Article below courtesy of Wine Magazine South Africa and Trophy Wine Show.
There is so much a producer can learn from these feedback session, if they really want to know what are their strenght as well as likely weaknesses and how they can finetune to make their wines better in the future so as to compete smartly on the international wine scene and raise the profile of brand South Africa and perhaps results in more listings of South African wines on wine lists around the top hotels and restaurants of the world.
I will post the 2011 feedback session when available shortly, it will be welcome to see more producers, winery owners and winemakers in the future attending these session!
Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show Judges Feedback Session 2010
Published: 04 May 10 2010 Judging Panel:
Michael Fridjhon (Chairman)
Dr Tony Jordan
Cathy van Zyl MW
MF: Good morning. It's always a pleasure to welcome you here on the final day of the judging of the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show. This is an event which - for those of us who have spent the last three and a half or four days trying to calibrate, understand, remonstrate with each other and arrive at a conclusion - is a very happy time. We have just had that sense of how well or badly the die has been cast, because we do the trophy judging on the final morning. So these are wines which all achieved gold, whether in museum or in regular classes and if there is a sense of where the top end of the Cape wine industry is in one taste equivalent of a sound bite, it is at that moment.
It is also at the same time an opportunity for us to judge ourselves, because when we look at those wines, we see whether we have maintained what we consider an appropriate standard. We are also able in a sense able to criticize our fellow panelists by pin-pointing wines which we think shouldn't have been there - and I have to say it's an opportunity for the whole group of tasters and panelists to judge me, because at some point I land up being the gate-keeper (though there are wines which sometimes have so much support from the panel that it would be wrong for the show Chairman to take on the panel). But by and large everything happens with my consent and at least two members of the panel. The principle does exist by which I can bulldoze a wine through - though it hasn't happened this year or for many years. So we sit here, in a sense, in collegiate judgment of ourselves and it's quite nice when you realize you haven't actually done such a bad job after all. That's our feeling and on 17 May when the results come out - and rather more importantly in the two weeks that follow and the road shows are taken around the country and to Namibia - there are six local road show tastings; one in Namibia, two public tastings, one in Cape Town and one in Johannesburg, then the judgment of the market, as well of the judgment of the wine industry, descends upon our efforts.
Before we go into a detailed discussion of the show results this is also an opportunity that we have as judges to thank those people who have made the logistics of the last four days possible: Celia Gilloway and her team, Rina, Muriel, Katy and our auditor Charnez (a new auditor from a new firm), who spent his life working on the back foot for most of the fours days. From what I have in front of me, Charnez you've certainly managed to catch up. Thank you very much indeed. To all of you who worked through the night because as Tony Jordan said last night in his thank you speech at dinner, we arrive, the wines are on the table, they're at immaculate temperature, if another bottle is called it arrives miraculously and very quickly - because the system works so well, because this team works so hard and because - and I see many producers in this room, one or two of whom I assume in their time have had an interesting wrist-wrestle with Celia - it is because Celia runs this place with a rod of iron. So, to all of you many thanks for your support, many thanks for your assistance. I think I speak on behalf of all the judges when I say it has run like clockwork, the delivery has been immaculate and we are deeply grateful to you all for your assistance in making this possible.
The purpose of this section is really, other than to give you a brief summary of what we can tell you at this stage, to give the industry an opportunity to engage with the judges in terms of what the show revealed and perhaps to tease out from them interesting feedback relevant either to your class or classes as producer, if there's information that you wish to glean and you are absolutely free to direct it to specific judges at the table or to throw it to the panel and one or more people will take it up. That is the way forward.
I'm going to give you a very brief summary. I know people don't like this event to run for too long, they want to get most from the feedback session. So I'll start by saying that the show entry number seems to move up and down on a daily basis. The total number of wines at one stage was 1 015, then it was 1 030, now I have 1 023. That's because wines which were not disqualified, but didn't actually arrive in terms of delivery time, have been included. So we have 1 023 wines, happily down from last year's excess of 1 150, which was by 15% the largest number we've ever seen at the show and which puts a lot more pressure than we're entirely happy with on the panels to sort wines which really shouldn't have been there in the first place. Around 1 000 is a pretty good number. It means that the panelists look at just over 100 a day - 100 to 120 - over the three days. It is at the top end of what's acceptable, but it's a lot better than 150 plus. In the Shiraz class it was nearly 160 last year and 130 for most of the panelists on most of the days.
