For the last few days I have been in St James, Cape Town, judging wine for the Top 100 South African Wines competition. It’s the fifth year of the competition, and many of our small judging team of seven have been here since the beginning. So it’s a nice family feeling. We’re led by uncle Tim Atkin, and then Richard Kershaw and I are deputy chairs. Making up my team are Greg Sherwood and Duncan Savage, while Richard has Justin Knock and Lizette Tolken.
The judging process is pretty rigorous. It’s based around flights of wines divided by category. For example, on day 1 our team had 44 Cabernets in the morning, followed by 31 Chenin Blancs in the afternoon. We have two glasses of each wine: a freshly poured glass and a decanted glass. There’s a lot of discussion and retasting. Panels work like this: often one person will spot a wine that’s really good and the others miss it first time round.
Judging wine blind is complicated and requires skill and concentration. It’s not an exact science, but if you have the right setting, efficient logistics, and a robust protocol, coupled with experienced tasters, you are more likely to produce useful results.
As for the setting? It’s a lovely time to be in the Cape, and St James is a beautiful place. Kalk bay is just a short stroll along the sea front and has nice bars and restaurants, as well as a sort of hippie feel. There’s a nice path that runs up to Muizenberg that’s good for an early morning loosening run. I’ve stayed here six times in the last five years, and it feels a bit like home from home. I have one more day here: I’m off to lunch at Longridge, and then it’s on the late flight home. A chance to watch bad movies and nurture some more precious memories of a good time in a lovely setting, with great people for company.