon, the entire management of the show logistics, from checking off submissions against the physical entries, co-ordinating the ‘blind’ i.e. unsighted tastings, compliance with the audit procedures and verification of the technical analyses of the winners is the responsibility of Alex Mason-Gordon and Michael Crossley.
Submissions are kept in Miele wine storage units so that they can be brought to the judges at optimum temperature in Riedel tasting glasses. Judges never see the bottles or any aspect of the packaging, ensuring that their opinion is based on the wine’s merits rather than its image or reputation. The three panels are directed to produce a consensus-driven result.
The entry breakdown by classes is as follows: Shiraz 136; Chardonnay 96; Cabernet Sauvignon 94; Bordeaux-style red blends 104; Sauvignon Blanc 105; Merlot 51; Pinotage 54; Chenin Blanc 62; Pinot Noir 22, MCC 25; Rose´/Blanc de Noir 14, Semillon 13, Viognier 14 and Riesling 11. The 2011 show saw 24 trophies awarded to 16 cellars, and 25 gold, 116 silver and 430 bronze medals. The judging process and the competition results are monitored and audited by chartered accountants PKF.
The 2012 Show results will be announced at the awards function to be held at the Mount Nelson Hotel on 30th May and will be detailed in a new look Icons guide which will be published at the same time.
The near 200 page book records the full show results, with profiles on the leading producers and the trophy-winning wines, an enlarged section dealing with all the Wines of Distinction (those scoring 80 points or more out of hundred) chapters contributed by the international judges and an overview of what is happening in the world of Cape wine. It will also highlight wines whose score-to-price ratio makes it clear that they represent exceptional value at current prices. With a print run of 22 000 copies, it has become one of the most important reference works for the country's wine enthusiasts.
The judging panel has been chaired by leading wine authority Michael Fridjhon since the inception of the show in 2002. The 2012 panel comprised three international judges and six local judges covering a broad range of expertise. The international judges were: Brian Croser (Winemaker and industry icon, Australia); Anthony Rose (UK and Asian wine columnist) and Tom Cannavan (online wine guru: www.wine-pages.com and UK wine broadcaster).
The South African judges were Ginette de Fleuriot CWM (Marketing Manager, Vinimark), Gary Jordan (proprietor-winemaker, Jordan Wine Estate), Christian Eedes (wine writer and blogger: www.whatidranklastnight.co.za), Angela Lloyd (wine judge and writer), James Pietersen (head sommelier of Belthazar and Balducci restaurants) and Franc¸ois Rautenbach (Head, Premier Wine Programme, Singita Lodges). The participation of a team of associate panellists, drawn from the pool of rising South African winemaking and wine-writing talent, ensures that the next generation of the country's wine judges gains experience in this most rigorous of environments.
A different associate judge sat with each panel on each of the medal-judging days of the show. They participated in the tasting and the post-judging discussion, though their scores were not necessarily taken into account in the final tally. Their involvement provides an essential training platform for the country’s wine judges of the future. This year’s associate judges were Trizanne Barnard, Francois Conradie, JD Pretorius, Andrew Chigorimbo, Nkulu Mkhwanazi, Gareth Robertson, Jeanri-Tine van Zyl and Meryl Weaver CWM.
Event partners American Express, British Airways Comair, Grande Roche Hotel, Miele and Riedel enjoy naming rights in respect of some of the trophies. Since the 2010 event, the Chenin Blanc trophy has been named after the late Harold Eedes, who, as publisher of Wine Magazine in the 1990s, played a key role in South Africa's Chenin Blanc renaissance.
A countrywide roadshow will follow immediately after the results are announced on May 30. Public tastings take place on Friday 8 June at the Sandton Sun (18h00 to 21h00) and on Friday 15 June at the CTICC (17h00 to 20h30). Tickets are available via Computicket at www.computicket.com and cost R100 if purchased by 27 May or R120 thereafter or at the door.
Visit the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show website www.trophywineshow.co.za for judges’ profiles, information and historical statistics. The 2012 results will be available on the website from 15h30 on Wednesday 30 May. Twitter: @trophywines.