In the book Wine for Dummies (which of course would not be needed by WINE.CO.ZA readers), author Ed McCarthy, says “The purpose of wine is to be enjoyed (usually), sooner rather than later”. That settles that then. Alas, there is more to the simple enjoyment of wine for the sole purpose of feeling alive and happy. There is always the question of quality and this inevitably leads one to making comparisons and this, of course, brings you to wine competitions. And much has been said about the virtues or vices of such contests: about its objectivity, about the relevance of the results to the industry and the wine drinker, and about the fact that it is very possible that a wine receiving top accolades might not be everyone’s cup of tea – or should we say everyone’s crystal chalice of wine.
With all that said, the fact remains that these competitions gives the wine maker an indication of whether they are on the right track, and it gives the wine lover as well as the ‘wine dummy’ an idea of what to try and why to try it. These competitions, with the Veritas Awards as one of the leaders in the field, serve as a guide through the maze of reds, whites, blends and many other wines vying for attention. Another bastion is the SA Young Wine Show which, belied by its name which suggests a certain youthfulness, has been around for more than 177 years. This show is presented annually by the South African National Wine Show Association (SANWSA) and gives winemakers the occasion to showcase the finest their current vintage has to offer at the beginning of the journey of the wine to the consumer.
Going back to the book for wine ignoramuses, the author’s initial quote about the purpose of wine also mentions enjoyment “sooner rather than later”. He does not in this instance refer to the urgent compulsion to consume alcohol but to the reality that not all wines need to endure intensive aging processes to be ready for enjoyment. The fact that a young wine can, and actually should be good was actually not always a fait accompli. Wine for Dummies reminds readers of the old myth of the wine industry which held that great wines were supposed to taste bad when they’re young. If this myth was true, wouldn’t that be convenient for anyone who made poor wine! The author mentions that “in the past some of the great wines of the world, like red Bordeaux, were so tough and tannic that you really couldn’t drink them until they had a few decades under their belts.” ‘Young’ basically translated to immaturity, and plainly said, un-drinkability.
But we know better now: after a glorious wine making season spanning the last 352 years, South African wine makers and those who relish the end product have accepted that a great wine has to have a great beginning and that some are made to be enjoyed ‘sooner rather than later’. Fortunately the movers and shakers of the budding wine industry of the New World did not take three and a half centuries to come to this conclusion. As early as 1833 the WP Agricultural Association (now known as Agri-Expo who still supports this initiative) initiated a wine show for the young wines of the Cape region, giving the SA Wine Show the honour of being the oldest wine show in South Africa and possibly the oldest in the New World wine countries. Today, wines are judged within the first year of production some time before they are finally blended and bottled.
“After 178 years, the SA Young Wine Show is still alive and well”, says Duimpie Bayly, current chairman of the SANWSA who is responsible for both Veritas and the Young Wine Show. “It remains an unequalled technical opportunity where winemakers can benchmark their products with their peers and has special relevance for experimental wines, styles and new varieties.”
Whereas the wine industry initially set down its roots in the vineyard friendly soils of Constantia and Stellenbosch, adventurous souls have claimed other regions of South Africa for the vine. Today an impressive total of eight wine regions compete in this competition, namely Robertson, Worcester, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Oranje-Vaal, Olifants River, Swartland and Klein Karoo. The winners of each of the 17 categories are awarded with champion trophies but participants especially covet the General Jan Smuts trophy for the overall champion young wine and the Pietman Hugo trophy for the highest score for five best entries.
The wine industry has indeed come a long way since 2 February 1659 when Jan van Riebeeck penned the following in his diary: “Today, praise be to God, wine was pressed for the first time from Cape grapes.” We can sure echo his thanks with a “praise be to God that we have lived to see the South African wine industry bloom and grow to offer wine lovers a rich variety of world class wines. Amen.