We have 32 gold medals of which three or four are in museum classes. We have 89 silver medals, which compares with 70 last year. We have 329 bronze medals, which compares with 330 last year, from a larger group. So in general the medal counts are up and this touches on a debate that was raised several years ago, namely if we achieve the same medal numbers year in and year out, are we saying that the industry is making no progress, and clearly this is not the case. There is no magical number. At no point is the panel told that it's being too generous or too parsimonious, which is a word I used to use quite often. This is probably the first year that, as show Chairman, I have tried to interrogate whether a gold really should be there, because there really has been a sense of a significant lift in quality across just about every class and across a number of classes which previously were not even considered possible candidates for gold medals. So we've seen a significant increase in quality. The panelists who have judged the show over many years will I'm sure be talking about that. It's something we've said day in and day out. We've seen altogether better top wines and, generally, better bottom wines. In other words, if I look at wines that scored under 60, which means absolutely faulty, not just commercial and not interesting, but technically faulty, that number was down to between 5% and 10%. The bulk of the non-medal winners are in a score of 60 to 69, which I know doesn't sound good when Robert Parker is scoring, but 60 to 69 is what we call good commercial - not medal quality, but absolutely perfectly respectable wine. I think that is a significant "up" on the past two or three years, as is the bronze medal count.
I don't want to take too much of your time going through statistical detail most of which will be available in the press kit or on the website and detail of which will certainly be available when the results are announced on 17 May. I'm going to pass the microphone down the line and ask each of the judges, one at a time, to really say as briefly as possible, an overall impression of the show and if, in what that judge is saying, there is a question you wish to ask, don't defer the question. Raise your hand and let's go from there.
Can we pass this microphone to Miguel.
MC It was indeed very interesting to be involved with the show and sitting on the few panels such as the Cap Classique, Shiraz and Cabernet, as well as exotic varietals like Malbec. There were some gems out there, but just in a few lines looking at the Cap Classique in general, many of the Cap Classiques did not show enough time on lees. They didn't really have the precision in terms of the acidity or sometimes the length was rather short, or the wood was really overpowering the delicate fruit. The single panel I was on was various non-Bordeaux blends. There was really a fantastic Pinotage blend. Nevertheless most of these blends were simple, everyday for the most part, marred by excessive greenness, resin notes and brett. There was quite a few of them. On the Cabernet two gorgeous Golds there, including one nine years old. They were really fantastic, but the bulk of the Cabernet, if I have to look from a fruit perspective and how to pair them, they were far too leafy. On the one side they were over-ripe, jammy with bitter tannin. So there was a prevalent tomato leaf character that was all over the glass itself. Going back to the exotic varieties, it was really exciting to see outside the big five white, big five red to see some fantastic Malbec as such. Last but not least, the Merlot class was very disappointing and over-ripe. Not much more to say about it. Thank you.
CA I have to say I think this is my fourth or fifth time judging at Old Mutual and to just endorse what Michael said. The standard does creep up every year and it was an absolute pleasure to taste and judge a lot of the wine. Brett remains a bit of a problem for me outside the classes and in fact we picked up some brett even in white classes which is quite unusual. I think cleanliness does need to be brushed up on just a tiny bit. The other thing is something close to my heart, which is appellation control. It's starting to happen by osmosis really, because are finding that you cannot simply buy a piece of ground and plant 600 different varietals and hope to make a fabulous set of 600 different wines. I found that wines that were more terroir specific were less worked and more natural, a whole lot more accessible and much more enjoyable to drink. So those wines which I think were coming from the areas where they're supposed to be grown i.e. you can't grow mielies in the Karroo - they really are sticking head and shoulder above the rest. They're just not that worked. So from my perspective, lots and lots of lovely wines. The bar has definitely been raised and if I were a wine farmer I would most definitely be making sure that I was planting the right vineyard in the right space in order to produce the right wine.
CE It's been a fun couple of days. I've been covering the wine show in a journalistic capacity since 2002 and I remember doing interviews with international judges back then and it was like "keep at it guys. Chin up! Eventually you might make some decent wine." Now it's more like "Fantastic stuff. Well done! You're contenders in the global market." So I think we've come a hell of a long way in a very short space of time. I suspect the higher medal count will be scrutinized, but I think it really is a reflection of the huge steps in quality we've made in the last ten years or so.
ST It's wonderful to be back in your beautiful country again. Firstly I want to thank Michael and his team for fantastic hospitality. When you come 14 hours on a plane and everything runs seamlessly and all done with such ease and grace. Michael thank you again to you and your team. This is a pleasure. And then we come out here and tell you guys what you're doing right or wrong. So it's a wonderful privilege.
