Pendock Unfiltered – Cape Cringe

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With ABSA Top Ten Competition sponsor ABSA bank now owned by UK banking giant Barclays – recently returned to SA after an apartheid-era retreat – it made good political sense to include foreign judges this year. Not that this was given as the reason.

The Pinotage Association website claims rather the ‘international link was introduced to get an indication of the styles of Pinotage wines overseas wine lovers prefer.’

With the results raising no eyebrows (six wines from Stellenbosch and two each from Wellington and Tulbagh), looks like the ‘four international wine experts’ (out of seven judges) agreed with previous panels. The foreign judges hailed from Canada, the USA, England and, erm … South Africa – in the form of Dave Hughes, wearing a Zimbabwe floppy hat, presumably.

The other change was strict adherence to OIV rules which consist of using ‘expert’ judges, scoring wines blind out of 100 and declaring no more than 36 of the 120 entries (i.e. 30%) to constitute a Top Ten. Conversely, under OIV rules, a quorum of 35 entries is required to choose a Top Ten, which, with producers battling to sell the love-it-or-hate-it cultivar, is no problem.

A cynic would argue that having a majority of foreign judges on a tasting panel is yet another example of cultural cringe, a concept pioneered Down Under, that holds that indigenous culture (be it art, literature, cuisine or wine) is worthless, with only ‘the other’ having any value. By ‘other’ read European, Australian, New Zealand or American (North or South will do) with not even SA Airways considering sourcing a wine judge from Africa for its annual wine selection exercise. Which is not only a pity, but a scandal, given the African Renaissance policy of the airline’s owners, the SA government.

‘The land of the hot christmas’ as Barry Humphries (the Aussie analogue of Pieter Dirk Uys) refers to his homeland, has long since cured itself of cultural cringe with some of the world’s hottest chefs (Tetsuya Wakuda, Neil Perry), film directors (Peter Weir, Baz Luhrmann) and writers (Peter Carey, JM Coetzee) undisputedly world class. SA still has some way to go, with early invitations to Cape Wine 2006 events, promising ‘big, fancy bashes’ with ‘keynote speakers’ of the caliber of Observer columnist Tim Atkin, MW. Perhaps WOSA should hold the event in Britain and save the industry the travel costs of the British SA wine experts – they could team up with Barclays and judge the 2006 Pinotages while they’re at it.

This reluctance of local producers to embrace South Africa is nothing new. Writing two centuries ago, the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope noted ‘at dinner tables at the Cape hosts will apologize for putting on their tables the wines of the Colony, telling their guests that the other bottle contains real sherry or the like.’

One hundred years before that Lady Anne Barnard recorded her impressions of those wine snobs who ‘drink the labels’ and praise ‘known names.’ ‘I never saw the force of prejudice more apparent than in the way the Englishmen here turn up their foolish noses at the Cape wines because they are Cape wines. They will drink nothing but Port, Claret or Madeira, pretending that the wines of the country give them bowel ache!’

And it wasn’t only English colonialists who complained. Hendrik Cloete, owner of Groot Constantia, was the most famous winemaker of his day, who grew a stellar dessert wine much favoured by Napoleon (in fact Napoleon and his household consumed so much – up to two dozen bottles a day – that his British jailers on St. Helena complained of the cost to higher authorities.) Inviting Lady Anne and Lord Mornington to lunch at the farm, Cloete brought out his best and oldest port, sherry and claret. As the afternoon progressed, Lady Anne reported ‘the gentlemen’s prejudices got the better of their manners.’ While drinking a French Claret, Cloete remarked ‘my wines are valuable; and I am glad when others like them, but I do not; whoever prizes what is made at home?’ Which casts a new light on the present rush to reproduce sweet Constantia by the current owners of the farm.