Some of the best wines from New Zealand and South Africa battled it out last week at Roger and Sue Jones’ Michelin star restaurant, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, in the latest instalment of its Tri-Nations Wine Challenges. Roger Jones and New Zealand winemaker, Nigel Greening, had the perfect view to write it all up and explain how the Challenges work.
Who came out top in the South African and New Zealand Tr-Nations Wine Challenge? Michelin chef, and host Roger Jones and winemaker Nigel Greening of Felton Road explain all…
The Tri-Nations Wine Challenges were originally set up following a late evening of (wine) discussion at The Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town in 2014, with the inaugural event being hosted by the hotel on January 9 2015. Such was the success and popularity of the first event that we soon realised that we would need to elevate the Challenge and not only make it an annual event in Cape Town but take it on the road.
We are delighted that we now host the event in three countries and are in discussion with two establishments in Australia to host the event there. On January 13 next year we will be hosting the event at The Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town for the third time and on February 5 we will be hosting it at Craggy Range in Hawkes Bay for the very first time.
Each challenge involves two nations, with a six course Michelin Star meal matched with six wines from each nation, served blind, with up to 80 guests at each venue voting for their favourite wine. The menu is devised by myself but using local ingredients and working with the local team of chefs.
We have established a great working relationship with The Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town, and last year they sent over their executive sous chef to work with The Harrow kitchen for two weeks. Whilst over in South Africa we also work in other kitchens in the Cape educating youngsters both in culinary practices and food and wine matching.
After each course guests are asked to announce their favourite wine, each Riedel wine glass is marked with a 1 or 2 label, these are then counted and immediately announced. All wines are served in Riedel glassware in grape variety stemware.
The scores in the series so far are as follow
January 2015, Cape Town; South Africa 5, Australia 1
July 2015, Little Bedwyn; South Africa 5, Australia 1
January 2016, Cape Town; South Africa 3 New Zealand 3
July 2016, Little Bedwyn; South Africa 3, New Zealand 3
The dates for the 2017 challenges are:
January 2017; Cape Town, February 2017; Craggy Range Hawkes Bay, July 2017; Little Bedwyn.
Ringside seat: Nigel Greening, owner of Felton Road in New Zealand, gives his verdict on the Challenge.
The Sauvignon Blanc flight was really a battle of two schools, rather than a battle of two countries. South Africa fielded a funky, probably wild, definitely reductive example from the school pioneered by Te Koko, and Section 94. While New Zealand went for a classic aromatic iteration of Marlborough. Of course either country could have fielded an example of either style.
The vote went for the more complex, some may say more sophisticated approach of the wild and funky wine. Personally I felt the reduction went too far and preferred the New Zealand wine for its unashamed fruit and aromatic appeal.
Chenin I expected to go South Africa’s way. But James’ Clos St Anne 2013 was utterly sublime; the best Millton I can remember tasting. It had a precision, and restraint that is rare in Chenin: bone dry, but without a hint of aggression. The Ken Forrester was a very good wine, very young and started pretty clunky, but rounded and opened in the glass really well. If they had been poured and left an hour before tasting then it might have been the winner, but I doubt it; that Millton was just brilliant.
Chardonnay was always going to be tough if you field Moutere Chardonnay and in fielding the 2014 there was a hundred point wine on the table. Who’s got an answer to that? The 2014 is taut, the epitome of restrained power and at least a decade off drinking. My commiserations to Hamilton Russell, they had a very well made wine there, but it was taking a knife to a gunfight.
Pinot was the most interesting flight of the night for me. We had two 2014s of very different expressions. Calvert looks restrained against the other Felton Road’s but here it looked opulent and quite fruit forward compared with the Crystallum which was a masterclass of perfectly ripe phenolics. These wines are the best South African Pinots I’ve ever tasted and are quite unlike any of the early groundbreaking South African Pinots. Either wine could win this one, just down to whether people went for fruit and perfume or structure and perfectly polished tannins.
