Beneficial competitions

That title might sound like an oxymoron for whenever a new competition is announced, there’s a collective sigh of despondency among the media. Do we really need another one, inevitably promoted as ‘the best’? Who’s it going to benefit, except the organisers? Wouldn’t producers be better off using entrance money on a better – or any – marketing strategy?

Immediately contradicting myself, I admit there are competitions which can be helpful to consumers, even if generally rather than specifically and without slavishly following the results.

I write that with a little uncertainty, as who knows what consumers find useful about show results, except perhaps to show off a big bling bottle on their dinner table.

Wine shows have traditionally featured the whole range of wine styles and varieties: from bubbles to fortified desserts. The results, of necessity, tend to focus on individual winners rather than trends within a sector. This though is starting to happen with some of the newer, more varietally or stylistically specific awards.

I’ve recently attended both the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Challenge Top Ten and Riscura Hot White Awards, the latter celebrating the best of our sauvignon blanc/semillon blends (read the full results with Chairman, Christian Eedes’ report here). Semillon as the dominant partner is less common though not in this instance: on checking the blends of the 11 wines scoring over 90/100, seven are led by semillon.

Of more interest is that the declared wine of origin on each of these and virtually all of the 30 entries, focuses on the Cape’s coastal and therefore cooler vineyards. Site and soil are of prime importance for sauvignon to grow successfully but in too warm a climate the grape loses that delicious vibrancy which lends such a refreshing edge. Semillon too responds well in the cooler climes, especially as it’s a lower acid variety to begin with. Its role in the blend is to add weight and breadth, its presence becoming more evident with time thanks to sauvignon’s lively support.

There’s likely to be little disappointment when heading for any of the Wines of Origin on these entrants, except the vague ‘Western Cape’.

(l - r) Albrecht Gantz/Riscura, Trizanne Barnard, Christian Eedes/Panel Chair, Editor Winemag, Jacqueline Lahoud/Winemag
(l – r) Albrecht Gantz/Riscura, Trizanne Barnard, Christian Eedes/Panel Chair, Editor Winemag, Jacqueline Lahoud/Winemag

I have found some of the blends (as well as the varieties vinified separately) from Elim enjoy rather too exaggerated a fruit profile, whether of the green pea/bean or orange citrus/lemon grass/honey type but was pleased to note much more subtlety in the two Strandveld Adamastors 2012 and 2013 as well as Trizanne Barnard’s Signature Series 2014.
Bearing in mind some of the big names didn’t make the 90/100 cut-off mark (probably indicative of their youth rather than lesser quality and certainly the case with the French wine), of those that did, the two that best represented what I look for in these blends are Vergelegen GVB 2013 (62% semillon/38% sauvignon blanc) and Tokara Director’s Reserve 2014 (69% sauvignon blanc/31% semillon).

Both Andre van Rensburg and Miles Mossop have very specific vinification regimes. Both use larger oak barrels to ferment sauvignon blanc, smaller 225l for semillon with around 25% new. Their wines are seamless, polished, structured to age with the savoury whole greater than the sum of their parts. Some of the others are still edgy, maybe through blending oak- and tank-fermented portions, but on the whole all are enjoyable, food-friendly wines.

DeMorgenzon's Car v d Merwe receiving his Top Ten Chenin certificate from Willie du Plessis/Standard Bank with Panel chair, Christian Eedes & Ken Forrester/Chenin Association.
DeMorgenzon’s Carl v d Merwe receiving his Top Ten Chenin certificate from Willie du Plessis/Standard Bank with Panel chair, Christian Eedes & Ken Forrester/Chenin Association.

The chenins aren’t quite so straightforward. The Standard Bank Challenge Top 10 are drawn from several origins: Swartland, Paarl, Stellenbosch, Piekernierskloof but the feature common to all is oak with old (35 years+) or mature vines also a strong feature. Thank goodness, that oak is rarely in evidence; Simonsig’s Chenin avec Chêne 2014 typifies how this component is being toned down. I remember the first vintage as very oaky, more Chêne avec Chenin than in their Top 10 2014, where it merely adds shoulder to the freshness and spicy, ripe flavours; already lovely drink. Winemaker, Hannes Meyer confirms only older barrels were used.

Having written ‘freshness’, it strikes me that’s another thread running through all the Top 10, lending approachability and life to Simonsig’s Chêne while ensuring the denser, more closed DeMorgenzon Reserve 2014 will evolve over the coming years.

Others that particularly impressed were Perdeberg’s elegant The Dry Land Collection Barrel Femented 2014, L’Avenir Single Block 2014, Stellenrust 49 Barrel Fermented 2013 and Aeternitas Wines 2010, a must-buy for any who want to experience how chenin can evolve here.

But the message this competition really pushes home is what great value there’s to be had among top-class chenins. DeMorgenzon is the most expensive at R210 – a red of this quality would cost twice as much! – the Perdeberg is priced at a ridiculous R77, while Leopard’s Leap Culinara Selection 2014 brings up the price tail end at R70 and most of the rest cost around R130.

Keeping an eye on results from competitions like these two could bring worthwhile benefits to winelovers in the form of both trends and quality.

Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Challenge 2015. Top Ten winners
Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Challenge 2015. Top Ten winners
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