There are four main types of wine that we've seen or judged across different categories. There are those firstly that are stuck in somewhat of a time warp with severe faults which are not acceptable and then the second type of wines are those which try to excel and be a bit more driven and then are marred by the fact that there is hardly any grape varietal definition in the wine. Then there are those wines that are highly polished, that are really quite smart and international and perhaps doesn't always say South Africa. Then there are those wines that look quite European particularly in the Chardonnays and some of the Shirazes. I would like to say that all of those, except for the first extremely faulty category, are very valid. You need to find what is true and what is in your heart and what is in your soil. Don't try and do what the French have done because it's not going to work. There's only one country called France and they're pretty annoying! Be true to yourselves. Look deep and challenge yourselves and be proud of what you're do. The other thing is that I was personally surprised by some of the really high-quality wines. These are wines that you really ought to be very proud of from any company from anywhere in the world.
On parting I'd like to say I came in under Christian as my panel Chair yesterday, looking at Pinotage. Christian said: "What are you looking for?" I said: "I've no bloody idea" and I still don't. I do know one thing and that is that Pinotage is capable of producing in many different personalities some really sublime wines and those are some delicious memories I will take away with me.
AH Again, it's a great pleasure to have flown over here and been asked to judge what for me has been a fascinating three and a half days and very pleasurable. Of course judging wines in this number is challenging, it's physically draining, but at the same time I would say, judging is hard - it's easy to sit in judgment and look at a wine for two minutes and pronounce upon it, something that's the result of at least a year's work and often a decade's work or more for the person who's made it. We all as judges have the challenge to give each wine its fairest possible chance, not to be too dismissive, but at the same time to judge sufficiently stringently that the very best wines are suitably shown up to be the very best. The same amount of effort can often go into making an exceptional wine and a rather less good wine. All wines are really the product of hard work and so it's a question really now of how intelligent that work is and whether the work is heading in the right direction.
Michael has the statistics, but in my personal experience it certainly the huge raising of the bar at the top end in South Africa over the last ten years. The work that the industry has done collectively is very evident for all to see and is really starting to pay off. That's not to say it's finished and I'm sure no-one would ever feel that about their wines and their vineyards, but the efforts are really paying dividends and the top wines are simply world class and in many styles. There is a diversity at the top that shows the potential for all sorts of styles and categories to shine and that's very exciting. I think the next challenge to prevent a polarization where the best wines carry on getting better and better and start to leave others behind - which is bad news for an industry - it is for the average to start coming up a bit. As Michael said, the low bar is also reasonably high, the number of faulty wines is pretty low. Let's now see if lessons can be learnt from those who really shine to bring up the commercials into bronze and the bronzes into silver and just re-weight the centre of gravity a little bit in the mix. I suspect the key to that is going to be vineyards. I really would echo Carrie's point that if you have vines that are maybe not in the right location for the variety, or not tended in quite the right way in the vineyard, you have to work so hard to make a good wine and that work will continue year after year every time you bring in those grapes.
The wines that really shone for me were the ones that felt the most comfortable with themselves, where the fruit and quality from the grapes was able to express itself untrammeled, uncajoled, into a style it perhaps didn't intend. Those wines where the wine-making was sufficiently transparent, where it worked in the background to serve the expression of the grapes, clearly shone through. Where a wine had to be slightly forced to fit a particular stylistic agenda, those were less successful. Very clearly, be it Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux blends with Cabernet Franc (which I think could be the ace up your sleeve - that's a fantastic secret ingredient), Rhone varieties, which I didn't judge, but had the pleasure to see some at the trophies this morning - really exciting. Yes, some Pinotage that sets a standard for that grape and puts that on a level. The potential is enormous and I hope that with enough positive feedback and enough shows like this and enough continued work over the next decade, the quality will re-double.
MF Alex, thank you.
TJ Similarly it's been a great pleasure to be re-invited to judge at this Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show again. I was here in 2002, which was the first one. It's been hard work as pointed out, but it's been good fun and for me very educational. I think any international judge always learns a lot when they come to a different country and judge and with the hospitality the judging has been very pleasurable.
Rather than philosophically, I'll comment more specifically on wines that I was on panels that we looked at. To me it's very hard to think back eight to ten years, but I drew the Semillon-Sauvignons, the Semillons, the Chenins etc on the first day, which was a bit daunting to think about. I must say the classes were very strong indeed. It's hard to remember back, but the improvement in standard I think has been quite phenomenal. Every group had wines you'd describe as having strong fruit, less of the weedy, green and nasty edges and then the best wines carry on to palates that had some good texture, good length and excellent balance. There was one trophy Sem-Sauvignon which as just remarkable. On another day I drew the other whites and you have one Verdelho, one Pinot Gris, only four Rieslings and I wondered how you could draw conclusions from so few wines, but there were some outstanding ones there and you'll see a couple of golds from those categories that I hope people look at and realize just how good they are.
