I have often wondered why South African winemakers don’t take part in the Vinitaly Wine Show, which is certainly one of the biggest and best attended in the world.
At the judging of entries for this year’s competition, 105 judges from all over the world spent a week in Verona, assessing more than 2300 wines from 23 wine producing countries, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, Spain, Slovenia, Brazil and Israel.
None from South Africa.
Vinitaly must be one of the most stringently selective competitions in the world, with only three percent of the entries receiving any medals at all.
I was invited to be on the judging team this year and was interest to note some of the differences and some of the similarities in the organization and judging of the competition, compared with South African wine competitions.
Most marked difference is that the entries are classed by style, rather than by grape cultivar. So we have classes like “still white wines, refined in wood,” and “not older than two years from vintage,” and “semi-sparkling white and rose wines.”
Under this classification system you get, for example, Chardonnays competing with Semillons and Sauvignon Blancs. Cabernets compete against Merlots and Shirazes.
I believe our Cap Classique sparkling wines could do very well on this show, as could our natural sweet dessert wines.
During the judging I kept thinking: “I know several South African wines that could blow this class right out of the water.”
Why were we not there?
One of the interesting features of the Vinitaly judging was the strict discipline of it all.
The wines are assessed in total silence, one at a time, and judged on the 100 point system. Wines are presented to the judges by a team of professional sommeliers, and four minutes are allowed for each wine. Only 10 wines are served in a session, then there’s a break before the following 10. By the end of the competition every wine has been assessed by at least two judging panels.
All red wines older than five years are decanted in front of the judges before being poured.
Vinitaly offers an opportunity to meet wine producers and wine journalists from all over the world. The panel on which I served consisted of two Italian winemakers, a Japanese wine writer, a Czech Republican wine journalist and myself.
During the week of judging I formed good ties with Swedes, Hollanders, Americans and Croatians.
The language of the event is, of course, Italian, but there was always an interpreter on hand to translate speeches and announcement into English, which seemed to be understood by the majority of non-Italians.
I strongly believe our wine industry would benefit from participation in Vinitaly. Quite apart from the chance of winning awards, there’s an opportunity to forge new links with winemakers and wine journalists from all over the world.
Are we too afraid to enter a competition where only three percent if entries receive medals? Where’s our competitive spirit?
Photograph: David Biggs