Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show: views from an associate judge

Mr. Anthony I-dig-SA-Chenin Rose

“You are a bit of a young fogey at heart, aren’t you?” observed UK wine writer and international judge at this year’s Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, Anthony Rose. This rhetorical question was directed at me as I was defending a particular style of Chenin Blanc deemed to be ‘traditional’ and therefore less desirable.

We were seeking to identify the top Chenins – worthy of an Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show Gold Medal –  and, unfortunately, the style I was punting just wasn’t as appealing as the more ‘luminous’ and bright styles in the line-up. “That is Jean Daneel [Chenin] five years ago,” noted panel chairman Christian Eedes, implying that we have moved beyond that. But I liked Jean Daneel’s Chenins then, and shoot me, but I still do.

Alas, as with fashion there are trends in wine too, and the more opulent, rich Chenin styles have become as trendy as yesterday’s dungaree – and as an old-at-heart Associate Judge I wasn’t going to convince the panel of experts otherwise.

According to the OMTWS Chenin panel on-trend are descriptors like “fresh” and “bright” – clear fruit expression with the ‘manipulative’ elements like sugar, oaking & botrytis understated and lending a supportive role.

What did emerge from the line-up is that we make killer – killer – Chenin Blanc in this country. Don’t know what to buy? You can’t go wrong with Chenin, which can’t be said for local Merlot.

For my sins this was what ‘my’ panel got to taste next. There was the expected pool of over-extracted, oxidised, green, abrasive, acetone bombs, but also relief in the form of delicious savoury and bramble styles – the latter quite liked by Mr. Rose.

Last year Hillcrest Quarry 2008 won the Trophy for Best Merlot, while there was no Gold Medal in the Chenin Blanc category…

To see whether we did a good job at truly identifying the best, see www.trophywineshow.co.za on 30 May – and you be the judge.

5 thoughts on “Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show: views from an associate judge

  1. Kwispedoor says:

    Ah, but as far as Sauvignon is concerned you are all for the modern style, while eschewing the more pyrazine-styled wines (yesterday’s fashion). I think styles and fashions come and go – just give me good wine, with things like balance, length, fruit, texture, structure, provenance, drinkability, character, complexity and maturation worthiness being the important factors. Personally, I emphatically don’t care for fashion in wine: the abundance of over-ripe, over-wooded, over-worked, high alcohol wines we’re stuck with nowadays are in large part the fall-out of a trend. One just needs to look at the Bulls to see what silliness fashion can unleash.
    I agree that the 2008 (and 2009) Quarry is a triumph in a country where a good Merlot is about as elusive as the G-spot. If Merlot makers weren’t chasing fashion, thus planting it everywhere and making thoughtless formula wine, we would have had much more Merlots with oomph and soul, like the Quarry. Discussing styles is good, but I think that it’s lamentable when tasting panels pre-determine the worthiness of styles, thereby making it difficult for whole groups of styles. Sure, score a Chenin down if it’s over-wooded and its sugar masks the fact that it’s got no fruit. But why shoot down, for instance, a good vintage of FMC just because it’s made in an opulent style?

    • Jeanri-Tine says:

      Always enjoy your comments Kwispie, and mostly agree with them too. The problem with Merlot in this country is that it is churned out like Sauvignon Blanc, with no real regard for the fact that it requires some exact science. The latter is probably why Curly Read manages to produce good Merlot, his scientific background understands the mechanics of equilibrium. I hope to see his wines featured at the top again this year. As for Chenin, I agree that making a wine in the opulent style is what we have become to expect – and want – from certain producers. Telling Ken Forrester to produce a less opulent FMC is like telling Dior to tone down on his haute couture collection.

  2. Angela Lloyd says:

    Kwisp, as one of the judges on this panel, may I venture to say the best chenins are now being made in more classic (ie enduring) styles (I believe there can be more than one), rather than being currently fashionable; I do hope I’m right.
    One of the challenges judges face is to distinguish between style and quality, something which often takes much soul-searching and determination.

  3. For the record, I’m generally a big fan of Jean Daneel Chenin Blanc. My observation regarding “traditional’ Chenin Blanc referred to those examples which display high winemaker intervention and I was referring in particular to the Director’s Reserve 2006 (a past winner of the Chenin Blanc Challenge) which showed pronounced diacetyl character – somewhat controversial if not totally out of order and not only for reasons of fashion.

  4. Dana Buys says:

    Its going to be interesting to see more Cape cool climate Chenin in the coming years, as vineyards in the likes of Elgin mature. The home of Chenin Blanc, the Loire Valley, is so much cooler than where most of the Cape’s Chenin traditionally comes from. Beaumont does well with its Hope Marguerite from the Bot River area. Not sure where Jean Daneel sources his grapes ?

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