Late night competition thoughts

Well, “thoughts” is pitching my late-night rambling a bit high perhaps, I confess. But maybe it’s worth reporting on aspects of supper conversation this evening with two of the judges in the Top 100 SA Wines competition, Tim Atkin and Sam Harrop (and I bumped into a few others in St James Main Road – they were off to the Brass Bell, while we went to The Annex – my first visit to the rather nice and good restaurant behind the bookshop in Kalk Bay).

The competition judging is happening for much of this week. The rumours of there being about 400 entries were confirmed. It’s not a scintillating turnout, but it must be said that it is a very plausible one – not a bad number for the first year of a competition which attracted some early negative comment. So I freely confess that I was wrong: I was sure there’d be fewer. Of course we don’t yet know which wineries entered and which stayed away – but these two judges at least seemed pretty impressed by what they’d tasted so far. Of course, they haven’t any idea of what the wines were that they’ve sampled.

And, something else that had caused some doubts, the organisation of the tastings – by two panels of four rather than panels of three as originally planned – was reported to be extremely good. Both these judges were finding it a good idea to be given, with each wine, a freshly poured glass and one that had been decanted well in advance.

But Sam Harrop – scourge of faulty wines around the world – is still on the trail of “burnt rubber” and said he’d been surprised to find it in more white wines than he’d expected – notably sauvignon blancs (of all things!). He did wonder, however (and this I this a thought an interesting observation/admission/whatever), if perhaps it was not more of a smoke taint from the 2010 fires….

No problems with the bottles I took along to drink with dinner. One from Eben Sadie’s Ouwingerdreeks 2009, which neither of the furriners had had (or even knew about), but were most impressed by. This one was the Skurfberg, from three different chenin blanc vineyards on the dry, obscure mountain of that name in the Olifantsrivier region. Previously their juice had gone into vast and nameless co-op vats.  I think Sam was particularly struck by the wine, especially as it opened up in the glass – “Clearly hardly any sulphur used here….” is what I seemed to hear him muttering first. “This could just be one of the great wines of the world…” (But don’t quote me – it was already late.) Great stuff, undoubtedly.

The other wine was a red, and it followed a discussion in which all were agreed how much better, on the whole, South African whites are than the reds (despite a handful of top class examples of the latter). A bit of an unfair introduction to the Morgenster 2000 – the first vintage of this fine wine. Elegant it certainly was, and finely balanced, and pleasingly restrained – but a touch more dried out, less juicy than I was expecting. I don’t think I’ll keep my remaining few bottles much longer.

As to the Top 100 competition – I still have big problems with the name (and I think the organiser, Robin von Holdt, made a big strategic mistake by associating it with his pretentious and provocatively irritating “Industry Executive” idea), but I must say I’m rather more curious than I was before to see the results being announced in a few weeks.

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