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Having completed a work placement practical at last year (2018) while completing her studies with the Pinotage Youth...

Q&A with Jamie-Lee Appolis, Content Editor at

Having completed a work placement practical at last year (2018) while completing her studies with the Pinotage Youth Development Academy which included completing WSET Level 1 and 2, Jamie-Lee thoroughly enjoyed working with the team and this lead to her year long learnership with from December last year.


When did you first develop an interest in wine?

In 2017 a friend who was studying at Pinotage Youth Development Academy (PYDA) introduced me to wine. I was curious as to what all the fuss was about and wanted to learn more about wine so I could better understand it.


How has your WSET qualification helped you in your role at

It has helped me a lot, as knowing more about wine and having an in depth understanding of the technical aspects of wine helps me when editing and uploading content. I actually know what I’m uploading and editing and can correct mistakes or make improvements.


What did you enjoy most about the WSET courses with The Wine Centre?

Studying words I could hardly pronounce was a unique experience. The curiosity about other countries' wines drove me to adjust my studying techniques and the end results were all worth it.


What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Food and wine pairing and the effect that wine has on food. It is so interesting how wine can influence food in different ways. I find it fascinating when you have the wrong wine pairing and how this influences the food you eat. Similarly, how the right glass of wine can improve a dish and heighten the flavours in the food.


You studied the Wine and Tourism Programme through the Pinotage Youth Development Academy, what did you enjoy most?

I enjoyed that we could go out and interact with people from other cultures as part of the tourism module. At PYDA we were like a family and it was a great learning environment. We also focused on both personal as well as professional development and the self reflection helped me to flourish.


What words of advice do you have for someone wanting to pursue a career in wine?

I would say go for it. I’m new in the industry and the wine industry is very wide, and the more I learn the more I enjoy it. This industry presents with an immersive experience from soil to vine and everything that goes into creating the perfect bottle of wine.

Nic van Arde is a WSET Level 3 graduate and winemaker at Oldenburg Vineyards. Nic shares with us how...

Q&A with Nic van Aarde, Oldenburg Vineyards Winemaker

Nic van Arde is a WSET Level 3 graduate and winemaker at Oldenburg Vineyards. Nic shares with us how his wine journey started in tasting rooms and took him around the world, including India. He also shares how his WSET training has helped him in his career.


When did the wine bug bite?

I remember teasing my brother when he tried to be serious tasting wine. Little did I know that I would become the wine geek years later.


You’ve completed WSET training with The Wine Centre, what did you enjoy most about the course?

The interactive tastings and fun element to the course.


How has your WSET education helped you in your career?

I interact with international wine connoisseurs on a daily basis. WSET gave me the confidence to be able to talk world wine with them on a higher level.


Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a winemaker.

I grew up in Paarl with my Mom working for Nederburg. I helped out over school holidays in tasting rooms in the area. When I was studying Business and Commerce at Stellenbosch University I joined the University wine appreciation society and would skip business class to interact with winemakers and spend many afternoons driving around the winelands exploring new winery’s. This ended up with me taking the leap and studying winemaking and viticulture after.


You made wine in India for a while, what was that like?

India is either a country that you love or hate, no in-between. I fell in love with it and all its colorful chaos. I was exposed to the third world elements of interrupted power, water pollution, child labor and corruption but never the less managed to make some very drinkable wines. In the humid Nashik area where I consulted you would get two harvest a year but only one of the harvests grapes could be used for winemaking.


What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Two years ago I worked a harvest at Harlan Estate in Napa Valley. In quite times at the winery I would spend time walking the vineyards and here I got a taste of precision organic viticulture.


What advice would you give to aspiring winemakers?

Read up as much as you can on wine and travel extensively making and tasting wine. I do a study trip to a different foreign destination every year and come back motivated and inspired.

How can you inspire to make the best wine in the world if you have not tasted and spent time with its maker.

As we look back on the past year, we have so much to celebrate. From another group of amazing...

2018: A Year In Review

As we look back on the past year, we have so much to celebrate. From another group of amazing Pinotage Youth Development Academy graduates to two of our lecturers attending the Wine and Spirits Education Trust Educators course. In no particular order, here are six of our favourite moments from 2018.

Cathy Passes Her Masters Of Wine Year 1:

In June this year, Cathy Marston, head of The Wine Centre passed the first year of her Masters of Wine course. This prestigious and rigorous course is well know for its intensity and difficulty. People become Masters of Wine by passing the stage 1 assessment (S1A) and the three parts of the Master of Wine examination (theory and practical examination and the research paper). Candidates need to achieve a pass in both the theory and practical papers within five attempts over six years. Read more about the course here.


WineLand Magazine Article:

The below fantastic article was written by Tshepang Molisana, a WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 graduate and writer, about the day in the life of a wine educator featuring Cathy Marston for September's WineLand Magazine.


International Wine Challenge Sponsorships:

Eric and Victor from Eziko Cooking School in Langa with Chris and Alex of the International Wine Challenge over from the UK in January giving the thumbs-up for another successful year of IWC sponsorship of WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) training for their students.


Continued Involvement With Pinotage Youth Development Academy (PYDA):

This year we continued our involvement with the Pinotage Youth Development Academy and saw several WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 graduates and the first WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 3 graduate, Shannon Fortuin pictured below right with her cousin Flordeliza Fortuin (also a Level 2 graduate).


Cathy Tours Jerez And Becomes A Certified Sherry Educator:

In October, Cathy Marston, head of The Wine Centre, travelled, tasted and learned about Sherry as part of her Masters of Wine training at the Consejo Regulador's Certified Sherry Educators course in Jerez, Spain (Vinos de Jerez Sherry Wines).


The Wine Centre Lecturers Attend The WSET Educators Course In London:

Debi van Flymen and Elizma Myburgh Venter attended the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Educators course in London in December. We’re so lucky to have such knowledgeable and talented women on our team and can’t wait to see what they get up to with their new qualification.


Catching Up With WSET Lecturers During Cape Wine:

In September Cathy caught up with some WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) lecturers after Cape Wine.

My Level 3 course with The Wine Centre was held at Glen Carlou wine estate in Paarl 2015. It...

Testimonial from Taryn Nortje, Sommelier

My Level 3 course with The Wine Centre was held at Glen Carlou wine estate in Paarl 2015. It has been the foundation on which I have been building my knowledge of the world of wines. Passing my Level 3 propelled me into my career as a wine professional.

The WSET certificate course gave me the skill set and confidence to become a sommelier at Mosaic Restaurant one of South Africa's most reputable fine dining establishments.

I am extremely passionate about my studies and I enjoy sharing my knowledge with others. I believe that studying the wine regions of the world is like virtual traveling.

Mosaic Restaurant enrolled me as a WSET Level 4 Diploma student earlier this year. This investment in my knowledge and developing my skills as a sommelier is crucial not only to my interaction with guests and cellar management but is to the benefit of the South African wine industry as a whole.