So why not more of those varietals? Have a look at the people who are doing it well. Look at particularly where they're growing the grapes, because I suspect in everything we saw, we saw some good cool climate influences coming through.
Another class - jumping back to the first day - where I personally jumped up and down on the spot was for Semillon. We gave two golds, one for a very young wine, one an older wine and both were world-class excellent wines.
Moving onto the reds, I chaired the Shiraz panel and I came into this with a few words from Michael and discussion with various other people I know, expecting in the Shiraz to find quite a few problems. Coming from Australia we're meant to know everything about Shiraz and I was going to find dead fruit and high alcohols and residual sugars. Well I wrote some notes - the best wines had vibrant fruit aromatics and very good flavour intensity. There was little dead fruit, little though some vegetal characters - I hate that in Shiraz. It gets mistaken sometimes for pepper and spice, but there was little of it. Not too many over-extracted. I'd been warned about Viognier. There was judicious use of Viognier and very few overt faults. In fact I don't think we picked more than one bretty one. You have a look at the strike rate of medals in that class and I think it's probably the highest in the show. A very high percent of wines got medals and two terrific golds.
Observations within that - I could see obviously style variances between cooler and warmer growing areas, in other words the wines showing violets, pepper, spice into berry notes and those starting with berry moving into jammy into those riper characters which normally come out of the hotter growing areas. Clearly there were some with enormous alcohols, which you've just got to work out how to get away from that. 15% alcohol is just not going to fly in this world these days. We didn't see too many of those in the 08's. We saw more in the old wines. Use of oak and all that sort of thing was good so I came away very impressed by what I believe must be very good progress with Shiraz.
In the older Shiraz classes the wines were not as good. Once we got older still, brett reared its ugly head quite often and that's got me a little puzzled, because did the people who made these wines bottle with obvious brett or did they develop brett in the bottle. If they say they bottled without brett and it's now got brett, why are they not sterile filtering. You do not get rid of brett out of a cellar. You can sit and dream about your wines, but if you've got a bretty cellar you should be sterile bottling. I'm quite happy to argue that one for hours on end.
Looking at the trophy wines today there were some magnificent wines. Unknown areas to me - Pinotage, quite impressive. I drew the other red classes and got all the odds and ends, but we found some gems. There's a Malbec in there that is worth looking at, not because it's a classic big style Malbec, but it's what I would call a very vibrant, early-drinking style. The maker's done a marvelous job of handling quite fragrant fruit and turning it into something very attractive. The only negative was Merlot as has been mentioned already. We gave a respectable number of bronze medals so there were a respectable number of respectable wines, but we didn't find golds and silvers, so that's extremely disappointing. Amongst that class, compared to looking at the Shirazes, there was wine after wine that simply lacks any level of primary fruit intensity or brightness. The palates were weak. There are many wines that are just green and weedy and not any variety at all. What a difference to the Shiraz class and, I'm told, the Pinotage and Cabernet classes. So for some reason in this show this time Merlot to me was particularly weak. I shouldn't end on a bad note and really overall I was very impressed by the wines I saw.
AL I've been dubbed the veteran of this show because I've actually done it every year. I'd like to back up what my colleagues have said. I drew my favourite categories - the first day I was with Tony Jordan doing Sem-Sauvignon blends and I think you're seeing wines of real character there. There's wonderful consistency and that's what one wants, not one year really great and the next year not so great.
The Semillon class, which I'd also done last year and which was smaller last year and wasn't so impressive has regained what it is acknowledged to be here. Some really smart wines. And then Chenin on an upward bend. We did other white blends also which could be Sauvignon/Semillon with something else, or the warmer area wines where you have Viognier. They found a wonderful straight Viognier that's got a gold, I think the guys who are blending with Viognier need to take a lesson from this, because a lot of them that were said to be blends were so dominated by Viognier - big, rich, oily - and there was no complexity, no idea of something that was greater than the sum of its parts with those blends. So that was a little bit of a downside on that day.
