Apart from three less glossy journalists, the few hundred seated were mostly, I presume, what banks like our hosts Old Mutual fondly call High Net-Worth Individuals – good clients for bankers. Those pouring us tasting portions of the winners of gold medals at the Trophy WIne Show were, I presume, not.
And, as in most aspects of the beloved industry, the racial division between those working and those enjoying was marked. But enjoy we did (on the whole), as Show chair Michael Fridjhon guided us eloquently and occasionally fulsomely along the way from the first sauvignon blanc (a charming if uncharacterful Fleur du Cap Unfiltered 2008) to the final port (the excellent Bredell’s Cape Vintage 2003).
This was one of the “Master Classes” offered by the competition’s sponsor to its friends (and the aforementioned few lucky winewriters). A strange name in this case, perhaps, as a “master class” usually refers to a class given by a senior expert to others who are more junior, but still profesionals (or masters) themselves – not the case here. However, herewith a few remarks on the wines.
Only wine judges, surely, don’t expect as many raised eyebrows as glasses when observing and tasting the results of the admirable efforts to appraise wines at the rate of a hundred or two a day. In my opinion the judges at this year’s TWS got things right and wrong in about the same proportion as they usually do – that is, quite a few examples of each, but whether they did much better than statistically inevitable, I’m not sure.
The white wine winnners showed, on the whole, very well indeed – vastly better than the reds, though whether that’s because the whites were better judged or because in the Cape they’re inherently superior, I’m not sure; probably an element of both. The two 2007 Lomond Sauvignons (Pincushion and Sugarbush) are both more interesting than the Fleur du Cap, and therefore even more pleasing: subtle, beautifully balanced, clearly reflecting their different adjacent terroirs, with the Sugarbush offering some real complexity. But putting sauvignon in its place (at about 20%, the rest semillon) was Vergelegen’s ever-brilliant White, the most consistently and justifiably acclaimed modern South African white wine. I last tried the 2007 more than a year ago, and it was then closed and unimposing: now it has started on its splendid march towards maturity in five-plus years’ time, and is already richly elegant, finely and cleanly built and polished, precisely poised, with flavours that linger for many minutes.
How the Ashton Unwooded Chardonnay impressed the judges so much I can’t imagine. A pleasant but modest wine, best fitting in with the way its producer described his range: “young, easy, inexpensive wines for the everyday man on the street”. The Tokara Chardonnay was a more explicable winner of gold: a trifle unexciting, but with plenty of oak and enough well-tailored fruit to make it, as Angela Lloyd suggested, a good example of the more “New World” style.
There were two chenins among the gold, Kanu KCB 2006 and Woolworths Limited Release 2008 from Simonsig. Both glistering very pleasingly. Kanu’s sweetness is beautifully balanced (though the oak a little prominent) and fresh, while the Simonsig (the top scorer on the Show) is a particularly superb wine, with botrytis notes adding to a full, rich complexity over a firm mineral base. For me, probably the best value wine amongst the line-up.
Most of the red gold medallists should, I’d suggest, be eschewed by anyone who puts more traditional virtues ahead of the sweet-finishing, fruity, low-tannin-low-acid characters that have become widely valued. The notable exception was the Vergelegen Red 2004 which, despite its high alcohol, came across as youthfully classic, with a stylish vinosity, fine balance and forceful structure controlling the fruit. Just about drinkable now, but should develop well and be excellent in five to ten years. At the final trophy judging (where only those winning gold compete), the judges on the whole preferred the juicy, fruity, soft and ultra-ripe Nick & Forti’s Epicentre 2005 and gave it the relevant trophy (though I believe that two of the judges at that stage had the good taste to indicate by their scores that they thought the wine shouldn’t even have received a gold medal; but they were clearly heavily outnumbered). I’m immune to the delights they perceived. Totally not my style of wine.
The three Kleine Zalze wines were in pretty much the same camp of sweet, ultra-ripe and rather jammy wine. Good of their type, certainly, the Family Reserve Cab, the Family Reserve Shiraz and the Vineyard Selection Shiraz, but unless you like this style of wine as much as our show-judges apparently did (or unless you’re also only going to take a sniff and sip of them in the middle of a hundred other sniffs and sips), treat them with caution.
The other two shirazes that won gold were also not exactly elegant, restrained wines with serious tannin-acid structures, but they seemed to me superior. The Haskell Pillars 2007, while also showily ripe and very-sweet-fruited, had a lovely perfumed quality, and was fresh, with a subtly forceful and very fine tannin base. Raka Biography 2007 was less sophisticated, perhaps, but the touch of rusticity gave it a welcome bit of interest, and it didn’t show as much sweetness as the Trophy-winning version of a few years back; it was my favourite of the four shiraz golds.
But were there really no shirazes at this show of more serious character than this bunch of winners, or did the judges simply not care for them? Quoin Rock, Stark-Condé, Cederberg and Eagles’s Nest only scraped bronze. Perhaps subtler wines just seemed insipid and ordinary when muscled aside by the fruitier ones in a class of well over 150 examples? I’m told that at the last moment a wine that some had slated for gold was sudddenly accused of having a touch of brett and was promptly consigned to medalless darkness; I can’t help wondering if it mightn’t have been more characterful than any of these undeniably pure-fruited wines….
Anyway, three appealing Noble Late Harvests from Nederburg started the roomful of High Net-Worth Individuals and others gliding happily towards the fortified finale. Monis Wood Matured Muscadel 2001 is a good buy – more like a tawny port in its oxidative character than the previous 1992 had been, though the raisiny muscadel is unmistakeable and delicious. Axe Hill Cape Vintage, forceful and fiery with an almost dry finish, would have been a good place to stop – but the even more elegant and equally delicious and subtly powerful Bredell’s was there to trump and be ultimately triumphant.
Thinking back to those plushly ripe reds, however, it would be depressing indeed to imagine that the Trophy Wine Show judges have awarded gold medals to red wines representing the best the Cape has to offer. Fortunately I’m confident that, the Vergelegen aside, they did not. If The Trophy Wine Show were sufficiently confident in their judges as to reveal the wines that didn’t even make it into the bronze class I have little doubt that some of the wines you’d find there would, for many of us, put the winners of gold to shame.