There is an incredible support network for WSET students in South Africa, MW student and WSET APP Cathy Marston is my inspiration as I hope to teach future generations of WSET students and to one day become a Master of Wine.

Nicolò Pudel is a WSET Level 3 graduate and is currently finishing his WSET Level 4 Diploma. Nicolò shares...

Q&A with Nicolò Pudel, Port2Port Retailer

Nicolò Pudel is a WSET Level 3 graduate and is currently finishing his WSET Level 4 Diploma. Nicolò shares with us how his WSET education has helped him with running online wine site Port2Port.

How has your WSET education helped you with running your own online wine business?

The WSET courses I took, especially Diploma which I am currently busy with, has given me a lot of insight in the international trade which is most certainly helping me as we plan to expand Port2Port abroad. The tastings and workshops we are organizing on the side are also a great opportunity to be exposed to wines that we usually are not able to find.


Next year Port2Port celebrates its 4th anniversary, what challenges have you faced during the past years and what are some milestone successes?

Port2Port was founded with the vision to build and establish South Africa’s (and beyond) biggest fine wine marketplace, connecting premium wineries, importers and retailers to a rapidly growing audience of discerning wine buyers.

Our mission has always been to consistently offer the most cutting edge digital platform, world-class service, the biggest selection at the best possible price, all presented through the eyes of the producers, the passionate writers and the critics, utilising our enticing wine stories as our main vehicle. My team and I soon discovered that we had been blessed with a very enthusiastic and loyal following. The interest and demand have been - frankly - beyond our expectation and the numbers speak for themselves. Today we are one of the fastest growing e-commerce platforms in the country. Wine-Searcher has awarded us with the Best Wine Catalogue in South Africa and Price Check nominated us in 5 categories at the 2018 E-Commerce Awards, including Best E-Commerce Service. Our revenue is growing at three digits yearly, we sell over 1600 wines from 12 countries, represent 500 brands and 10 specialised retailers to an audience of 200 000 wine lovers.


What advice would you give those interested in opening their own wine business?

Research and planning is important, spend a good amount of time on that before you are ready to release a minimum viable product. Don’t waste time on perfecting your concept, you will do that anyway as you go and get feedback from your audience and customers. Most importantly, plan your financials correctly, you don’t want your dream not to come true only because you run out of money. Flexibility is paramount, you need to be able to identify the opportunities along the way and be able to adjust your strategy. Avoid massive overheads, employ remote workers, save on fixed costs where you can. Invest in the team and in your company culture which ultimately reflects on your service.


Your site currently lists wines from 12 countries, are there any countries not listed that you’d like to represent?

We would love to represent every single wine that is out there and that meets our quality requirements. The goal for our marketplace to breach the 10 000 products mark within the next 3 years. We will achieve that by opening our European business and adding marketplace seller there.


What are the most popular searches on the site for?

The top of the list are brands, among them Kanonkop, Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Sadie. Then, wine specific queries include Brunello di Montalcino, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc.


What has been your most memorable wine moment?

I have a TOP  3. My first Sassicaia with my wife in Bolgheri, a bottle of Harlan Estate with my wife and dear friend Francois in Napa and probably the first bottle of a wine we recently had where we are looking at getting involved directly in terms of ownership and management. But this is still a secret.


With a career that started with a Masters in Marketing from Toulouse Business School, Cyril Meidinger, a WSET Level...

Q&A with Cyril Meidinger, Robinson & Sinclair Wine Sales Executive

With a career that started with a Masters in Marketing from Toulouse Business School, Cyril Meidinger, a WSET Level 4 student, tells us how he came to South Africa by accident and fell in love with the region and its wines. This then lead to him representing South Africa this year at the Blind Tasting World Championship in Beziers, Languedoc.


What inspired you to start a career in the wine world?

Working at a tasting room for a summer job on a Greek Island called Kefalonia opened my eyes and my palate on this amazing product which is wine. But besides the product, I discovered that people in the wine world all share the same values of enjoying good food, good company and share a common way of life.


You are currently enrolled for the WSET Diploma, how are you balancing your studying alongside your full-time job?

Luckily my full-time job involves learning about wine and tasting on a regular basis. On top of that, I get to travel every other month overseas and I have the chance to experience foreign wines often. However, every evening and week-ends are dedicated to sit-down studies of the WSET Diploma.


How does your WSET education help you in your role?

It gives me more confidence when speaking with both my suppliers (the wineries) and my clients (the importers) and increases my technical knowledge. Also, it broadens my international perspective on wines and on the international trade.


You work with both the African and American markets, what would you say are the key differences between consumers and their wine preferences in each market?

As taste profiles, I would say that interestingly enough, both African and American markets tend to go for similar styles, with ripe, round, low tannic wines and sometimes a touch of sweetness. The biggest difference is in their characters and the way to handle the relationships with the clients.


What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Hearing the South African National Anthem from the Chateau Angelus bells.


What are your plans for your future in wine?

Producing my own wine both in the Southern and Northern Hemisphere.

With a career centered around writing, Malu Lambert, freelance writer and WSET Level 3 graduate, tells us about discovering...

Q&A with Malu Lambert, Freelance Wine Writer / Journalist

With a career centered around writing, Malu Lambert, freelance writer and WSET Level 3 graduate, tells us about discovering wine as a waiter and how her interest in wine grew into a career.

Tell us a bit about your journey on becoming a journalist.

Since 2006 I have written features on food and wine. I was previously employed by Good Taste magazine and Eat Out. Since then I have continued to write features on food, wine and personalities in a freelance capacity, but with a regular columns: I am the wine editor for Food & Home magazine, I also write for, WOSA and


When did you first develop an interest in wine?

As a waiter at very fancy restaurant in London I got to taste all the wines before pouring them for the guests as we needed to check for corkage—unlike here at home, where the guest checks themselves. I wasn’t complaining.


How has your WSET education helped you in your career?

I’ve so enjoyed the WSET sessions with Cathy and The Wine Centre, it’s such a safe space to geek out on wine. WSET has helped me structure my tasting notes—which I now write around 12 a month! Wine can be overwhelming to figure out, and WSET has helped me think logically and systematically about tasting wine. Plus I’ve found my Level 3 qualification means both magazines and wineries trust my level of expertise to write for them.


What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Discovering the concept of luminosity in wine.  Wines with pure crystalline fruit; that fizzle with energy and have acidities that border on electric. Luminosity in a wine is something you can’t quite put your finger on; drinking one feels almost celestial. I recently had this experience at a tasting of the 2017 releases for Alheit Vineyards. Somehow winemaker Chris Alheit has managed to bottle the spirit of the vineyards he works with. The Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017 in particular stood out for me. It has an almost metaphysical energy and it sings of its place of origin, the Skurfberg: an isolated mountainous outpost, old vines, and a cliff that weeps when it rains.


You won the Veritas Young Wine Writers Competition in 2015, do you think competitions such as these are beneficial for wine professionals’ career progression?