Cabernet I did the following day and I'd like to compare it with the pinotages which I did yesterday. The pinotages again you felt they were wines coming from different areas. There was one which was my wine of the whole tasting, which I hope comes from a cooler area. It was much more Pinot like, tighter, had a nice sort of fynbos quality to it; something really individual which you felt came from where it was grown. The other ones which are fuller, richer wines also lovely characters, miles away from that old acetone, rusty nails, whatever, not over-oaked. And if the Viognier wasn't found in the Shiraz, we think some of it's come across to the Pinotage. Carefully used with some benefit, but again Viognier is a pushy bloody grape and if you put more than just a dab in and it'll overpower the grape that's really the dominant one, specially if Pinotage is on the label.
One warning: they were disappointed with Merlots and those of you who've read Wine Mag will know that we were very impressed with the overall quality of Merlot, even down to the drinking level. I think we need to be very wary of an industry of overreaction to different results, because you don't know who entered, who was in one group and who was in another group. I think it is worth taking to heart when Merlot isn't so liked, which is more common than not, but there are wines out there that are good and drinkable and if you find them, just try and follow those, see who's making them and follow up.
Cabernet I felt had less character than the Pinotage. They were all over the place; straight up and down cab and again we questioned who is using their best Cab for the Bordeaux blends, who is using just other Cab for the varietal wines. I think if you're going to make a Cabernet and a Bordeaux blend, they've got to make different statements, both really good qualities.
Port was a little disappointing in that we've set such high bars for it. There weren't bad wines, but they just didn't reach the sort of level that we've been used to and Muscatel - well there was one lovely old one. I know people don't age them, but it's just wonderful if you can lose a few bottles and keep them.
Just one other point that hasn't been mentioned - panel dynamics. Having judged for all nine years on this, some panels you sit down with you get on with really well. It's a smooth process, you're on each other's wavelengths and this I felt very much with our international judges this year. It was a real pleasure. You learnt from them, there was a wonderful harmony and you felt you'd come up with the right results because of that. It doesn't always happen, but when it does it's a real pleasure and you feel much more confident at the end of the day that the gold medals you've come up with are really worthy.
GJ This is the fourth year that I've been judging here as the winemaker judge. A lot of my panel members have said many things I wanted to say, so I'll stick to a lot of the technical stuff that I've noticed as a winemaker too and the changes over the years.
It was interesting that nobody really touched on the fact that on Sunday we had a very old wine-tasting, wines that had to have been at least 25 years in the bottle. At one stage we were looking at a line of Chateau Libertas - we had to choose between '42, '58 and '61. So when I go into a tasting and judging like this, I'm also looking, as a winemaker, at what would make this wine age 50 or 60 years. Tony's mentioned some of these things - dead fruit, incredibly high alcohol. Already on some of the older classes you're noticing the fruit is drying out. You realize that wine is never going to get better down the line.
From a technical point of view, I must say over the last four years we've definitely seen less brett. I think there may be a statistic that will come out of this, but we had very few corked wines, called for very few second bottles and I'm talking particularly in the red wine classes. So that has changed. The issue of burnt rubber was not really an issue. I'm sure there will be a few people who would like to ask the international judges what their impressions were there.
The sparkling wines are not world class, but there are some very interesting wines there and I think on the whole, as mentioned by Miguel, perhaps it's getting pushed through from the industry, but there isn't enough long time on the lees that we found, but also some of those wines are falling flat and short quite quickly and too quickly.
Pinot Noir was some very interesting wines as well. It's not a big class, but I think producers will be interested to see what came out of that, particularly with two wines. That's showing some very nice vibrant fruit and less of the funky rustic characters that can often happen with that variety.
Red blends other than Bordeaux - in many cases this was more difficult to try and that's where some of the faults do come out, not because of the varietals themselves, but I think it's because producers are pushing new boundaries, using varieties where there may be, in some cases, a little over-ripe, some portiness coming through and certainly some of the faultier wines coming out of that as well.
Bordeaux blends - Alex has also mentioned with Cabernet Franc, where well made and well used, were incredibly good and added a great dimension. Where it was done in a very weedy style, it was very obvious and very hard and green.
Pinotage blends was a very small class, but there is a wine there that is fantastic.
Shiraz - again it's my fourth year and what a revelation! Each year this class has just got better and better. Many people can remember the year that Jancis was here and I was on that panel. A few people have joined and going up to last year with Brian Croser - you've got an incredible spread of really great wines coming through in that class. As Tony mentioned, the different styles being peppery and spicy - try and ease off on those very ripe extracted styles, but we didn't see as many of them as we have seen in the past. It was a very strong, appealing class.
