A panel of experienced wine connoisseurs recently put their taste buds to the test to determine which Paarl Wine of Origin Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon will be crowned as cultivar category winners or receive medals at the prestigious Paarl Wine Challenge award ceremony in August. A total of 23 wines were entered into the two categories that will be showcased in the new format of the competition.

The panel was chaired by Johan Jordaan of Spier Wines, who also heads up the Cabernet Sauvignon Interest Group. Other members of the panel included Cape Wine Master, Nina-Mari Bruwer, wine journalist Samarie Smith, sommelier Georgio Meletiou of the Cullinan Hotel, Mark Norrish of Ultra Liquors representing the retail industry and Izele van Blerk representing the Chardonnay Interest Group.

This year, entries for the Paarl Wine Challenge were limited to two varietals for grapes both produced and vinified in Paarl. As expected, the new format saw a decrease in entries, but organisers agreed that quality rather than quantity was the focus.

According to Stephen Richardson, Chairman of the Paarl Wine Route, the contest was limited to wines from the appellation of Paarl to give smaller producers a platform from which to promote their wines. “It is inspiring to see a broad spectrum of producers in the line-up and following the positive feedback from the tasting panel, we know that Paarl can hold its own as one of the top wine producing regions in the world,” says Richardson.

Producers attended a brief feedback session with the tasting panel following the blind tasting. The general feedback was extremely positive from both the critical wine experts and the consumer orientated judges. “Today was a tough judging day as we had some really good wines in the mix. Wines were well balanced and integrated and showcased the typography of the area nicely”, said Jordaan.

The panel did however favour the Chardonnays and commented on the distinct styles evident in the line-up. “A strong sense of place is becoming increasingly important to the consumer and some of the Chardonnays we tasted today are a great benchmark for the region. The winning wine exhibited great balance between the flavour, wood and lingering after taste,” continued Jordaan.

He further explained that although the competition was closely contested amongst the white wines, the Cabernet Sauvignons were also well-rounded and balanced. “It is important to remember that wine is both a science and an art and that competitions such as this one, is specifically aimed at highlighting the unique selling points of a specific region,” said Johan.

According to Stephen Richardson, Chairman of the Paarl Wine Route, the Paarl Wine Challenge was originally started to encourage healthy competition amongst wine producers in the region and to provide a much needed marketing platform.

“Paarl region is definitely building its reputation for exceptional quality wines and outstanding performances by its winemakers. It is particularly rewarding to see Paarl wines featuring strongly across the board at competitions and challenges such as the SA Young Wine Show, Michelangelo Wine Awards as well as the International Wine and Spirits Challenge,” explains Richardson.

Richardson concluded that it was good to see consensus from judges both from the retail and winemaking industries on the top scoring wines in each category. “This proves that the wines could not be faulted on quality, while the winemakers also showed a clear understanding of their consumers and their specific preferences.”

In 2016, the spotlight will fall on Pinotage and Chenin Blanc, while 2017 will feature Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc. In 2018, it will be the turn for Merlot and White Blends, while Red Blends and Viognier will be battling it out in 2019.

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