My experience at the South African Wine Tasting Championships.
I have decided to hang my nose in shame. I have a number of excuses at the ready. Here are a few from which you can choose:
- the decade – 1996 to 2006 – of smoking cigars has ruined my palate, although the last five years cigar intake has been limited to three or four a year;
- I drink too much whisky;
- I don’t drink enough wine;
- I don’t concentrate enough when I drink wine;
- I have a nasal problem;
- my short-term memory is non-existent;
- the essential oils in my massage suite have impacted on my ability to taste wine.
While the truth is that my palate simply gave in after nosing the first 10 whites, I much prefer the essential oil and massage suite excuse.
You see, when my friend JV Ridon invited me to attend his South African Wine Tasting Championships event at the Hilton hotel in Cape Town I initially declined as Saturday, 31 August was one of those days when my kids come along and most of my time is occupied with them. However, teenagers as they are, they are quite happy with me wondering off and entertaining myself. So I went.
This was clearly a well-organised event, with parking instructions and directions to the venue, the ticketing procedure and easy to understand instruction booklet. One complaint I do have is that I should have allowed myself more time, generally arriving at 11 o’clock and leaving at six, spending a good couple of hours nosing, testing and trying to write tasting notes. 90 minutes for tasting and doing the test (blind tasting 10 wines) is not nearly enough time. Another excuse, if I need it.
To put my abject failure into context it was way back in 1991 when I completed the level one of the Cape Wine Academy course. It was round about 1995 when I became disillusioned with the quality of wines, or rather, the amount of corked wine around. I moved to Whisky and have not looked back. For the last many years I have mainly drunk Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, and have not really ventured into other varietals. Another excuse, if I need it.
The actual testing experience was scientifically planned, especially as I decided not to taste any of the wines, but only to nose them. I still can’t get into this whole spitting business. That changed quickly. After nosing most of the whites my sense of smell and taste gave up and I went back to some of the first wines that I had nosed. I could not differentiate between the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc. Never mind not knowing my behind from my elbow, I did not know my Viogner from my Chenin. Disaster was looming and it took the form of a series of red wines, some of which were quite spectacular. With a sinking feeling I gingerly walked into the blind tasting area. I know for a fact, with absolute certainty, that I properly identified the white wines from the reds.
The rest was a blur. Not because I had had too much to drink. I think it was brain freeze. The last thing I wanted to hear was a couple of Frenchman in deep discussion about the contents of their glasses. I felt out of place. Please, please, let’s do something with Whisky. Possibly that is more my style. But my nose, with deep regret, needs much more training. I decided that from the middle of November to the middle of February I am embarking on a training exercise and will train my palate to understand white wines. I am going to enlist the services of some friends who understand wine and offer up my heart and soul (not liver, because I will be spitting) to the art of wine tasting.
The South African Wine Tasting Championships is a fantastic event and something that all wine lovers should attend. I’ll be back next year, hopefully armed with a better nose.