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Sunday November 18, 2012

What wine experts chose to drink

My pick: Some of
the wines chosen
by the experts. My pick: Some of the wines chosen by the experts.

What wine experts choose to drink.

EVER wondered what people in the wine business choose to drink when they’re not working? Well, I recently got to find out – at work, no less.

Every year at the Michelangelo Internation-al Wine Awards, Sue van Wyk, Cape Wine Master invites 15 handpicked international wine judges, journalists and oenologists to South Africa. In addition to judging wines, this year, the panelists from Britain, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Spain and more were asked to bring a wine from their home country to share with their fellow judges.

You would think that after tasting 80 to 100 wines a day for a week, no one would want anymore. Yet for all the judges, the highlight was at a dinner where each panelist had their “show and tell” moment.

The Spanish judge brought along a Syrah from Abadia Reteurta that was complex and impressive. On a personal note, this wine brought back memories of the days I had a wine business and imported Tempranillo-based wines from this estate. This Syrah demonstrated that in the Castile and Leon region of Spain, where the grape can be grown, a truly outstanding wine could be made. I even learnt that the estate has created a salt that is infused with this wine!

When the American judge presented his wine from Missouri, USA, called Augusta Winery “Vignoles”, all the other judges sat up, surprised. Who would have thought that they even made wine in America’s Midwest?

A little research revealed that in the early 1800s, immigrants came from Europe and it was the Germans who began wine production in Missouri. A noteworthy fact is that it was Missouri’s first entomologist (zoologist who focuses on insects) who diagnosed the phylloxera root louse problem in France that decimated vineyards across Europe. Phylloxera-resistant rootstock from Missouri was introduced and subsequently alleviated the disaster.

The Vignoles wine, semi-sweet with lime, pineapple and guava notes, amazed me with its crisp, off dry finish and its ability to pair with spicy foods.

Next up was a Ryzlink Vlassky (Welsch-riesling grape) wine from the producer Baloun, in the Czech Republic. Crisp, layered and long, this wine proved that there are still good finds from the lesser-known regions and countries in the world. This wine has won many awards and is named after Radomil Baloun, a highly respected winemaker!

Next, the English judge presented a Madeleine Angevine, made by the Monnow Valley winery in Wales. This wine is made from grapes that originated in the Loire Valley and that came about from crossing ancient grape varietals. I was captivated by its fresh, clean citrus notes.

In the world of wine, Greece is making quite a name for itself. The Greek panelist brought a bottle of Assyritiko – one of the noble Greek varieties. The wine brought me back to the time I visited vineyards on the volcanic islands of Santorini. This Assyritiko was crisp and delicate, with good minerality and is one of the many examples of Greek wines that are currently wooing wine cognoscenti with the quality and value.

A pair of Sauvignon Blancs made it to our lips next. The famous Sancerre Jadis by Henri Bourgeois, France, and an equally tasty and memorable Sauvignon Blanc from Pullus, the oldest winery in Slovenia.

Wines from the Maipo Valley in Chile, Etna in Sicily, and Walla Walla in Washington, USA, followed suit. However, it was from Scandinavia that I least expected a wine. But there it was – an Ahus “Solaris”.

What did it taste like? Well, just like a crispy white wine should if it came from the cold region of Sweden – textured, yet with tangy acidity, and with delightful aromas of green pear, forest flowers, elderflowers and citrus.

When it was my time to present, I chose a Kasugayama Heaven and Earth sake. Why? Coming from a non-wine-producing country, I had the advantage of choosing any wine from the world over. Also, I knew the judges would be fatigued from tasting yet another wine so why not tantalise them with something Asian and different?

Indeed, my colleagues were extremely excited to be introduced into yet another world of wine – rice wine!

So what do wine judges love to drink? The common thread from this gathering was certainly wines that the judges themselves had “discovered” – almost all quality, not commonly known wine. With this came the great stories of how they chanced upon these wines. And who doesn’t love a great story?

Below are some of my tasting notes from the winning wines of the Michelangelo Wine Awards. Look out for them – they are delicious! And maybe you’ll discover your favourite.

Nabygelegen Chenin Blanc 2011 – Ripe pears, toast, velvety texture, medium long with a lightly warm finish.

Dornier Wines Cocoa Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Pungent with aromas of broom flowers, grass, gooseberries, with lime flavours, and finishing long with hints of saline and chalk.

Stellenrust Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2011 (Best Fairtrade White Wine) – Citrus, with apricots, textured with a hint of liveliness, buttery creme caramel , medium-big body with peach notes.

Gatt Wines Eden Springs High Eden Rieling 2009 (Best International Wine) – Lovely development with mineral oil/kero hints, peach, limes, minerals, linear acids and a medium long finish.

La Petite Ferme Merlot 2011 – Complex nose, with red and black fruit, eucalyptus, wild forest fruits and vanilla. Fresh in the mouth with leather, cigar box and dark chocolate flavours, good lightly sticky tannins, long finish.

Diemersdal Pinotage Reserve 2011 – Red fruits, plum and jam, fresh, with good mid-weight palate, woody flavours and good tannins.

KWV Mentor’s Cabernet Franc 2010 (Sue van Wyk Pinotage Trophy) – Dark fruits, black currants, forest fruits, good wood integration with spice and red peppers. Juicy wine with big chewy tannins and a long sticky finish.

Cederberg Private Cellar Shiraz 2010 – Fresh crushed berries, red fruit, tasty tannins and acids; juicy fruit and a medium long finish.

Mischa Estate Cerno 2009 (Tonnellerie de Mercurey Trophy) – Aroma of freshly ironed linen and black currants. Sweet fruit with lovely saline characters; balanced and with beautifully smooth tannins.

Nitida Modjadji 2011 – Named in honour of the Rain Queen of the Balobedu people in Limpopo. Made from Semillon, the wine oozed with the honeyed sweetness of golden raisins and golden syrup.

Four Paws Picatso 2011 (Best Dessert wine) – Signature of stewed golden fruit, pears, peaches and apricots. All lovingly layered in presentation.

Edwin Soon is a qualified oenologist and has run wine shops and worked as a winemaker in various countries. He now writes and teaches about wine around Asia.

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