French Classic Trophy and the Prime Palates

Submitting one’s wines to a panel of French judges is pretty much like a guy asking a Swedish Women’s Beach Volleyball team to judge his sexual prowess. They’ve seen it all, tasted it all and are the owners of copious amounts of experience. To make an impression, you’ve really got to know your Syrah from your Sutra.

The annual Classic Wine Trophy, not to be confused with the Old Trophy Show, has been around for 15 years now and invites South African producers to offer their elixirs for scrutiny by a bunch of real French wine experts. The odd one out is my mate Pieter de Villiers, the strapping lad from Darling who studied at Elsenburg before leaving for French shores in 1995 to play international rugby. Still a boer at heart, Pieter is about as French as a confit de canard, French enough to order a Pastis from a barman in Nice without getting hit on.

The other judges were journalists, sommeliers, winemakers, consultants and organisers, all blue-blooded French, a nation that take matters of the palate very seriously.

What other people on God’s earth will argue for 45 minutes on the correct texture of a baguette crust served with breakfast? I once had an hour-long earful from French barrel emperor Christian Radoux because during a tasting of Portuguese wines I dared venture an opinion on an alvarinho that to my mind bore a resemblance to a Sauvignon Blanc.

During presentations of South African wines to French audiences I have had to endure their quaint descriptions ?+¦?+º?+¦piss?+¦?+º?+æ and ?+¦?+º?+¦Orangina?+¦?+º?+æ being choice niceties.

Oh, but we do love them. Their seriousness, their fine palates and their self-appointed status as the world’s God Chosen purveyors of opinions on matters food and wine.

That’s why presenting your wines to a panel of French requires balls the size of boules.

For this year’s Taj Classic Wine Trophy, some 300 South African wines were entered for tasting in the rarified air of the tasting-room presided over the French experts.

And those wines who received the blessing in the form of Trophies were:


  • Beyerskloof Pinotage Reserve 2010.
  • Groot Constantia Shiraz 2010
  • Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve 2011
  • Chamonix Chardonnay Reserve 2011
  • Chamonix Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2010
  • La Motte Pierneef Shiraz Viognier 2010
  • Saronsberg?+¦-+?+¡ Full Circle 2010
  • Saronsberg?+¦-+?+¡ Viognier 2011
  • Vergelegen V Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
  • Whalehaven Merlot 2010
  • Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011
  • Franschhoek Cellars Semillon 2012
  • Delaire Graff Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009
  • Perdeberg Weisser Riesling Reserve 2011 Natural Sweet


As a lover of my fellow man and all things French, I would say that this is a pretty fine selection, although one does not know which other wines were entered. It is always much more fun crapping on the judges for omitting to recognize a wine you think is stellar than questioning their decisions.

From a panel positioning itself as French and Classic, I welcome the laurels awarded to certain modern, un-Old World wines. The Saronsberg Full Circle red Rh?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ne blend is about as classic as Lady Gaga and as Old World as a hot dog stand on Coney Island. Ditto Whalehaven’s Merlot. Both wines display a sumptuous southern sunniness and slick, juicy fruit which deserve international recognition, so it is great seeing them pass the test of Les Bleus.

The Hamilton Russell Chardonnay is always going to crack it at this competition with its austere backbone bearing saddle-bags of perfume and fruit, and the whole Chamonix collection is just plain pants-wettingly good. But the Beyerskloof Pinotage was a surprise, methinks Pinotage being a bit too aggressive for ze fine palates.

The most French of all the wines, though, would have to be the Vergelegen V. As politely restrained as its unshowy and humble maker Andr+¬ van Rensburg, this wine is more Medoc than a duck heart stewed in a Cabernet broth. The wine is dry and tight as a convent cheer-leader team, but has immense power in the attack, mouth-feel and finish.

In fact, I would dare to say that the wine was selected for its aging potential more than current drinkability.

Toujours Classic Wine, toujours. This is a very special competition and may it continue from strength to strength.

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