Yes absolutely, it’s the same as a wine getting a gold badge—it doesn’t make the wine inside any better, but what it does is shine a spotlight on it. It’s the same for writers, you can work and work and work, and nobody really pays too much attention until the industry you work in pays you recognition. We desperately need a senior wine writing award in South Africa, any sponsors out there keen?


What advice would you give to aspiring wine writers / journalists?

Be willing to work for free. I know this goes against everything millennials believe in, but no one is going to take a chance on you before you prove yourself worthy and willing. I interned at Good Taste for two years while I studied, and I was rewarded with a job at the end of my studies. Even though they kept saying “we don’t have a job for you”.

With a career deeply entrenched in the South African wine industry, Carolyn Martin, co-owner and marketing director at Creation...

Q&A with Carolyn Martin, Creation Wines Co-owner and Marketing Director

With a career deeply entrenched in the South African wine industry, Carolyn Martin, co-owner and marketing director at Creation Wines, tells us about her journey in wine and how the WSET courses have helped both her and her staff.

Tell us a bit about your journey in wine.

I suppose one could say that I’m ‘to the manner born’ – quite literally – as I was born in a red Ford Anglia, at the farm gates of my grandparents’ wine estate, Hartenberg. My dad, Walter Finlayson, had to play midwife!  My earliest childhood memories are of my grandparents’ farm and more specifically, of my grandmother Eleanor. She taught me so much about wine, cooking and entertaining.

I conducted my first wine tasting at the age of five when I was unable to find Grandma to attend to visitors. I knew the guests had to be taken care of, and I reasoned that I’d heard enough to get by. Eventually we found Grandma half way through a cellar tour.

After school I went to study design at the Michaelis School of Arts at the University of Cape Town, and wrote my thesis on champagne. I then moved to London where I eventually launched my own design company, focusing on brand development of world-renowned brands such as Laurent-Perrier. During this time we pioneered canapé and wine pairings, serving petit fours from Le Gavroche with the famous botrytised wines of Tokaj, or Scottish salmon gravlax and caviar with Laurent-Perrier champagne. It was a period of much learning and travelling to different wine regions around the world.

In 1999 I married the Swiss winemaker, Jean-Claude (JC) Martin and we settled in the Winelands of Neuchâtel where JC was a director and co-owner of the famous winery of Grillette. Three years later we bought Creation on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and set out to turn what was virtually a wilderness, never planted to vines before, into what has become a successful wine estate as well as a popular wine destination.


You’ve put a great deal of your staff through WSET qualifications – why do you think they are important?

The qualification is globally recognised and respected, equipping the successful student with in-depth knowledge (depending on the level) of a wide range of subjects – from grape growing and winemaking through to the different styles of wine. We have seven pairing options on offer and it is important that they are presented by knowledgeable and confident ambassadors.


Do you think having a WSET qualification helps your staff sell more wine?

Yes. Apart from the above, I want to stress that most of our visitors want to know more about our wines and about wine in general. In our Tasting Room selling is also about educating and building trust. What I also enjoy about WSET is that it gives the staff a chance to explore wines through a structured tasting process, transferring the knowledge and terminology to accurately describe wines. Depending on the level of qualification, they are able to explore specific wines with clients and compare them in terms of type and style to others around the world.


Creation is widely recognised for its food and wine pairings, what’s your secret?

Growing up on Hartenberg, a working farm and vineyard, I developed a natural love for food from a young age.  This led to experimentation, using guidelines such as flavour (which includes aroma), taste (which can be broken down into salt, sweet, bitter, sour and umami), texture, colour, balance and even temperature.

While the above properties all play an important role in pairing, I also believe that there is no formula when it comes to finding the perfect match. Both experience and intuition are important and the most unexpected pairings are often the best. Instead of tried and tested combinations, use your imagination and be creative. Also remember that the environment – the mood, the atmosphere and the company – plays a critical role in our appreciation of food and wine.


You’re quite the seasoned traveller, how do South African wines fare against their international counterparts?

Very well, but many of the wines are still undervalued. We need to make sure that we recognise their place on the world wine stage. In South Africa, certain winegrowing areas definitely have the ideal terroir combined with know-how to create winning wines that excite the palate and tantalise the imagination.


What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Having to step up to the mark when I was five and do that wine tasting!


Do you have any advice for cultivating a career in wine?

Do this if you love wine; it is part of a great lifestyle and you meet interesting people on the way! It can open many doors, to the hospitality industry, for instance.

To be successful you need to be passionate, innovative, knowledgeable and multi-faceted. You need to be an individual as well as a team player and definitely a people’s person, as the feedback from clients plays an important role in your success. It furthermore requires good organisational skills and the discipline to enjoy without overindulging.

With a career steeped in broadcast journalism, Guy McDonald, Breakfast Host at Magic 828 AM radio and WSET Level...

Q&A with Guy McDonald, Magic 828 Breakfast Show Radio DJ

With a career steeped in broadcast journalism, Guy McDonald, Breakfast Host at Magic 828 AM radio and WSET Level 2 graduate, tells us what sparked his interest in wine and how he’s incorporated his passion into his career.


Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a radio DJ.

It all began with performing Puppet shows behind the washing-line for my beautiful Grandmother and sitting in a tree house talking into the end of a skipping rope that was connected to a real car battery imagining I was the main announcer at an Agricultural show. After school, I got the Weekend “afternoon drive” on Mfm in Stellenbosch. After 5 years of Community radio I got my first paying gig on a retail radio station, The Sound of Ackermans before moving to Kfm 94.5, then Good Hope FM and now I find myself at Magic 828 AM.


When did you first develop an interest in wine?

From a very early age, my Mom always gave me a tiny glass with dinner “so that I wouldn’t feel left out”. My interest was really piqued though in Grade 10 when I travelled the winelands with my Dad during “work experience” week and realised I had a passion for the industry as a whole.


As a radio DJ, how would you say your WSET wine education has helped you with your wine feature on Magic 828 and your career in general?

Personally, I learned a lot about wines of the world. I had done other wine courses previously that focused on SA wine and always felt very ignorant because I haven’t travelled to other parts of the wine world. The WSET course gave me solid insight into other markets as well as into the world of Spirits. Hosting a Whisky feature and a Wine feature now, I feel more confident in my opinions. I am hoping it will lead to greater things career-wise.


What has been your most memorable wine moment?

Wow… So many! Having Ken Forrester pour me wine in his dining room was special as I had always held his wines in high regard and here he was, the man himself, pouring for me!!

Lunch with Danie De Wet of De Wetshof is another highlight! He kept disappearing into the cellar and returning with something “even more special for you, this time from Portugal”.


If you could own a winery anywhere in the world, where would it be, which wines would you make and why?

An American friend of mine spends time with her parents in the Napa Valley and from her Instagram shots, it looks amazing!! So it would be Napa because diverse soils, climate and topography mean I could also make a rich, full-bodied Chardonnay; silky, seductive Pinot Noir and ripe, velvety Merlot. They have also been smacked by floods, an earthquake and, last October, devastating fires. So maybe property prices are cheap!?