CA The joy of going last! I would just like to say I stand by what my fellow judges have said here today, Angela in particular saying that we did learn from every single judge that we tasted with. It was a pleasure to be here and judge with people who were so open-minded and willing to see what is good in the wines. Thank you to the producers for entering because it gives me an excuse to come back again next year to spend an enjoyable week. My most over-riding impression was that quality is on the up and particularly that technical faults are on the decrease. That made my heart very glad.
MF Before we toss this out to questions a stat which we've been in the habit of giving over the last four or five feedback sessions is the incremental use of screw cap. In white wine classes it's very well spread except in the more aged classes where there is obviously cork. We see it in white blends at nearly 50%; in Chenin unwooded at 60%; Sauvignon Blanc 50%. As you get to reds obviously the usage is much less and there is nothing like the kind of statistic you would be getting out of the Antipodes, but I suppose a lot closer to a European number. Total white wines in screw cap as a percentage is 39.45% and reds are at 10%. Having said that, it also equally clear that the cork industry has taken the message of the increased use of screw cap to heart and in the younger classes where there were second calls, it was a tiny percentage and a lot of those second calls were really in a sense to be kind to the wine. But when the wines came back there was no difference. I would guess, over the whole course of the show, there were fewer than 20-25 corked wines max. There would be perhaps 8-10 a day. What we did see is that where we had a corked wine and we apply our rule of two strikes is out, the producers that had corked wines, had plenty corked wines, which means it's either the cork supplier per se, or a bad batch and it contaminates right through a submission sometimes. There were wines that were really smart and there were two corked wines in an opening of three or four bottles which is a really bad stat from a consumer perspective, but the truth is we know it's not an average for the total production of that producer.
I think there are things that need to be teased out a wee bit. Museum classes is always a smallish entry. This year really did have some fabulous wines in white and red, not just the golds that count, but a higher than ever percentage of silver. For white wines it's not a huge threshold - it's four years or older. All other wines are eight years and more and we saw lots of them and they were really very good.
The other point that needs to be teased out and Christian touched on it - the palpable strength of the Pinotage class. When I walk in as Show Chairman and there's this kind of line-up of stuff that they want to show me for gold, I'm thinking we can't have ten Pinotage golds, we've got to knock a few of them out. The truth of the matter is that is was a really lovely class. There is a statement in the number of golds coming out of it, but one thing is absolutely clear, the days of judging Pinotage being a little bit of a penance are over. It had excitement, it has fruit sweetness, it had fewer faults than ever and it's certainly something worth discussing at greater length.
One other thing, Noble Late Harvest is usually a class in which we see lots of golds. I could not believe that there wasn't a gold to be seen. I did a quick taste just about throughout the whole class. You can't blame the panel - the golds weren't there. It is a category in which - as an industry - we generally do well, I don't know whether we didn't have the entries, or whether we've taken it too much for granted and we're making them a little too sloppily. The same is true of the younger fortifieds, where we didn't see the usually very dense array of strong contenders.
I think that is all at this stage from the panel. To the room and to questions.
Q I wanted to ask in terms of the export market, the UK in particular, what kind of styles you think you're going to be going back to the UK and trying to push?
AH It's an interesting question because of both the diversity of what's on offer here and also the diversity of the particularly crowded market that we have in the UK. There is a gross excess of choice and so really for my company and the UK in particular to succeed with South African wine, we need to find things that have a different story to tell. That could be either varietal or stylistic. Chenin Blanc and Pinotage are of course the calling cards for South Africa in international markets and are rightly successful as they don't really compete on a varietal level with other areas. In terms of the varieties where there is a greater competition - let's say Bordeaux blends, Shiraz, Sauvignon - I think the old cliché that the best wines sort of blend the best of old world and new remains true and that's actually a very attractive character. I think the degree of restraint that can be found alongside the more exuberant characteristics of the best wines here is something that South Africa offers particularly strongly and should become increasingly attractive as consumers in the UK do seek out slightly crisper, more refreshing styles, without wanting to revert to the very old school, the worst side of Europe. So I'll be looking for wines of balance, restraint and individuality in any category that I look to expand our portfolio in.
MF I can't believe there are no penetrating questions.
Q I'd like to pick up on Angela's comments about Merlot. Each year I've been here the one biggest criticism has been Merlot. Are we planting the grape in the wrong places is the first question. Brian Croser last year talked a lot about how we need to look at the right places for the right vineyards. I've tasted some pretty good Merlot, taking what you said about the Wine Magazine tastings. The question is do we need to try harder or do we just pass on it and move on to the strengths.
