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Posted: Friday, 20 August 2010 10:26

Michelangelo- International Wine Awards of South Africa

Asking an Italian about Michelangelo would perhaps invite a scorn and a frown but in South Africa it has a different connotation, where the 14th Michelangelo International Awards wine competition is  underway in Stellenbosch, writes Subhash Arora who has been invited as one of the international judges.

Founded by a PR person with no background of wines in 1997, it started almost as a low key affair, admits Lorraine Immelman, owner of the competition, well entrenched and respected in South African wine industry where the number of wine competitions perhaps outnumber the number of  varietals used to make wine.

‘The Trade Commissioner of Chile and a wine connoisseur Ramon Rada told me one day in 1996 that it would be a good idea to have a competition for South African wines where only international judges will taste them and judge. Since we needed a venue and a sponsor for hotel stay, we talked to Michelangelo Hotel across my office,’ says Lorraine. Apparently Michelangelo was willing to oblige if the name was included in the title-this explains the name of the competition.

After a few years Lorraine and her team realised that it would be more meaningful to have the judges visit the farms (vineyards and wineries) too. So the venue was shifted to Stellenbosch, the red wine capital of South Africa. After holding it in Spier Wine Estate, it was shifted to Vrede wine farm but the name Michelangelo stuck.

The first years saw an entry of 146 wines only. Last year the competition saw a record number of over 1500 wines sampled. As any other competition, this year has seen a fall of about 15% and 1310 labels are participating. In the last few years, as the number of wines to be judge crossed  1200, the number of panels was increased from 4 to the current level of 5-each panel consisting of 3 members, including the chairperson.

Click For Large ViewAll 15 members are international-the number includes one from South Africa. Christine Rudman, a wine judge who is a regular taster for Platter’s guide, the Bible of South African wines, has tasted over 2000 wines during the last couple of months alone. The other 14 judges are  Patricia Guy – Italy, Florent Lancon – France, Rueben Garcia Franco-Spain, Rui Falcao - Lisbon, Portugal,  Chris Alblas – Netherlands, Sue van Wyk – Australia, Quentin Sadler – England, Bojan Kobal – Slovenia, Roderic Proniewski - Singapore, Subhash Arora – India, Parani Chitrakorn - Thailand, Claudio Salgado – Hong Kong, Annette Hanami – USA and Maria Katsoulis – Greece.

Sue van Wyk is a South African Cape Wine Master nown living in Australia and is the Technical Director of the Awards, looking after the technical aspects of the competition including the selection of judges who are seldom repeated on a consecutive basis. She has been with the competition since beginning and worked as the South African anchor till she moved to Australia. ‘The well know wine jurist Dave Hughes took over the role of the South African judge until he got too busy, making room for Christine,’ says Lorraine.

‘At a rate of 650 Rands a sample (around $90), we barely break even’ admits Lorraine who claims she is not involved in the organisation and running of the actual competition which is handled independently by the professional staff. But, surprisingly the profits come from the sale of stickers sponsored by CCL Ltd. and sold at a nominal charge to the winners. Interestingly, the problem of producers misusing the stickers as winners on the wrong bottles seldom arises, according to Lorraine.  The other wine producers are the watchdogs and make sure their competitors do not take advantage of the lack of policing staff at Michelangelo Wine Awards Company to monitor it on a day to day basis.

Sue van Wyk and Lorraine Immelman

The tasting is blind as usual and there cannot be any reasons for complaints. Each judge gets to taste around 260-300 samples depending upon the number of samples tasted again for Double Golds, and trophies etc- for example. Our panel led by Christine Rudman has tasted 60 samples of Chenin Blanc, 146 of shiraz and 8 samples of Pinot Noir during four days, with 2 days to go (actually, the last day is for re-tasting to determine the top awards). Last year around 30% wines out of 1500 samples were awarded.

An interesting aspect of this private competition is that the judges are allowed to discuss the results after the points have been awarded on the customary 100 point-scale. In case of dispute or high discrepancy, discussions help the wine get its due share of representation. The discussions not only prove beneficial for the wine, they also help improve the wine tasting knowledge and acumen through a healthy discussion 
  
The results of the competition are expected to be announced on September 11 and may be viewed on their website http://www.michelangeloawards.com. Some of the other important competitions are Veritas presented by the SA National Wine Show Association (SANWSA) and the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show conducted by the well known South African wine expert Michael Fridjohn.

The benefits of such competitions are always a juicy subject of discussion for jurists and journalists alike, but the wines presented at the competition surely get a good representation for the discerning international pallets.

Subhash Arora
(reporting from Stellenbosch, South Africa)

       

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