What is your favourite cultivar and why?

I have an enduring love affair with Chardonnay. As much as other varietals impress and tantalize my palate, and despite the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement, when I read this question the first word to pop onto my tongue was Chardonnay. I think it’s because it can be adapted to many styles, from crisp, citrusy unoaked wine to creamy oaked wine. Being such a neutral grape, it offers a blank canvas for winemakers to paint in any style they choose. There’s a remarkable balance of richness and acidity that well-crafted Chardonnays can achieve.

The problem with the Cape Winemakers Guild, quite apart from an elusive apostrophe which grates me every time, is...

CWG Auction Wines 2018 – Reviewed

The problem with the Cape Winemakers Guild, quite apart from an elusive apostrophe which grates me every time, is that as a group of people, they’re just too darned nice. You really have to taste their annual Auction releases as blind as possible so you can judge the wines without thinking ‘oh but he’s such a lovely guy’ or similar and scoring the wine up. Somebody once said of another illustrious winemaker that ‘the wines never taste as good as they do when he tells you about them’ and when you have such a set of engaging, entertaining and erudite winemakers as this lot, it’s easy to be swayed.

Of course, it’s not 100% blind because it’s fairly easy to spot Pieter Ferreira and John Loubser’s bubbles, and you know that Andrea Mullineux is the Semillon Gris girl and that Bartho Eksteen is always going to make Sauvignon Blanc in one form or another. But I stayed away from social media posts, didn’t read the press releases and did the best I could not to know what was going on before I tasted through all 47 wines today.

As a group of wines, I think they’re pretty solid this year. A couple of other tasters bemoaned lack of freshness and yes, there were touches of jam on more than a few of the reds which was disappointing as there was lack of acidity on a couple of the whites. One thing I did like to see is that the winemakers really seem to be flexing their vinous imaginations more and more. When I first started doing this blind tasting, there seemed to be endless flights of Chenins and Chardonnays, Cabs and Shirazes whereas this year 25 grape varieties featured amongst the line-up which is pretty cool.

Having said that, there were a few styles/varieties I was surprised not to see. Many of the reds were from the stellar 2015 vintage so it was surprising not to see any Rhône blends in the line-up and only 1 red Cape Blend. Mind you, there were no white Cape Blends either – to my great sorrow - nor were there any White Bordeaux, and the only Grenache and Cinsault featured were a Grenache Blanc and as 10% of one blend respectively.

‘So what?’ as an esteemed colleague might say - there was plenty of interest in what was available and lots to entice buyers. For bubbly-lovers, there were 2 options in completely different styles, Pieter Ferreira’s wonderfully-rich Cuvée 105 which enjoyed nearly 9 years on lees and needs no dosage to finish it off and then John Loubser’s Big Dog, to my mind one of the most complete MCC’s I’ve tasted, with a real champagne-quality to the wine. The sooner he gets some fizz released in magnums, the better, if you ask me.

Of the whites, the De Morgenzon Roussanne was showy and confident  with good weight and acidity whilst the Hartenberg Riesling – more Eden than Alsace I’d say – has years ahead of it if you can bear to wait. Rijk’s Chenin Blanc has surely strayed only a short way out of Vouvray, showing lovely woolly evolution already beginning with bouncy acidity balanced by just a touch of sugar. Of the Chardonnays, for the umpteenth year running (and I’m rather chuffed at both Andries’s and my own consistency!) the Paul Cluver Wagon Trail was a favourite with the beautifully-balanced Delaire Graff vying with it for first place.

Scooting through to the reds, it was the wonderful combination of Cabernet Franc and Merlot which caught and held my attention. There were other Bordeauxs (or mainly Bordeauxs) such as Rust en Vrede, Grangehurst (the 2014) and the Kanonkop Paul Sauer which were delicious but the two stand-outs for me were the Cab Franc/Merlot combos of Miles Mossop’s Maximilian 2011 (not the 2013 version which was Merlot) and Strydom Family Wines The Game Changer. I attended a CWG technical tasting of Right Bank Bordeaux wines hosted by Rianie Strydom last year and I think hers would happily stand alongside some big names with nothing to fear – possibly my favourite wine of the day with length, balance, wonderful perfumed intensity and elegant ripe black fruit.

Boschfkloof and Boekenhoutskloof carried off the Shiraz honours with Boschkloof being straight out of the Northern Rhône (albeit a rather alcoholic version!) with aromas of violets, cloves, pepper and perfume and Boekenhoutskloof being velvety and rich with a wonderful tannic seam and sprightly acidity running through it. Big wines with a big future ahead of them.

The final wine which I loved was the Beaumont Mourvèdre. I attended another CWG technical tasting with Sebastian Beaumont who claimed he was still trying to get to know the grape and that many SA winemakers had walked away from the variety, unable to find the charm. Well, Sebastian has found that charm by the bucket-load in his whole-bunch fermented wine, full of ripe, cooked strawberries, juicy tannins with leather and polish – perhaps not exactly everything you’d associate with the grape but there you go.  It put me in mind of my mother’s strawberry pie – something she made when we’d got a bit carried away at ‘Pick Your Own’ farms – and warm memories of summer days and al fresco eating brought the tasting to a happy end.

If you want to buy some of these wines, all the details of how to register and bid are here

Well, what are the holidays for if not for idle speculation and random musings? This year, my thoughts have...

If I ruled the Wine World

Well, what are the holidays for if not for idle speculation and random musings? This year, my thoughts have turned to world domination and I have decided to let rip about some fundamental things wrong in the world of wine. Not the product (although you can stop making those fruit flavoured wine coolers right now if you like. And the low alcohol wines too) but just a few other associated things which I think we could do better. Appoint me Queen of the Quaffing and behold – my word is now law.

Stop referring to a liquid as ‘dry.’
I mean, really. Wine is SO clearly not dry, but as wet as a fish’s wet bits, to quote Blackadder. If we’re talking about lack of sugar, how about we use the word – ooh, I don’t know – ‘sugar’ maybe? As in ‘it has some residual sugar’ ‘it does not have any residual sugar.’ Calling a liquid ‘dry’ is like calling a politician honest – nonsensical and utterly untrue.  And whilst we’re on this subject….

Stop calling sweet sherry ‘cream’.
What is it with sugar and wine non-speak? Why can’t we just say ‘sugar’? Are we adding the juice of several cows to our wine? Are we suggesting whipping our Oloroso and frosting a cake? No? Then why can’t we just come out in the open and say ‘sweet?’ Creamy lees, creamy texture, creamy MLF if you must, but cream sherry? Moving on…

Barbaresco shall from henceforth be made from Barbera.
I can just picture some wizened old chap with a droopy moustache and a pasta-paunch musing “So how about if we call this grape ‘Barbera’ and then look, in the same region there’s this area called Barbaresco but you know what would be funny? Let’s say that it’s NOT allowed to be made from Barbera, even though that would be memorable and helpful and instead, let’s introduce Nebbiolo into the mix and confuse ALL wine students from now until the end of time. That’ll be fun won’t it?” Italy – you’ve had thousands of years to get your act in gear – from now on – Barbaresco is made from Barbera and that is that.

