After a visit to the ancient vineyards (pronounced wineyards with a heavy Teutonic accent) along the Moselle river this afternoon, the hundreds of international judges at the 18th Concours Mondial were treated to a barbecue at the Wine Museum in Ehnen on a picturesque bend in the river with green vistas of Germany across the slowly moving stream bombed by house martins implementing a Libya-style “no fly zone” for… flies.Read More…
Well the 14th edition of the Concours Mondial, held in Palermo last weekend, is over and over 7000 bottles (6964 entries plus replacements for faulty bottles) are on their way to the local glass recycling plant. They should send a few to Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, who makes Christmas tree sculptures for Joe Berardo out of them.Read More…
Lunch today with Jean Smullin after a second day tasting bretty Bordeaux at the Concours Mondial in Palermo. With entries up strongly, wine competitions are cashing in on the global sardine run of producers with tanks full and sluggish sales: earlier this month the International Wine Challenge (infamous for awarding multiple but different medals to the same wine), the Concours Mondial which finishes tomorrow and next week the Decanter World Wine Awards which nicely muddies the water between writing about awards and dishing them out. Not even Nature, in the shape of an Icelandic volcano with an unpronounceable name, could still the feeding frenzy, as like latter-day Dick Kings, international arbiters of taste burn up carbon credits galore, jetting around to the flesh pots of Europe to pronounce on samples shipped from their home countries. Nero had a tune for it.
Jean is an Irish wine writer and was the happy face of WOSA in the Emerald Isle for a while before the SA exporter’s mouthpiece pulled the cork on Ireland back in 2003 to devote resources to the UK. With WOSA withdrawn, SA market share promptly sank from 12 to 8%. Jean joined Wines of Chile who are about to overtake Australia as market leader; squirrels in Stellenbosch can draw their own conclusions. So it is safe to assume that Jean knows a thing or three about SA wine, but she didn’t know that the annual Platter wine guide is tasted sighted. Nor do most people who buy it. Which was the reason for radio sommelier and chef Michael Olivier, Portuguese wine pundit Aníbal Coutinho and I producing The People’s Guide last year – a blind tasted guide with no entry fee to producers. Steve Heimoff, of Wine Enthusiast, makes a cogent argument (again) for blind as opposed to open, tasting.Read More…
“At last, a man of my size” was the greeting Countess Theresa Schönborn gave the Good Value Guru, warmly shaking his hand when he visited her Marquesa de Cadaval estate in Muge yesterday. The GVG, not being fully up to speed on the Almanach de Gotha, put his size 10s in it when he asked if the Marquesa still lived on the property. “My grandmother died in 1996 aged 96,” replied the Countess “she was kept alive by a tot of Vodka and orange juice every lunch and dinner and I have a 98 year old uncle who has just planted 7ha of vineyards in Colares near Sintra. Alas, I’m only a Countess.” “Were you demoted for bad behavior?” countered the GVG “No, my father was a Count from the Rheingau, from Schloss Schönborn, have you heard of it?
I loved my grandmother a lot. When my father died, my brother inherited the German titles and property, while I took my mother’s inheritance. I wanted to commemorate my grandmother, so I asked our winemaker to make a special wine named after her. Touriga Naçional is my favourite grape (I can’t stand Chardonnay or Shiraz)” – “so don’t visit Australia” interjected the GVG, helpfully – “and we added some Alicante Bouschet and Trincadeira.” The jury at the Concours Mondial tasted the wine blind in 2008 and gave it gold, which is quite appropriate, as I’ve just arrived in Palermo for jury duty on this year’s Concours.
To Noto or London to Sicily in a Ford (Bloomsbury, 1989) by Duncan Fallowell should be prescribed reading for the hundreds of judges scheduled to fly to the capital of Sicily to judge the Concours Mondial from 23-26 of April this year. Of course to this Jozi joller, warnings of the dangers of visiting the crime capital of Europe to someone living in the crime capital of “the seething darkness of Africa” come as old news. What are bag-snatching feral children with knives on scooters to a veteran of gun-toting car and home hijackers? That the cops in both cities use their sirens to get home in time for lunch, is par for the course.Read More…
Off to dinner last night with some exotic friends from Jozi at Beluga between the leather bars and clubs off Somerset Road in Green Point, Cape Town. Afrikaans-accented Eugene had phoned for a table and was waitlisted but when Xiashen tried, we got one immediately, albeit in the Gods. A case of tourist precedence perhaps? Good training for 2010. Although it was one of those kopstamp (bang your head) nosebleed tables in the suspended cellar. Jeremy was late as his pronunciation of Xiashen did not match that of the meeters and greeters overwhelmed by posses of Dutch tourists and he was milling around in the cavernous body of the restaurant until Xiashen spied him through the floor slats and went down and rescued him.
