We’re in the dreadful thick of the awards season. All those drear lists of gold-bemedalled wines have been churning out, to little useful effect in my opinion. The International Wine Challenge and Concours Mondial are already now nearly forgotten in the rush, except by the competitions’ accountants who rake in the large profits these competitions bring, and by the excited producers who did well. Also some obscure American line-up whose name I forget and wouldn’t have known about if it hadn’t been trumpeted triumphantly about by the KWV in a press release because some of its wines performed.
Etcetera, etcetera. Today saw the announcement of the winners of the portentously named “Christian Eedes Cabernet Sauvignon Report” – really simply the results of a blind-tasting competition among 60 out of the vastly more Cape wines that might have qualified. One of my own favourites, Glenelly Lady May 2010, (and was called “rich… plush … extravagant”), scored a mere three-and-a half-stars – alongside the really splendid Delaire Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Meanwhile the soft, oaky bomb of Guardian Peak Lapa 2010 rates another full star and is described as “pure and focused”.
Of the two highest scoring wines (four-and-a-half stars), I much admired the Le Riche Reserve 2010, though it could do with reverting to the older-style Le Riche and drop a bit of ripeness and power, but was less enthusiastic about Le Bri 2009, which seemed desperately ordinary to me at the tasting of the Top Ten today.
Such is life amongst the star-gazers.
I looked a bit more closely at the results of the Decanter awards, recently declared in London. You can fairly easily find the names of the gold- and trophy-winning wines if you want to. But I’m always intrigued by the other end of the list (though of course none of these big competitions tells you the names of the outright failures – it would be bad for their business). So how about the following as a great list of a winners:
- Beyerskloof Synergy Cape Blend 2011
- Cederberg Five Generations Chenin Blanc 2011
- David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner Semillon 2011
- Delaire Chardonnay 2011
- Glenelly Grand Vin 2008
- Hartenberg The Mackenzie 2009
- Meerlust Rubicon 2008
- Quoin Rock The Nicobar 2011
- Rijk’s Private Cellar Chenin Blanc 2009
- Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011
- Steenberg Vineyards Magna Carta 2010
- Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Well, indeed, who would have been surprised to find these dozen names heading the pack at Decanter? No offence intended to the actual winners, some of which are very good, but those listed above all achieved nothing more than the lowest level of award, after Trophy, Gold, Silver, Bronze. They were merely “Commended”.
It’s not that the judges of these competitions are useless wine-tasters. Far from it, many of them are excellent judges in many different ways. Some are accurate identifiers of variety, origin, etc. Some are great at picking out slight faults (a more soulless occupation I have trouble thinking of) and thereby disqualifying a wine that others found delicious. Some really have developed an instinct for quality (not as common a trait among judges as you might expect). Some are genuine wine-lovers with an appreciation of the multifold complexities and joys of wine.
All of these judges, I would almost be willing to swear, if they sat down to dinner with a bottle of (say) Steenberg Magna Carta, would think it a very fine wine by any standards, and be genuinely puzzled as to how they could have given it a fourth-level award and so much preferred XYZ in its place. I suspect and hope that the tasters for the CE Cab Sav Report would think in similar fashion about the Delaire Graff Reserve if they paid it attention. (I’d love to hear retailer Roland Peens describing it to his customers, or sommelier James Pietersen telling a tableful of eager diners about it!)Yet next year, all round the world, all these judges will be back at their places, to swirl and sniff and spit their way through another hundred or so wines in a sitting and offer us their confident pronouncements (and earn their modest or genenerous emoluments, depending on where they are in the judging hierarchy). Press releases from ecstatic producers will follow, while the losers will keep quiet and wait hopefully for their turn in the lottery.
Next week, the results of the Trophy Wine Show. How exciting.