And whilst we’re on the subject…
Oy! French folk. Don’t think you’re getting off lightly either. What is it with Muscadet, Muscadelle and Muscat?? What – it never occurred to you to come up with something a bit different for the names of two grape varieties which are totally unrelated to each other and one wine which uses neither one? Sacré bleu. You should have sorted it out mes amis so now I shall do it for you. Loire folk – your wine is to be called Melonet sur Lie, and Bordelais, your grape shall henceforth be known as Petit Pas-Très-Important. Cos it’s not.

No More White Zinfandel
I for one, was absolutely baffled as to how America could vote for Donald Trump last year – as inexplicable as Brexit, I thought to myself. And then I realized that actually, all Americans clearly spend their lives wearing some form of reverse rose-tinted glasses because how else can you account for the fact that they call a pink wine white?? Take ‘em off Americans and open your eyes - the ‘white’ wine is pink and Mr Trump was one very, very bad idea.

The Coastal Region of South Africa must have, er, a coast!
Revolutionary idea, I know but enough is enough There are no beach resorts in Paarl, lifesavers are not generally needed on the banks of the Berg River in Franschhoek Valley and Wellington is not the surfing capital of the Western Cape. Stop confusing everyone, accept that you are inland and move on.

So there you have it. Just a few little tweaks but I think you’ll agree that they’ll make the wine world a better, simpler, more understandable place to be. Happy Christmas folks and roll on the New Year and the reign of Queen Cathy!

To all Johannesburg Wine Clubs In welcoming the Wine Societies to the 27th Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival...

Exclusive offer for Johannesburg Wine Club Members

To all Johannesburg Wine Clubs

In welcoming the Wine Societies to the 27th Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival we outline your benefits exclusively for wine club members below:

The special offer for the Club members

  • Discounted rate of R165 to your members.  Public pay R200 online and R220 at the door.
  • Bookings should be co-ordinated by the wine clubs and the number of tickets you require with the names sent to by 8 May.
  • The tickets will be available at our Webtickets Festival reception under the Wine Club name.

Extended opening times

Earlier opening times exclusively for wine club members.  16h00 - 21h00 

Tutored classes
The first offer on the tutored free class, before we announce it to the public.

Join the Institute of Cape Wine Master’s for tutored tastings to highlight the diversity and quality of wines giving you a glimpse into flavours, terroir and cellaring.

16th May 2017
18:30 - 19.00   The resurgence of Chenin Blanc
19:30 - 20h00  Shiraz or Syrah?

17th May 2017
18:30 - 19.00   Cape White Blends.
19:30 - 20h00  Red Blends, Classic vs Modern

For Bookings contact: Derek Ramsden on

Food on offer:
The Oyster Lady will display her fresh West Coast oysters paired with elegant MCC's.
Gonedsa Award winning Gouda cheeses from cows in the Doornkraal, Cullinan District, made according to a traditional Dutch recipe.
Pierre Jourdan Ice Wine Popsicles 
Pierre Jourdan Cap Classique Brut;  and Pierre Jourdan Tranquille Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend.

Jem Caterers
Please order your dishes from

  • beef stir fry with peanut sauce corn, broccoli served on egg noodles R85
  • mix vegetable stir fry with homemade teriyaki sauce and egg noodles R65
  • sweet chili marinated chicken served with egg fried rice R75
  • grilled fillet of beef served on butter roasted potatoes with mature cheddar sauce R110
  • charcuterie plate (Selection of cheese, cold meat and fruits with biscuits) R75

Thank you for bringing your knowledge and experience to the show.  Winemakers engaging with you and you inspire many new wine lovers.
We look forward to enjoying the wines with you.

Best wishes in wine



The latest press release below:

May, autumn harvest of mist, mellow fruitfulness, and the feuillemorte, is also the month of the much-anticipated annual Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival at Summer Place on the 16th and 17th.

South Africa‘s longest running, most elite wine show has enjoyed Standard Bank sponsorship for the past 17 years. Together we have transformed a novel concept ­­ ‒ bringing top talent to the attention of connoisseurs ‒ into a desired annual event.

The key to our success is fourfold ‒ a small vitrine of the finest wines, a limited number of boutique wineries, an intimate showcase of the leading labels, and winemakers discussing with guests the best time to drink their old vintages, among other pressing viticultural questions.

The emphasis is on terroir, fruit-driven wines, world winemaking techniques, and upcoming winemakers. Distinguished guests come to taste ‒  and buy ­‒  bespoke internationally-acclaimed wines at discounted show prices.

New wineries this year are Holden Manz, Kings Kloof, Epicurean, Lovane, and Pasarene. Rascallion, Broad Valley. Also debuting are Môreson, Mont Blois, Uva Mira, Benguela Cove, Paul Wallace, Perdeberg, Doolhof, Benguela Cove, Overhex, Mont Blois and so guests are in for a treat!

You will discover nuances in the MCC - Méthode Cap Classique bubblies from Haute Cabrière, Simonsig or Charles Fox,

Traditional values continue to bolster the festival with Bouchard Finlayson, Bosman Family Vineyards, Creation, Dewetshof, Avondale, KWV, Ormonde, Raka, Thelema, Vrede en Lust, Avondale, Constantia Glen, Charles Fox, De Grendel, Doolhof, Drift Farm, Idiom, Mont du Toit, Journeys End, Alto, Stellenzicht, and Neethlingshof, La Motte, Hillcrest, Zevenwacht, and Vondeling, still party stalwarts.

Guests will have the enjoyment of unveiling the fruits of the vine and nuances of fruit and flavour in the wines by an array of attractively priced gastronomic options for the hungry from Jem Caterers, The Oyster Lady and Cullinan cheeses.

Speaking of tradition, I could not have done this without Standard Bank’s generous sponsorship for the past 17 years, so thank you, as always.

As we handpick our exhibiting wineries, the festival is today more about style preferences than quality as every label shows distinction.

Cheers! See you there ...





© Cape Times Friday 18th November 2016 As I write this in the wake of the American elections, I can...

Exploring Cape Blends

© Cape Times Friday 18th November 2016

As I write this in the wake of the American elections, I can think of no more fitting wine style to talk about than a Cape Blend. The world is still processing the implications of a Trump and Republican victory which has divided the US and polarised the rest of us. So it is with something of relief that I turn to wine, the beverage which unites and cheers, to Cape Blends which truly reflect the melting pot of society which is South Africa and to white Cape Blends in particular which are, like many other African ideas, leading the world in innovation, excitement and potential for the future.