The Syrahs were another pair from two different schools. Le Sol is about perfect honing: deep ripe fruit, polished chocolate tannins, and really needs more age to start to show a bit of its feral side. The Lismore was animale, bouncing with all those secondary characters that come from the funky side of the Rhône. It was fresh, lively and positively cheeky. It deserved the win, just for being more interesting; more to talk about. Le Sol was probably the better wine, but didn’t shout on the night.
Lastly the bubbles. Nautilus is a very good example of New Zealand bubbles, but was solidly outgunned by the Graham Beck. If New Zealand wanted to win this flight it would have needed to field something more about depth, a vintage wine, not about refreshment. Another knife taken to a gunfight.
I’d say a draw was a fair result. Not a bad wine on the table at any point. On balance, South Africa was a bit more daring, New Zealand a bit more staid. A different flight of wines could have shown it the other way round, but I think that is a reflection of where the countries stand: South Africa is on something of a roll right now with a new energy. Maybe New Zealand is resting on its laurels a bit?
The line-ups and menu for the Tri Nations Wine Challenge Friday July 15, 2016
Bollinger en Magnum Reception with Canapés
Arbroath Smokie Milkshake
1. Duncan Savage Sauvignon Blanc 2014, SA
2. Rapaura Springs Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2014, NZ
Wild Salmon with Watercress
1. Millton Clos de Ste Anne Chenin Blanc 2013, NZ
2. Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2015, SA
Pembroke Lobster Dumpling with Summer Greens & Herbs
1. Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2015, SA
2. Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2014, NZ
Grilled Diver Caught Scallop, Cep Soup
1. Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir 2014, NZ
2. Crystallum Cuvee Cinema Pinot Noir 2014, SA
Pork Cheeks with Perigord Truffles
1 Lismore Syrah 2014, SA
2. Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah 2010, NZ
Boiled Egg and Soldier
Summer Berry Platter
1. Nautilus NV Brut, NZ
2 Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2011, SA
What the trade thinks of the Tri-Nations Challenges
Siobhan Thompson, chief executive, Wines of South Africa
“Roger’s fantastic challenges have helped to raise awareness of premium South African wines. We have been delighted to see South Africa do so well against tough competition, helping to cement our image as one of the world’s most exciting wine producing nations. The exquisite food that Roger and his team have prepared, both in South Africa and at our tastings in London, perfectly demonstrates the versatility of our wines.”
Hannah Silverman, communications manager, Wine Australia
“It’s a pleasure to complement our premium wines with Roger’s Michelin-starred delicacies and to celebrate the diversity of Australian wine against other world-class producers. For us it’s a great opportunity to celebrate the versatility of Australian wine and show how we have stylistically evolved in recent years. From fresh, zesty Rieslings to elegant un-oaked Chardonnays and world-renowned Cabernet Sauvignon, the distinctly Australian style will be a joy to taste alongside The Harrow’s exceptional menu.’
Aaron Drummond, General Manager, Craggy Range Vineyards
“We are again proud to be part of Roger’s Tri Nations fixture. It is a great opportunity to put ourselves up against some of the great wines of the world. Our aspiration is to be a world class winery and the only way to continue to evolve is to put ourself out there. Roger’s gives us an opportunity to benchmark, learn and also to take confidence in what we are doing. By hosting a fixture at the winery in Hawkes Bay, it also gives the local Hawkes Bay community an opportunity to gain some insight into the great wines coming out of South Africa…an opportunity that is rarely seen in rural New Zealand.”
Roy Davies, General Manager, The Vineyard Hotel, Cape Town
“The Vineyard Hotels always looking for ways to promoting contribute to the wine tourism of South Africa – and to build relationships that can showcase what can be achieved in the wine space. The Dinner with Roger Jones is an example of how long standing friendships – based on a similar philosophy- can work together to bring a showpiece of international acclaim to the shores of South Africa.”
Chris Yorke, global marketing director New Zealand Wine
“New Zealand Winegrowers are excited to be involved with the Tri Nations Wine Challenge and to showcase the premium quality and diversity that New Zealand wine delivers. We look forward to Roger’s outstanding culinary and matching skills to demonstrate New Zealand wines versatility and food friendly styles. New Zealand are a proud and competitive nation and we look forward to doing battle with our fellow Tri Nations!”