Here’s my score: Amorim Cork 1, tasting panels 0. Though the victory in WineLand March 2014 is actually more crushing than that.
I’ve been continuing my reading of the latest issue of the magazine, which seems to be getting on very nicely under its new editor, Edo Heynes. The new regime doesn’t appear to me to have made very much difference so far – my real regret is that it seems to involve Edo writing much less these days, and he was always one of my favourite local journalists. And, frankly, I rather miss the editorials of former editor Cassie du Plessis, which were unfailingly interesting, intelligent, well-informed – and just a little bit unexpectedly sideways in their glance.
There’s a rather fascinating article in this issue, replete with informative tables, by Elias Holtzkampf (a new name to me) about “Liquor consumption patterns in South Africa”, but I confess that what grabbed my attention over breakfast this morning was two disparate items, linked only by chardonnay wines and the presence of tasting panels.
Item 1 was the surprise of seeing Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013 scoring a mere 3.5 stars on the “Which wine?” tasting of a selection of currently available wines. The tasters were a pretty mean bunch, in my opinion, altogether! Only two wines score four stars – the undoubtedly worthy Tokara Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2013 and the Overgaauw Cape Vintage exactly 20 years older. Apart from the HRV, everything else gets three or less. I had the HRV 2013 the other night at the Classic Wine Awards dinner, and thought it marvellous – certainly amongst the Cape’s top white wines. [See my comment below for more on this.]
Item 2 – actually more interesting altogether than a panel’s low rating of a very fine wine – is tucked away in a little piece headed “Veritas and Amorim tackle TCA”. It tells that at Veritas this year (“this year” being, I’d guess, actually last year), “all instances of TCA detected by the Shiraz and Chardonnay categories were analysed by Vinlab to establish the presence, extent and origin of TCA using gas-chromatography”.
Amorim Cork was a “partner” in this – presumably they paid for the tests and it appears that it was something as worth doing as they presumably expected. Maybe Amorim generally think that tasters too easily blame corks for apparent faults in a wine. (Myself, I’d love to have every wine accused by some “expert” of having brett tested, and see how many stand up to what can be a glibly easy diagnosis!)
According to the article, only one bottle of Shiraz, out of 194 entries, was found to have TCA (it seems it was the only one accused). Of the chardonnays, only one out of 130 entries was tested positively for TCA. Now that’s a very good result indeed for cork – even though we’re not told how many of the entries were bottled under screwcap, we can sure assume that in these categories the majority would have been under cork. Even if it were only half, then two corked wines out of 162 wines is a far, far cry from the figures sometimes touted by cork’s enemies.
We are told, however, that the Chardonnay panel suspected three wines of “having TCA traits”, but only one of the three was shown in the laboratory to be tainted. This is actually quite odd, that the panel should get it wrong – TCA is usually pretty easy for experienced judges to pick up; to get it wrong like this does Veritas not a lot of credit. Again, it’s perhaps too easy to make accusations of faults, and too fashionable.
An interesting sideline which would have surely had the cork producer chuckling a bit is that of the four wines (three chards, one shiraz) which were believed to contain TCA, “two had screwcap closures”. Deal with that one, admirers of screwcaps and of tasting panels at big competitions!
Charles Hopkins, chair of Veritas, says that they are “going to expand this research project to all classes at Veritas this year”. I’m sure Amorim will be delighted if the results are anything like last year’s.