So what is a white Cape Blend I hear you ask? We’ve all kind of got used to the idea of a red Cape Blend which involves a generous helping of our local grape, Pinotage, but the backbone of a white Cape Blend isn’t an indigenous African grape (I tried a new one from Stellenbosch Vineyards the other day called Therona – unusual and not bad at all so go and try it!), instead it’s Chenin Blanc. At the moment, there is no legislation as to what constitutes a Cape Blend of either colour but a goodly dollop of Chenin Blanc seems to be the way to go when it comes to these exciting white wines. Add in Chardonnay, Viognier, Semillon, Roussanne, Marsanne and more and you have something very special indeed.

I think by now most people have got over the idea that a blend is a way to hide inferior wines or unpopular grape varieties and are fairly cognisant of the fact that most top wines of the world are combinations of different grape varieties – as I say to my wine courses, the essence of a good blend is that 1 + 1 = 3 so the result is greater than the sum of its parts. And what makes white Cape Blends so exciting is that South Africa is able to combine grape varieties which no-one else can. Unhampered by restrictive European appellation laws, we can blend the grape varieties of the Loire Valley, the Rhône, Burgundy, Bordeaux and more into truly individual wines which are given even more distinction by containing our heritage grape of Chenin Blanc. Often using old, dry-farmed vines, giving incredibly low yields of ultra-concentrated and utterly-delicious fruit, a white Cape Blend is a celebration of the very best South Africa can make.

Well I think so anyway and I am pleased to see that I am not alone. is the only specialised South African wine magazine and editor Christian Eedes has been running a series of report-style competitions for the past few years. Generally focussing on single grape varieties – as do most competitions in SA – the reports now include a red blend one, a white Bordeaux blend one and finally, what I think will become the flagship category, the Cape White Blend report which was announced earlier this week. This is the first year of the competition and I would dearly love to see this grow and overtake all the others – by the way, they are looking for a sponsor for the next one so if your company wants to be associated with all that is innovative, exciting and proudly South African, you should drop Christian a line.

In the meantime, try the winning wines. The Lammershoek Terravinum Reserve White 2015 was overall winner with an excellent 95 points, closely followed by two personal favourites, the DeMorgenzon Maestro White 2014 and the Muratie Laurens Campher Blended White 2015, both on 94. Other favourites in the top winners include Thorne and Daughters Rocking Horse 2015, The Fledge & Co. Vagabond 2015 and Springfontein Limestone Rocks Dark Side of The Moon 2014, but overall, the standard of wines was incredibly high and there was nothing I wouldn’t have happily drunk a bottle (or more) of on any given occasion. As this is my last column for the Cape Times, I don’t think I could end up on a much higher note if I tried.

Japan, and especially the Katsunuma valley we were visiting, prides itself on their local grape varietals, mostly so Koshu...

The Koshu of Katsunuma by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Japan, and especially the Katsunuma valley we were visiting, prides itself on their local grape varietals, mostly so Koshu & Muscat Bailey A. Having sampled mass-produced examples of both on the lead up to our visit, we were anticipating some more diverse offerings from the small-scale wineries on our itinerary. As a bit of history, Koshu is a native grape, approximately 98% vitis vinifera but still commonly used as a table grape. It tends to be quite airy & needs a bit of acidity to perk it up from what we've learned. Muscat Bailey A is a crossing of American varietal, Bailey A & Muscat Hamburg, typically very light & fragrant. Both Koshu & Muscat Bailey A share a distinctive subtlety which is a perfect match for the extreme subtlety of the flavours in most Japanese cuisine. In Katsunuma in particular, where mildew is a constant challenge due to high rainfall, it is the exception rather than the rule to find wines that have not been chaptalised in order to increase the alcohol volume, where wines with no sugar added during fermentation (that's the chaptalisation) tend toward an alcohol of 8%.

While our first visit of the day, to Marifuji, left much to be desired in terms of wine, it was the only opportunity we had for a cellar tour. And an unusual cellar it was at that. With no temperature control in the wine storage area & old sake storage tanks being repurposed for wine storage, we did express mild concern about the excessive heat common in the area. Our Sommelier-turned-winemaker host seemed unfazed. In turn, we were rather unfazed by the wine, unfortunately.

We found a completely different approach at Katsanuma Winery, just 10 minutes walk away.

Here, we were greeted with the option to taste 5 current release wines - which ended up closer to 10. We tasted Koshu in so many sharps & forms, I was absolutely astonished. From unoaked, lightly sur lie to aged & oaked examples, from sticky sweet to wines concentrated by freezing the must & removing the water. What a showcase of a very diverse bit of fruit, supported by somewhat unexpected labels - all designed by an octogenarian woman in Portugal.

Our next stop entailed a walk up a hill, past numerous thick-trunked single vines trellised to the height of a compact delivery vehicle & covering almost an entire field, carrying up to 500 bunches.

Here, at Grace Vineyards, we met with the winemaker - a student of Bordeaux who has spent some time harvesting in South Africa (at Cape Point Vineyards & Hermanuspietersfontein respectively). While the majority of winemakers in the region are content with buying fruit from these typically bulk-bearing vines, at Grace there is much more stringent focus on the vineyards with massal management being practised in a select vineyard planted in 2002 in the Toribira region - touted to be the best vines in Japan. And the results are evident from tasting & confirmed by Decanter with one wine scoring 95 & another being awarded Best Wine in Asia - although you'll never know from the  bottle. They don't use the stickers - they spoil the aesthetic.

A longer walk brought us to a more diverse winery, Kurambom, focusing on natural & organic wines. Another interesting set of labels - this time inspired by the artist's imagination after tasting the wines. From a Koshu bottled after 1 month's fermentation to the bottle of "happiness vintage" Chardonnay that had been open for 3 weeks & a sparkling Aldiron (another new grape) that was pretty much as close to Fanta Grape as one can imagine; we certainly saw a different side of Japanese winemaking. A side we would explore further at Haramo, where blended grapes abound. Their Rouge includes an array of experimental crossings resulting in a fresh, tart cherry, gummy kind of palate. Their variety of Koshu showed the impact of altering harvest time, yeast, fining, barrel age, bottle age & lees contact.

By this point, we were well & truly Koshu-ed out & made our way back to Kofu to contemplate the intricacies of Koshu.

Thank goodness that was before we fell down the rabbit hole that is sake!

More images here at Google Photos.

Read more on Leigh-Ann's blog here.

After the trials of planning & executing a wine tour in China (all well worth the effort in the...

Wine Joy in Japan by Leigh-Ann Luckett

After the trials of planning & executing a wine tour in China (all well worth the effort in the end, however) - planning for Japan was a dream! Detailed brochures & maps of our selected area, Yamanashi, prepared just the year before by the tourism department gave us a good steer. These were supported by many suggestions & bits of advice from the wineries themselves - we were even reminded to wear sunscreen! The locals in nearby Kofu (and even Tokyo), where we based ourselves, were proudly aware of the wine industry in nearby Katsanuma & very happy to share their personal favourites, another contrast to Yinchuan. From a country where approximately 50% of the population are alcohol intolerant & only 3% of the drinkers prefer wine, we were impressed. We were rather optimistic about what lay ahead, despite several warnings that there may not be English staff available when we planned to visit.

