Big Guns of the Wine Industry Geared for Veritas JudgingSeptember 6, 2008
From Sips to StatsOctober 6, 2008
Each year the judging panel is complemented by a team of international wine experts from diverse backgrounds and each with extensive experience in wine assessment. The presence of these six top international wine connoisseurs, from as far afield as Australia, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and the UK, will again augment the credibility of the results. They are joined every year by South Africa’s longest serving international wine and spirit judge, Dave Hughes with 35 years of experience.
The judging for the 17th annual Veritas Awards took place at the Nederburg Auction Complex in Paarl from 8 to 12 September. A remarkable 1 753 wines were assessed by 105 distinguished judges comprised of 15 panels who share their professional opinions before reaching a consensus to determine the award winning wines. For the seventh year running Shiraz had the most entries with 220 wines, while Sauvignon Blanc followed with 192 entries and Cabernet Sauvignon with 187.
One of the younger members of the international judging contingent, Swede Sebastian Braun, is the wine purchaser for Systembolaget, the world’s largest buyer of wine and spirits. “South Africa is currently number one by volume in Sweden, having just outranked Italy and Australia,” says Braun of his country’s growing demand for SA wines. It’s his first time on the Veritas panel and he relished the opportunity to taste a wide variety of red blends. “Although you already have a strong tradition with Bordeaux style blends, there is also much potential for using the Rhône varieties, such as Grenache, Viognier and Mourvèdre, with great effect,” he comments. “There were still hints of greenness, but on the whole there was a considerable improvement,” says Braun.
When it came to the whites, Canadian Dr Isabelle Lesschaeve, a professional member of the American Society of Oenology and Viticulture, was “pleasantly surprised”. Lesschaeve specialises in the sensory evaluation of wine. “I expected to encounter overwhelming wood, but on the contrary the wines were elegant, showing a diversity of styles from fruity to austere and flinty,” she remarks. “There was a very good representation of terroir. Although I’m not an expert on ageing, some of the wines showed good potential,” adds Lesschaeve.
Dr Rowald Hepp is wine director of the Schloss Vollrads Wine Estate in Rheingau, Germany. His experience on the Sauvignon Blanc panel was a good one. “Overall I am highly impressed by the professional organisation of the Veritas tasting,” he says. “I was really surprised by the good ageing potential of your Sauvignon Blancs. This is an important message for your producers – take care of your Sauvignon! Make wines for medium ageing, 10 months up to two years, and you’ll win trust in your overseas market,” he advises.
Back to the reds and Sarah A McCleery of Oxfordshire in England, a respected freelance wine writer, was clearly undaunted by a very large line-up of Pinotages. “I really learned a lot about this versatile variety. The restrained use of oak and focus on keeping the wines fresh and fruit driven was very encouraging,” she comments. She sees a great future for the variety and believes the UK palette is open to experimentation.
Janna Rijpma-Meppelink, celebrated wine entertainer and writer of the Netherlands, judged on the Cabernet Sauvignon panel. “I’ve had the privilege of coming to South Africa quite often in the past and can see how much positive change there has been in a decade,” she remarks. “It was nice to encounter good balance and lovely acidity. In the past the tannins were not as ripe as they are now. I was surprised by the excellent colour on some of the older wines. The line-up shows good promise for the European market, which prefers a fresher, less ‘jammy’ style of Cab,” says Rijpma-Meppelink.
Australian judge Ian McKenzie is regarded as Australia’s most senior wine judge and renowned for his straight talking. Although he had some constructive criticism for the Shiraz line-up, McKenzie praised the evolution of SA Shiraz. “I saw a greater diversity of style and notice your winemakers are not afraid to move away from the strictly traditional styles,” comments McKenzie.
South African wine expert and specialist taster, Dave Hughes, had praise for the logistics and operational side of the Veritas competition. “The team has got it down to a fine art!” he says. Having tasted the scarcer red varieties and dessert and sweet wines, Hughes highlighted less familiar varieties such as Malbec and some of the Italian cultivars as having a good future in South Africa. Our Noble Late Harvest wines are undoubtedly “world class” and the style is generally “strong and doing well in SA,” comments Hughes.