Odd results from French palates

All wine competitions tend to produce odd results, but the French-judged Taj Classic Wine Trophy does so in a rather spectacular and systematically unique manner. The 2014 competition results were announced, and presented to guests, at a dinner last Friday at the Taj Hotel in Cape Town.

Consider first the overall shape of the result. Leaving out the excellent Villiera Monro Brut 2008 (misspelled as Villietra in the press release) and the equally excellent Rudera Noble Late Harvest 2010, we find six white wines and eleven reds. This in a country which produces, on the whole, much better white wines than red, as I reckon just about everyone with experience and understanding has come round to agreeing.

But then look at the whites selected: one first-rate chenin blanc (De Morgenzon 2013) and five chardonnays, most of them first-rate too, especially the two Hamilton Russells (in the press release as mere “Hamilton”!) and the Chamonix. No quarrel with the quality really. But merely one chenin? No white blends of either the Bordeaux-style or Cape persuasions? No sauvignon blancs at all? Not to mention the occasional other.

In fact, the French judges of the Classic Wine Trophy (all with at least quite a bit of credibility on paper) have established something of a tradition of disliking Cape sauvignon, and not because they don’t think all that highly of the variety as such. This was perhaps understandable when even many of the top local examples were made in an aggressively green style, but the perception no longer has any rational basis in fact. One wonders whether judgement has not hardened into mere prejudice.

Of course it is possible that serious sauvignon producers no longer enter the competition, and one could hardly blame them. (As in all such competitions we are not allowed to see the list of also-rans – it would be bad for business in giving negative publicity to failed producers and also to failed judges; we don’t even know how many entries there were, but this is presumably a fairly small affair.) And that might affect the entries of sauvignon-semillon blends. But how to explain the absence of all the chenins and chenin-influenced blends?

This competition seeks “to recognize, reward and promote elegance, balance, finesse, ageability and sense of place” (but which competition would say that it doesn’t do so?), and did pretty well with the whites it DID select. But the red category that the judges rewarded so much more emphatically than the whites? I’m afraid not, in most cases. There weren’t any poor wines among them, but there was a preponderance of massiveness, power and extreme ripeness. Those that, in my opinion, came closest to the claimed criteria were the Creation Pinot, Whalehaven Merlot (what a surprise! one of the more convincing Cape merlots that I know), and the two Morgensters – the 2003 and 2010, both of them Bordeaux-style blends that could merge happily into a line-up of modern, ripe Bordeaux and Californian wines (nothing from Morgenster has approached the elegance of the maiden 2000, sadly!) Not a single straight syrah, either: the judges seemed to like shiraz only in the company of viognier – isn’t that a bit odd?

Does the Classic Wine Trophy, with its panel of French judges, offer anything particularly valuable? It’s a great idea in theory, but it’s quite a while since all French wine was associated with classic restraint and I suppose the same must be said for trained  French palates. Or is it that, with red wines at least, their idea of “sense of place” implies rather sweet-finishing, alcoholic wines? And a total lack of respect for the Cape traditions of sauvignon blanc? And a blindness to the virtues of white blends – arguably the finest category in Cape wine? One would like to think that a paucity of good entries (in chenin, white blends, sauvignon blanc, syrah, etc) accounts for the odd pattern of results. But I have my doubts.

By the way, here’s a link to the Classic Wine Trophy website, but as at the Monday morning after the Friday on which the results were announced, it hasn’t been updated with them.


Sparkling and white wines

  • Villiera Monro Brut 2008
  • De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc Reserve 2013
  • Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012
  • Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2013
  • Whalehaven Chardonnay 2012
  • Groot Constantia Chardonnay 013
  • Chamonix Chardonnay Reserve 2012

Red wine and dessert wine

  • Creation Pinot Noir 2012
  • Whalehaven Merlot 2011
  • Glen Carlou Grand Classique 2011
  • Bellingham The Bernard Series Small Barrel SMV 2012
  • Creation Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot 2010
  • La Motte Pierneef Shiraz Viognier 2011
  • Groot Constantia Gouverneurs Reserve 2011
  • Morgenster 2010
  • Morgenster 2003
  • Delaire Graff Botmaskop 2012
  • The High Road Classique 2010
  • Rudera Noble Late Harvest 2010

3 thoughts on “Odd results from French palates

  1. I asked one of the judges about the number of entries; around 250 I believe, which reflects those of previous year.
    Another anomaly was judge & Best Sommelier in the World (we don’t know which year), Olivier Poussier raving about South African semillons (and, when I spoke to him subsequently, semillon/sauvignon blends), yet neither featured among the top wines.

  2. Good article, good questions.
    As for Poussier, I think his suffix hails from the 2000 vintage.
    As for submissions, I presume that there were few white blends submitted, and probably fewer Semillons.

  3. Platter is soo much better. I hear you judge for platter is this true? Oh wait, you have mentioned this before on numerous occasions….

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