Arriving in Kofu the day before our winelands excursion, we keenly planned to go about laying some groundwork in the form some pre-emptive tasting at wine bars dotted along the high street. High prices coupled with small by-the-glass selections & the ever-present "seat charge" put a swift end to that idea, especially since most Japanese wine is more expensive in Japan than imports (KWV is the staple South African representative, we learned) & only 1/3 of the wine sold in Japan is local; however we did manage to find a small gem with good quality wines at less than extortionate prices. A bit of chatting explained why many Japanese wines are bottles in 720mls (using traditional sake bottles produced locally which are cheaper), an indication of a keen awareness of South African wines & suggestions for some splendid dinner.

Well sated with a deliciously simple tempura dinner, we looked forward to quality wines ahead.

More images here at Google Photos

© Cape Times Friday 21st October 2016 Is the glass half-empty or half-full? As we all know by now,...

Ranges of glasses matched to varieties

© Cape Times Friday 21st October 2016

Is the glass half-empty or half-full? As we all know by now, the answer is ‘Who cares? There’s clearly room for more wine whichever way you look at it.’ Is the glass nothing more than a vessel for conveying a liquid into our mouths or is it so much more than a mere vessel, instead having the ability to actually change the taste and feel of a wine? Or is this yet another wine myth perpetuated by wine snobs intent on ridding us all of our Paris goblets and champagne coupes?

Weighing in on the ‘a glass doesn’t make any difference to the wine at all’ side would be every single beach trattoria, restaurant and bar the length and breadth of the Mediterranean. Here, wine is as likely to be drunk from a tumbler as a wine glass and I’ve had some memorable times sipping wine in sunny beach resorts, even if I can’t remember the quality of said wine! Here, I would argue, it is the occasion, the company and often the view which makes the difference to how the wine tastes.

In the other corner sits glassmakers such as Riedel, Spiegelau and Zalto who offer ranges of glasses supposedly perfectly-matched to certain varieties. I know of people whose palates I would trust implicitly, assuring me that the exact same wine tastes differently in different glasses and so when I was sent a bottle of Leopards Leap Culinaria Pinot Noir 2014 and two Riedel Pinot Noir glasses recently, I had to give this a go myself.

So much of me wanted this not to work, to be able to say to you ‘the wine was the same whichever glass I drank it from’ but the truth is, that this is simply not the truth. The wine WAS different – more perfumed and fragrant in the Riedel Pinot Noir, more earthy in my Riedel Brunello di Montalcino glass and much less fruity in a nondescript not-quite Paris goblet. Was it better in the correct Riedel? Yes, I guess it probably was as long as you appreciate perfume over power (which I do and the wine was delicious). It was a really interesting exercise and I commend it to you all to give it a go if you possibly can.

Someone who’s gone into this in a big way is Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck Wines. The days of the coupe, allegedly-based on Marie Antoinette’s breast (not true, sorry guys), are long gone and now it would seem that the champagne flute is heading in that direction as well. The flute is a great glass to preserve bubbles because it has a small surface area from which they can escape but the narrow neck is not so good at encouraging flavour – which is a problem for Pieter and Graham Beck.

In a recent tasting, we tasted three wines, each in two different glasses – the normal flute and another version, striving to find the perfect combination of flavour, bubbles and (has to be considered) cost. Following extensive experimentation by both Pieter and a team of scientists at Reims University in France, the normal non vintage will now be served in an entry-level Riedel  Champagne glass at the Graham Beck tasting room, whilst the company’s flagship wine, the Cuvée Clive, will come in a hand-blown Lehmann Jamesse Prestige tulip-shaped glass.

The difference between flavours and bubbles from the flutes to the speciality glasses was mindblowing, but the best example was to try the Blanc de Blancs (always my favourite GB wine) in the premium Riedel Veritas Champagne glass. Pronounced salty aromas, persistent bubbles courtesy of small indentations at the base of the glass and creamy, citrus lemon flavours which grew and developed over the course of almost an hour, this was a winning combination. As Graham Beck Wines bids to become the world’s leading MCC producer, it makes absolute sense that each wine is showcased appropriately. And on that note, watch out for a Graham Beck bubbly bar and tasting venue in Cape Town in the near future and in the meantime – drink your bubbles out of bigger, tulip-shaped glasses. So that there’s ALWAYS room for more wine!

After much debate on the best way to spend our last morning in Ningxia - to hedge bets &...

China Winelands – Day 3 – Silver Heights by Leigh-Ann Luckett

After much debate on the best way to spend our last morning in Ningxia - to hedge bets & stay near the city, visiting Silver Height's original facility before our flight or get an early start & venture an hour toward the mountains to their new location built in 2014. We chose the latter & were well rewarded for our sense of adventure. From very little on the way to the next village to the sudden bustle around the local tourist attraction, a film studio used for many period movies; and back to almost nothing; right at the wooden watch tower & we were there. There being a large, low, red warehouse-like building, 8 times the size of the facility in the city.

We were met by a bubbly American, Alexa, who heads up marketing & communications. An interesting contrast to our previous experiences, with fast flowing English and outsider insights into the industry. Winemaker, Emma, shared extremely insightful anecdotes around the industry - both past & present. From government controls over varietals imported (explaining the high concentration of Bordeaux varietals), to terroir, pricing to recover costs of setting up wineries by the current generation & the Gold Rush for land in Ningxia.

Silver Heights began as a bit of a premonition on the part of winemaker, Emma's, father. He planted some of the first vines in the area, with the belief that there was potential for successful winemaking, and promptly shipped Emma off to Bordeaux to study winemaking in 1999 where she met husband, Thierry, who returned to China with her. Husband & wife team are now responsible for the increasingly well-reputed wines thanks to Emma's previous employer, a wine distributor, who told her to bugger off & make wine full time after tasting some of what she was making in her spare time.

And it's easy to see why.

From a floral yet fresh Chardonnay (the first vintage released), to beautifully structured & layered reds - The Summit (Cab Sauv, Shiraz, Merlot blend) being described by dear Jancis Robinson as "just the wine to confound prejudices".

And, overall, the wine we experienced in China did just that. Gan bei, Ningxia!

More images on Google Photos

As the day drew to a close, we had one final stop ahead - the first our driver was...

China Winelands – Day 2 Zhihue Yuanshi by Leigh-Ann Luckett

As the day drew to a close, we had one final stop ahead - the first our driver was actually certain of the location of.

Also, certainly the most beautiful we had visited to date. The chateau, the largest in the region, is a tribute to the owner's (who never drinks a drop of wine) love for rock & stone, showcased in a multitude of forms. From the buildings themselves, to intricate carvings & artworks tastefully dotted throughout; and soon to include a rock museum as well. Construction on the chateau began in 2008, to be completed in 2014. This seems an awfully long time on paper, but a walk through the winery & surrounds quickly reveals the extreme attention to detail, accounting for the time spent. From stone & rock collected throughout China, to ceilings lined with interwoven twigs to buffer sound & boundary walls constructed from rounded  tiles to allow birds to nest.