The late Elizabeth David was the foodie’s food writer. Her “most revolting dish ever devised” was an Italian salad:
1 pint cold cooked macaroni
½ pint cooked or tinned pears
½ pint grated raw carrot
French dressing to moisten
2 heaped tablespoons minced onion
½ pint cooked or minced string beans
Method: mix the chopped macaroni and vegetables; moisten with French dressing, favouring with garlic if liked. Serve on a dish lined with lettuce leaves. Decorate with mayonnaise and minced pimento or chives.
The next question is naturally, what wine to serve with this dish? At the gala dinner of the Concours Mondial in Valencia earlier this year, judges were served a Sicilian red of such inappropriate pungency which springs to mind. And then there were all those Chinese reds in the competition itself which tasted as if they had been made of sewage.
But xenophobia really is the last refuge of the scoundrel, so my thoughts turned closer to home. Our current Good Value Guru road trip has turned up several candidates but an examination of the ingredients: tinned pears, string beans and chives moves the Pulpit Rock Sauvignon Blanc 2008 with intense vegetal notes, up the queue. At R24 a bottle, it is in the same price range as the Italian delectation. The vines have subsequently been grubbed up and stocks are limited, so hopefully there will not be a run on this combo.Read More…
My winenews column about the controversial tender document for the FIFA Federations Cup made Die Burger billboards in the Cape and attracted loads of comments and over 1500 hits and counting. The most interesting was from Greek wine publisher Constantine Stergides who I had the pleasure of meeting last month at the Concours Mondial in Valencia. He makes a sobering point:
“Being someone who followed closely the relationship ‘wine and sports’ during Greece’s hosting of the Olympics back in 2004, I would like to caution my friends from the South African wine industry to keep their hopes and expectations low. Sports fans are not wine lovers by definition and, basically, they couldn’t care less what they swallow. They will be visiting SA for the sports events and not to “discover” your country’s civilization neither your wines. What we saw in Greece was that visitors were choosing the most inexpensive restaurants available (kebab, McDonalds…) and drinking cheap wine and beer. What a disappointment! Also, a lot of money was spent on various special events to court the hacks and other freeloaders and various “businessmen” (ha, ha) –a complete waste of funds if you ask me. Good luck!”
Another acquaintance renewed was that of Aníbal Coutinho, wine communicator extraordinaire from Lisbon. Over dinner at a Basque restaurant in the city centre, I explained the concept behind and reason for The People’s Guide, the consumer driven, blind wine guide I’m writing with Michael Olivier. Hardly had I unpacked than Aníbal announced he was flying over to participate. His international palate will provide an invaluable window of foreign perceptions of SA wine and is yet another point of difference with the sighted competition.
A wine marketer from Paarl e-mailed his concerns that Toxic Tim was having an ethical go at my public persona this morning over on the Screaming Bento Box as I must surely be the prolific winewriter alluded to in the Shock! Horror! disclosure “we now, interestingly, also have a prolific winewriter who’s also a minor producer of wine and of grapes which are sold to other wineries, which seems to me a potential problem of ethics.” As Nick Cave said “Prolix! There’s nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix!”
Saturday afternoon: lies, damn lies and statistics
As investment bankers found out to our cost, all models in statistics are wrong, but some are useful. A rule about to be rediscovered by Thomas Costenoble, director of the Concours Mondial. In a briefing to judges before tasting started this morning, Thomas revealed that the Department of Statistics at the University of Louvain has analyzed the judging of last year’s Concours competition held in Bordeaux. A very busy slide was then projected showing that some juries were generous and some strict, a phenomenon that led to scores being normalized to remove this bias.
He went on to reveal that this year “a statistical profile of each taster” would be estimated and each judge would be told how consistent she was as well as how well she correlated with the rest of the panel. To help measure consistency, duplicate wines would be included in the blind tasting.
This year a record 6289 samples of wine and spirits were submitted to the competition, so sample size for the models will not be an issue. Of course this being wine and not finance, some imponderables will make the statisticians’ task more complicated. Like wine #8 in series 506 tasted by jury 007, a flight of 12 French Champagnes from vintage 2000. The first sample was corked. The second ditto, so two judges rejected the wine while two others scored it gold, one even commenting that it was corked. Let’s see if Bayes’ Theorem can deal with that!