I was fortunate to taste the trophy winners of the 2015 Trophy Wine Show last week, at a “Masterclass” smartly (of course) presented by the show’s owner and chair, Michael Fridjhon, to an audience invited by the competition’s sponsor, Old Mutual. There were just 13 wines on offer this year, with “Museum Class” trophy winners not shown. Two were gratifyingly good, elegant wines from Rustenberg, Winery of the Year, and two were typically good, albeit big and fruity rather than elegant, examples from Spier.
Incidentally, last year’s top winery, KWV, could squeeze only one of its current releases amongst this year’s medal-winners (though there were awards for older wines) – but that’s the fickleness of the competition gods for you.
Rustenberg’s Peter Barlow 2009, savoury, rich and handsome and with a good dry finish, got the “International Judges’ Trophy”. It seems a rather invidious idea to separate the judges into two camps, but maybe it’s good it happened, to give honour to this wine, as the local judges (the majority) obviously preferred the much less refined, sweet-fruited Spier Woolworths Single Vineyard The Hutton Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 in the cab category (wow – that name is as much of a mouthful as the wine).
Equally voluminous in both name and character, Spier Woolworths Single Vineyard Windy Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2014 was one of only two sauvignons to get gold, and a decent enough wine it is, forceful and ripe, but with a slightly sweet-sour finish that I myself didn’t much appreciate. Surprisingly, perhaps, no Diemersdal sauvignon scored a medal, and I presume that a few of them must have been entered, as the Diemersdal MM Louw Estate Red 2013 got the trophy Best Bordeaux-Style Red Blend – a wine that was my definite un-favourite in the line up: a big, intense, alcoholic, sweet-fruity wine that certainly helps a few of the other wines put paid to the idea that the TWS manages to single out elegant wines as its specialty.
Unutterably different, and much more to my own taste in reds was the poised, fresh and altogether delightful Leeuwenkuil Cinsault 2014, the Best Niche Red. I also liked the cheapie from Ultra Liquors (the competition wasn’t allowed to name the estate origin, but we were assured it bore a very smart name), called Secret Cellar Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon No. 702 2013. I believe it’s something like R30 a bottle, and it’s hard to imagine better value – it deservedly got the Discovery of the Show. I’m not sure it’s got a long life ahead of it, but it is a very pleasant, dry and understated wine; eminently drinkable. Perhaps the judges of this class should be commended for being broad-minded enough to give gold medals to both this wine and the egregious MM Louw.
Another wine I didn’t know at all, Olifantsberg Silhouette 2013 won the trophy for Best Shiraz-Based Red Blend. Clearly this winery in split-personality Breedekloof is well worth finding out about, if this lovely, fresh wine – with pure fruit, fine-grained but forceful tannin – is in any way typical.
The trophy for Best Shiraz and for Best Red Wine Overall went to a slightly less interesting wine, in my opinion: Fleur du Cap Shiraz 2013. It’s well structured, with a pleasing acidity, rather a lot of oak notes, and a bit of sweetness on the finish.
The Best White Blend and Best White Wine Overall was, however, a very plausible winner: Morgenster White 2013, showing a lot of blackcurrant (my favourite sauvignon character), while semillon’s most obvious contribution is to is supple, creamy texture. Beautifully balanced, with elegant intensity, and a long, long finish.
There were, surprisingly perhaps, not many white wines in the trophy line-up, in fact. Best Chardonnay was Rustenberg Five Soldiers 2012, lively and with incipient complexity, well-oaked and generally persuasive. Best Chenin Blanc was Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection 2014 which had all the expertly crafted, ripe, easy-pleasing charm one expects from this winery. Best white wine overall for me, though, was Paul Cluver Riesling Noble Late Harvest 2013. I wonder if it’s the finest ever in a longish history of excellence for this label? The wine has the thrilling, knife-edge sweet/acid tension that only riesling can produce, given it a lingering finish that even seems almost dry.
It didn’t do any favours to the Port Trophy winner that followed it, in fact. A few extra sips were needed to realise the quality of the De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve 2012 – though I wonder if this is not a touch too easy and drinkable for an infant serious port?
So there we are. Another set of competition results to do with what you will. As in most sets of such results, some plausible winners, some less so. Of course, we don’t know which wines get abandoned along the way to the finals. Except that I was informed about one estate, whose wines I know, which entered a number of wines which I myself would rate highly, a couple extremely highly – and not one of them even won a Trophy Wine Show bronze. The ways of competitions can be most bizarre.
• Full results can be found here. Presumably to save money, this year there is no Icons booklet giving details, background, etc, but there is an app for smartphones available at the same address. I didn’t want such a thing myself, but maybe that’s the way to get the extra material and details – which, as far as I could see, is not available on the website itself, unfortunately.
• The Cape Town public tasting of the Gold and Silver medal winners has past, but the Johannesburg one takes place on 18 June.