Good wines will be appreciated even when ‘Palates under Pressure’

No Hein, no! You don’t give yourself or your wines enough credit! Leopard’s Leap represents good value relative to a lot of the stuff on-shelf, with La Motte’s finest regarded by plenty as pretty impressive. Many wine lovers would argue with you: luck has little to do with it; your farm’s good reputation is well-earned. And we bet you have a pretty good palate!

Usually when wine producers regard the critics or the judges to be problematic, it’s because they feel that one or more of their ‘children’ has been the victim of unfounded comments, that they’ve been unfairly treated. It’s odd then that, gauging from a blog of his, Franschhoek’s globe-trotting Hein Koegelenberg seems to be questioning wine competition results. La Motte, of which he is CEO, is ranked among the top cellars in South Africa, with a number of their varietal wines and blends having good track records in terms of the SA Wine Classification and their Pierneef Syrah Viognier securing a place in the Top Wine SA Hall of Fame – accolades that are based on panel-ratings of various kinds both locally and around the world.

Koegelenberg writes that the controversies of wine tasting have to do with wine’s intrinsic qualities and unique characteristics, varying tasting conditions, the human element and the emotional component, the wine experience. He ponders how much the judging of wines has to do with the expertise, experience and exposure of the palates, and how much of it is about luck… Amazing, it is, how there are those who feel that if a certain wine doesn’t always score top of the class it must be due to the taster rather than the wine, or how people can imagine that a wine which certain critics might rave about could cause certain other judges to yawn, or vice versa. It’s highly unlikely, particularly among passionate wine folk who taste from far and wide on a regular basis and who keep an open mind! What’s more, reputable wine guides and competitions involve qualified judges, selected and teamed-up by respected conveners, with panel decisions that involve a democratic process and sometimes a round or two of discussion before the voting procedure.

In his commentary, Koegelenberg touches on the World Wine Tasting Championships contested by 24 teams and won by Sweden ahead of England, with New Zealand fourth, Spain in sixth place, but France, RSA and Italy finishing outside the Top 10. This in a competition hosted by French wine journal La Revue du vin de France where the challenge is to identify the origin, variety, vintage and producer rather than to rate the quality and interest value. Might the results have been different if the teams had comprised the countries’ more experienced palates who participate in the assessment of wines from around the globe on a regular basis? And would any of these good palates be more or less likely to rate a current-release Chateau Libertas as ‘good quaffing stuff’ or a mature Kanonkop as ‘one of the best’?!



  • For Jancis Robinson’s note on the World Wine Tasting Championships, click here.

  • I was not necessarily referring to ratings of La Motte and Leopard’s Leap wines, but rather to how much is expected of ratings in general – and of the palates that determine them. I agree that the Wine Tasting Championships are quite different to experts tasting wines to rate them, but I thought they showed that being an expert wine taster is quite difficult, requiring dedication and experience.

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