Accompanied by winemaker, Sujie, we toured the production facility, comprising only machinery imported from Italy; the extensive cellar & private cellaring for clients who purchase whole barrels & bottle with their own labels; through a number of tasteful displays to the tasting room where the ceiling is crafted from the skeleton of the hull of an old ship, with the tables & chairs crafted from the same wood.

Here, we tasted through a lovely, bronze Decanter winning unoaked  Chardonnay, of which very little was bottled due to limited demand for white wine in the local market (the rest of the harvest was used for brandy production); a 2013 Cab Sauv with a spot of 2014 added to perk it up; the estate's flagship red blend, Soul Mountain (Cab Sauv, Cab Franc & Merlot); and a very interesting private project of Sujie's - an unfiltered & unfined Cab Sauv 2014 of which only 800 bottles were produced. While we were delighted at the honour & impressed by each wine in turn, Sujie remained critical of her work.

We felt this was a fantastic end to a fascinating & highly rewarding day. We looked forward to day 3.


More images on Google Photos

© Cape Times Friday 16th September 2016 Spring has sprung and once again, springing along with it, comes competition time....

Looking for the best wines

© Cape Times Friday 16th September 2016

Spring has sprung and once again, springing along with it, comes competition time. A whole host of different awards have been judged and announced in the last few weeks from international commentators such as UK journalist Tim Atkin’s comprehensive and thorough SA Report to local affairs such as the RisCura White Hot Bordeaux-style White Blends Awards (one awards ceremony I was very sad to miss – such a delicious category and well done to top performers Iona, Strandveld and Tokara Wines). What to talk about, what to talk about? Well, space is limited so I have chosen just three competitions, all from entirely personal motives.

Pinotage is a big opinion divider as I discovered when I was in the UK five years ago to become an accredited teacher of international wine courses from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). A fellow educator from the Netherlands was stuck in a completely outdated view of Pinotage from the bad old days at the turn of the millennium when it tasted of bitter bananas and had little to recommend it and try as I might, couldn’t be persuaded to change his mind. I was thinking of him when I saw the results of the latest Absa Pinotage Top Ten which were announced recently, in particular when reading the words of Neil Ellis who convened the tasting panel. He spoke of “The diversity in styles of Pinotage - this year we saw many more examples where winemakers are not trying to follow the tried-and-tested methods used by icon wines, instead making Pinotage in styles that best suit the unique characteristics the winemakers are getting from grapes in their own areas.”

I couldn’t agree more. The past decade has seen a meteoric rise in the quality of Pinotage and it’s mainly because people are now feeling confident enough to express themselves, pay attention to the grapes they’ve got and showcase them with appropriate winemaking. There is quality at every level in the Top Ten from perennial stalwarts such as Kanonkop and Rijks (winning Top Ten places for an incredible 11 times each) to inexpensive and fun versions by Knorhoek and Perdeberg, entering the Top Ten for the first time. Let’s hope they can take this show on the road to Holland because there’s at least one chap there who needs to see the Pinotage-light.

Talking of taking wine to Europe, my second competition seems to be going the other way! The Blaauwklippen Blending Competition always gives me the warm-fuzzies – it’s a bit lighthearted and one of the very few competitions where the consumer is the star. Over 70 wine clubs competed to make the perfect, easy-drinking red blend this year and the winner – for an incredible second time – came from Germany! The club, Weinnasen from Rindchen's Weinkontor Uhlenhorst, flew in specially to join other finalists at Blaauwklippen last week to celebrate their winning blend of Malbec, Merlot, Shiraz and Zinfandel. If you want to try it, you can buy it from Blaauklippen’s tasting room where it’s bottled as a magnum with a glorious Frans Groenewald original label and selling for a mere R159.

My final competition is one in which I was personally-involved, judging the country’s finest MCC’s for the fourth year in a row. I love this competition – any excuse to taste bubbles is always fine by me – and it has been most heartening to see the increase in quality over the years with hardly any duffers amongst the entrants and a whole host of wines I would delight in sipping during a sunny summer’s eve. The overall winner is Anura whose Brut 2011 is a fantastically-constructed wine with loads of depth and character. Shout-outs to Blanc de Blanc winner, Colmant and rosé Trophy winner, JC Le Roux who also scooped the Museum Class with their Scintilla Vintage Reserve 2008. Year in, year out the Scintilla is one of my favourite fizzes and if you can get your hands on some of the 08, there’ll be a spring in your step this Spring, that’s for very sure.

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China. Named after a poem...

China Winelands – Day 2 – Joyful Jing & Jia Bei Lan by Leigh-Ann Luckett

Wine fundi, Leigh-Ann Luckett, continues with her travels around the world in search of wine….  China.

Named after a poem about 1 of the 8 revered landscapes of the Ming Dynasty (no, I'm not clear on the details of what that means), Helan Qingxue claims the best view of this landscape at the foot of the Helan Mountains.

Established in 2005 by a viticulturist, winemaker & business manager, the winery was the first in China to win an international accolade in 2011 in the form of a Decanter International Trophy. The wines, called Jia Bei Lan or "Little Feet" in honour of the birth of dynamic winemaker, Jing's daughter, have continued to grow from strength to strength since, with growing export opportunities & a stream of praise from international wine lovers. All of this we learned from the obligatory corporate video with a few tidbits from Jing herself.

Our host was happy to meet South Africans after playing host to a South African winemaker in 2012 during the inaugural Ningxia International Wine Challenge - a competition created & funded by the local government with a little help from the participating wineries; which allows a selection of winemakers from across the globe to produce a vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon over 2 years with a cash prize awarded to the wine judged as best. There are 3 South African participants in the current challenge.

We toured the, again, immaculate cellar, tasting the new vintage of entry-level Cab on its way to bottle as we made our way around; passing locally made bee-hive shaped tanks (which Jing was the first to use due the shape being ideal for red pump overs & press downs due to the shape) & barrels signed by the many notable international visitors while discussing the enthusiasm of Chinese wine-lovers to gain their WSET Level 4 qualifications, with over 20 Level 4 graduates to date.

This led us to the Cellardoor which is set to launch in the next year including a simple food offering. Lined up to taste, we had an unwooded Chardonnay in a Riesling bottle (tinned peas & lime on the nose with apricots & citrus on the palate); a Cab Franc Rosé (slightly sweet despite its savoury nose); a Cab Merlot blend (Moroccan spice & grippy tannins); & a Reserve Cab (eucalyptus & light violets). Again - all Bordeaux varietals. From Jing's perspective, these are the best varietals for the area which requires grapes with a short growing period to allow sufficient time for the vines to rest after harvest,  before being buried for winter (an activity which accounts for 30% of the production cost of the wine). Thoroughly enamoured with the wines, the winery & the winemaker, it was unfortunately time for us to bid farewell. No time for us to rest; our next stop beckoned.


More photos here - Google Photos