MF I want to pick up on that and then pass it to the panel. I don't think we have a choice - we don't pass on it. We can't. It's a component part of Bordeaux blend and if, as Brian pointed out last year, we're not doing it right, then there's a knock-on consequence for our Bordeaux blends because we are diluting their potential with Merlots that aren't right. Just to give you the stat before Gary and Tony need to be asked to speak there, there were 58 entries, there were no golds, there were no silvers, there were 14 bronzes. I have to say that's not pretty. I did look at every single one of those bronzes to see if, in my most optimistic mood, there was a chance that any of those wines was going to be pushed up to silver, even if Tony had more rubbery arms than I know he has.
TJ I'm sure Gary will be more learned than I am on this because I'm just not familiar enough with the vineyards to answer your question about vineyards. From an Australian context we have exactly the same problem. Merlot, no matter what we've tried, has been a failure. Therefore is it unsuitable for any terroir - I don't think so. I would guess the answer is in sight for sure. Second is going to be Merlot and clones. Australia has a miserable situation of only having one for ever. There are some new ones now being trialed so we don't know that outcome will be, but that could be an answer here. I just wonder about the problems you have with virus. Clones that stay clean - you can work on that. That really is a statement about growing any variety anywhere.
GJ I think viticulturally when you look at Merlot itself it's pretty easy in Stellenbosch. Even pruning to one bearer you can get 17 tons per hectare, but you do taste those wines and they're quite thin and really don't offer the kind of pleasure you'd be looking at in some of the other classes. Be that as it may, when you look at the history of clones with Overgaauw bringing in that original clone and where it's planted today, we don't have a huge array of clones. I think the Merlot 343 and 348 are infinitely more fruity and offer more pleasure and are less virused than those earlier clones, but as Tony said, it's all about site. Merlot can't take stress and stressed fruit and particularly higher cropping levels are just an absolute no no.
Q Could we talk about our wines with Asian food.
MF I think that's a really good question.
ST I think gone are the days of red wine - red meat and white wine - white meat. The world is converging far more and the Chinese and old cultures like the Greeks and Italians you get a chicken but what ends up on the plate doesn't really taste like a chicken as you know it. I think that's the wonderful opportunities that exist. Talking about it is a marketing opportunity. We could philosophise till the cow or chicken comes home but it will be my view and you'll probably disagree because we all eat and drink quite intelligently. Looking at it from a pure marketing perspective China now produced more wine than Australia domestically and imports another 26% to blend with the local product. Zero is exported, apart from your clichéd Chinese restaurants. So the Chinese drink wine. Which sort of food do you think the Chinese would eat more often? Chinese, Italian or Indian? Italian. There sits an incredible opportunity for any producer around the world to tap into a lifestyle which is new, invigorating. We can eat in China anywhere 24 hours a day. It's a national sport. More importantly, any producers looking to tap into this great bastion of promised land called China, it's a good place to be. The French are occupying the top notch and you can try to knock them off but this would be difficult. The Australians are providing a huge amount of very accessible wine. A real point of difference are the national flags like Chenin, to some extent Semillon, Pinotage - this makes a wonderful opportunity through wine pairing. Angela and I were talking about Pinotage and your country will be 15kg lighter as Joostenberg Pork is going in my suitcase. You really can use this as a wonderful opportunity to re-profile South Africa. One of the things that the wine industry isn't very good at is re-inventing the wheel. For example some of your residual sugar Chenins would be absolutely perfect with spicy dishes. The beautiful Pinotage that Christian loves so much would walk with Autumn/Winter braised dishes - it may be duck or pork belly or shins etc. Something with a little spice like Chinese roast duck with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper spices work very well to lift the fruit even more. This would give you a really good foot into the doorway of one of the most interesting markets in the world.
MF More questions.
Q Was there a rosé class?
MF There was a rosé class and there was a rosé silver which I was pleased to see. The entry was still relatively small - . We hoped for more. If you want a screw cap count that really means something, rosé was an 81% screw cap count. I have to wonder why the other 19% haven't worked that out.
Q Is there any comment on the sulphide character related to screw caps?
A We glossed over Sauvignon Blanc which is a hot category. We only got one gold out of that. Out of any panel that I sat on, we were extremely strict which is probably no bad thing. One particular problem I found was reduction on some of the Sauvignon.
Q On a panel like this do you allow for that?
A I'm a journalist, not a winemaker but I think it's over-sulphuring and bottling.
MF The wines stand for quite a long time. Panelists approach from different directions so they're not all getting the same halo effect. If it's going to blow off quite quickly it's probably not even going to get noted. If it doesn't blow off it's going to be there for long enough that it's going to be flagged and it's going to be an issue.
