Narrowing the Shiraz gap

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IT has been less than 20 years since the 1995 wine "Test match", in which the best of our post-isolation-era wines were pitted against Australia’s finest in a blind tasting competition. The Cape wine industry at the time was no match for the more confident, adept and professional Antipodeans.

The shock of our 78-21 drubbing did a great deal to change the way we made and marketed our wines, and undoubtedly contributed to a renaissance, the benefits of which we enjoy today. Within a few years, South Africa avenged the defeat by winning the Cowra Chardonnay Challenge. Over the past few years we have garnered the lion’s share of the trophies at the Tri-Nations and Five Nations Challenges, hosted in Australia.

About five years ago, Wine Magazine co-hosted a blind tasting of Australian and South African Shirazes, setting the best of the Cape’s current releases against a selection assembled by Grant Dodd (an Australian who oversees production and management at Haskell Vineyards in Stellenbosch). The outcome confirmed that our understanding of Shiraz was still in its infancy. A rematch was inevitable — though it took two years for Dodd and Christian Eedes (former editor of Wine Magazine and now independent commentator and blogger) to assemble the next showdown.

This time, the spirit of the engagement was less combative: while the mood of the earlier "taste-offs" bore a curious resemblance to the atmosphere along North Korea’s southern border, this latest challenge was conducted in the spirit of the 1896 Olympics. For a start, both selectors agreed on the principle that this was less about proving which country produced the best Shiraz and more about offering a spread of styles reflecting the achievement of their respective wine industries.

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