Should we be pleased or worried SA did well?

The Tri-Nations wine competition, staged annually between New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, is a strange beast. I’m a perpetual doubter about the value of big line-ups, but even most other observers seem little interested in these results – in South Africa at least, and I wonder if in the other countries they find it less of a lack-lustre affair. Perhaps here the doubts are partly because of the way it is organised, where the results seem doomed to go in the Antipodeans’ favour.

The competition is always held “over there”, and the judges are such as to favour the style of squeaky-clean, fruity wine that (with admittedly different expressions and more than an occasional complication) generally characterises both New Zealand and Australian winemaking. There’s always an Australian (this year it was Huon Hooke), a New Zealander (Bob Campbell as usual) and Michael Fridjhon, probably the most Australian-oriented of South African professional palates and in the 1990s an urger of those who lost the inaugural “test-match ” against Australia to go and learn from the victors. (Thank heavens many chose to go and learn in Bordeaux and the northern Rhône instead!) The “neutral” palate involved is that of the chair, Robert Joseph, a Brit who has long been even more enthusiastic about the charms of overtly New World wine than most of his colleagues.

So it is perhaps a little disturbing for those who like to think that South Africa is edging closer to Côte-Rôtie than Barossa, that Cape wines seem to do “better” each year in the Tri-Nations! The overall 2010 results were apparently remarkably close, the totals for New Zealand, Australia and South Africa being reportedly 483, 481 and 479. South Africa won two class trophies (that perennial winner Kaapzicht Steytler Vision – a wine that judges unfailingly pick in such competitions and then tend to be very embarrassed about afterwards – and Nederberg Edelkeur).  New Zealand won six trophies and Australia five, but South Africa got a whole slew of double-gold and gold medals. These are listed below; anyone interested in the full results can find a link to them on the competition’s website.

It is always interesting to look at the full results, when available as they rarely are, as they reveal which wines have been spurned by the judges (Boekenhoutskloof Cab, for example this year, and the incomparable Australian Shiraz, Giaconda).  They also show which wines were competing. The wines judged in this competition are, in fact, selected by the three national judges, which is certainly an interesting way of doing it (a splendid hybrid of sighted and blind tasting, perhaps). I’m not privy to the process by which Michael Fridjhon chose the South African entrants – I’d guess it was not always straightforward or easy.

I remember the contempt with which one winemaker expressed a reluctance to take part a few years back, citing the anti-classic bias of the competition (but Vergelegen is there again this year, with a winner, nogal! – though I don’t understand the reference in the list to “Vergelegen Reserve V”, given as containing “Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Cabernet Franc”, which Vergelegen V doesn’t, while the Vergelegen Red does). But I can have no idea why (for example) Kanonkop’s Paul Sauer and Cabernet are not there – whether Michael didn’t select them, or whether the producer declined to take part.

I’d guess that some wines are somewhat cynically entered because it is thought they will do well in the particular competition, rather than because the selector thinks they are the finest examples available. I hope so, anyway, as it would account for their otherwise puzzling presence. Some of the choices do look rather eccentric – even when they did well. I have no doubt, for example, that the Anthonij Rupert range is going to be an industry leader within a decade, but for sound reasons the early vintages have generally had a poor press. On what basis, one wonders, were a couple of them selected? Because ultra-ripe or heavily-oaked wines were, simply, more likely to do well in this competition than more classic ones? Perhaps.

I’m sure, however, that in Australia and New Zealand there are also those who cavil about the wines selected to represent them.


South African double-gold and gold medal winners

  • Desiderius Pongracz 2002
  • JC Le Roux Pinot Noir Rose 2007
  • Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2009 (Double gold)
  • Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2009
  • Tokara Chardonnay Reserve 2008
  • Jordan Nine Yards Chardonnay 2006
  • Paul Cluver Weisser Riesling 2009
  • De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc 2010
  • Reyneke Reserve White 2009
  • Quoin Rock The Nicobar 2009
  • Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc 2009
  • Vergelegen White 2008
  • Tokara Director’s Reserve White 2008
  • Strandveld Adamastor 2008
  • Raka Biography Shiraz 2008
  • Waterford Kevin Arnold Shiraz 2007
  • Raka Cabernet Sauvigon 2008
  • Glenelly The Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvigon 2008
  • Fleur du Cap Cabernet Sauvigon 2007
  • Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvigon 2007
  • Tokara Director’s Reserve 2006
  • KWV The Mentors Orchestra 2008
  • Vilafonté Series M 2007
  • Waterford The Jem 2006
  • Kaappzicht Steytler Vision 2006
  • Glenelly 2007
  • Fleur du Cap Laszlo 2006
  • Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Franc 2006
  • Mullineux Straw Wine 2009
  • Nederburg Edelkeur 2005
  • Nederburg Eminence 2008



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