Q I'm interested in the question. Was it a problem in the Sauvignon Blanc class. Because certainly judging in New Zealand as I do, they make a few Sauvignon Blancs and people aren't even talking about that problem any more and it's all under screw cap.
MF I think it's probably less. Picking my way through the classes, it was much less obvious than a year or two ago.
Q ...but obviously enough for us to notice.
TJ I question whether you're looking at residual sulphide which has come up because of the so-called reductive atmosphere under the screw cap and I would point out that you can get screw caps now that have a high degree of oxygen permeability so you can solve the problem that way if you want and the issue of Sauvignon Blanc that has many sulphides in it in its varietal aromatics, including sweaty characters and various other sulphides. So what are we talking about?
Q Are there any surprise areas - areas which sit particularly well or better than you expected?
MF There is in terms of terroir.
TJ There was some very good Viognier which wasn't mentioned in our comments. Beautifully handled, restraint and structure.
AL That's why I mentioned overdoing it with the blends. People who make Viognier should really taste this one and take it to heart.
MF To answer your question - which can only be done when you look at the full set of results - I would urge those people who pore over these things to also look at the top silvers. In a sense the cut-off for gold is slightly arbitrary. It is where we feel comfortable. We argue up or down. That threshold is not set in granite and there are some really smart top silvers. The data become bigger. You're looking at say 30 golds, you'll have 20 or 30 silvers to add to that and if you're looking for discernible patterns they're likely to emerge much better if you pool those numbers and try and pick the stats out of it.
Q Were there any specifically different styles in the Sauvignon Blanc?
AH It was a surprisingly diverse class I think. I wasn't expecting so many different approaches to be taken. Sauvignon Blanc works best when it's fairly straightforward. I don't mean simple and I don't mean dilute. I mean frank and clear in pose. So the best for me are the ones that have a good varietal freshness, nice balance and a pleasure to drink. What I was quite surprised to see was that just over a quarter of the class I felt had obvious winemaking tricks that you could pick up from the first sniff. 17% of the wines I detected had a blended component of very late picked Sauvignon. When you pick Sauvignon very late you tend to get a peachy or apricot flavour which is not an unpleasant flavour, but does it fit within the structure of that early picked fruit that you then have to blend with to get a good analysis on average? No it doesn't. Go one way or the other. I think the idea of taking two very different crops at different times and from different regions and averaging them out and getting something that on the analysis looks perfect and tastes horrendous because it's two separate wines. So that was a surprise. The next one down - just under 10% - had marked lees effects, which were either masking the varietal character or potentially an attempt to make up for a lack in varietal character in the grapes to begin with. Again I think unless you're really going with concentrated fruit for a decidedly Loire style, I don't really want lees clouding the issue. Let's have lovely clean varietal fruit, picked at the right ripeness and used at a little bit under and a little bit over for seasoning, but let's get delicious simple fruit from the vineyard and let it express itself.
Q I'm curious. Could you comment about the edge South African Sauvignon has in the UK market over Kiwi which dominates the market.
AH Kiwi does dominate the market because initially the flavour impact is so big. They are hugely direct wines, very aromatic and it's also a very consistent category. It's managed a bit like Italian Pinot Grigio which is a huge thing in the UK. It tends to taste of nothing, but you know where you are with it. Consumers feel confident ordering it. It's not bone dry but it's not sweet. It's cheap and Kiwi Sauvignon's like that. It's our default white wine trade-up in the UK for consumers, because it is very very regular. Since they've recently found the banks to be less sympathetic the deals flooding out market have been extraordinary. You can see quite respectable brands on offer at £4.49, which has never really happened before since Kiwi stuff hit the market. So I think South Africa does need to differentiate. It offers potentially more sophisticated style, a little drier, a little neater, a little more classical without some of those funky characters that maybe the best of the Loire a little bit of an acquired taste. Go for purity, go for finesse, but with fruit expression you shouldn't go far wrong.
MF I'm going to wrap up the formal part of proceedings. It is a thought in the light of what is being said about "buy one get one free" in Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc that South African producers who are rightfully moaning about the fact that we have price points established in the 1990's which are now uneconomical at current exchange rates, but at least when it comes to our price points there isn't a chance of a "buy one get one free". We are right on the floor and we have a better opportunity to claw our way up.
Thank you all very much for attending. Thank you to the panelists again for the four days of truly hard work well executed. I think there is a lot to come from this. The transcript of this feedback session goes up on the Trophy Wine Show website within a week or two and from that anybody who thinks they missed a gem can come back to it.
The panelists will be milling around here for a bit and if you have more questions, let's take them from there.
Thank you very much indeed.