Roger Jones’ Tri Nations Wine Challenges bandwagon hit New Zealand for the first time on Tuesday 7th February, a concept to highlight the quality of premium wines from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, matched with Michelin star food. With New Zealand the only nation not to have lost a round, could they hold their unbeaten record in Round 6 against the very best that South Africa could throw at them?
Round 6 of the Tri Nations Wine Challenges was a tense affair at Hawke’s Bay’s Craggy Range with the likes of Felton Road and Neudorf taking on the challenge of Graham Beck and Waterford – not in the same category of course! Full results here and winemakers’ reactions at the end.
Having been established back in 2015 at The Vineyard Hotel in Cape Town, the Tri Nations Wine Challenges have developed a huge interest not only with consumers (the events in Cape Town and UK sold out six months in advance with over 80 guests attending) but with winemakers from each region keen to see how their wines served blind are rated by a cross section of professional and amateur drinkers.
Craggy Range very kindly hosted Round Six – New Zealand vs South Africa – at its iconic winery in Hawke’s Bay.
There is little more than one can describe of Craggy Range than the vision for perfection, a beautiful magical place that inspires to succeed. Founded by Terry Peabody and Steve Smith, now with Matt Stafford as chief winemaker, the wines are crafted in small batches, producing single vineyard wines of superlative world class quality. The grounds, settings and facilities from the lodges and cottages, to the tasting room, restaurant and grounds are breathtakingly beautifully set.
New Zealand had drawn with South Africa twice in previous rounds, both in Cape Town and in the grounds of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, so this hugely anticipated match involved a few key changes in the teams, as both were determined to win.
There are six courses matched to six wines blind, and selection for inclusion is discussed with key wine enthusiasts in each country, with a panel that decides the most appropriate matches. All wines are served in individual grape-bespoke designer glasses, either Speiglau or Riedel.
The flights were as follows;
Flight One – Sparkling Wine – Result: Draw (1:1)
No1 Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV, New Zealand
Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2012, South Africa
Matched with a local oyster out of the shell on a bed of cauliflower cous cous, cauliflower cream, and sorrel granita
Roger Jones comments: “I fell in love with the No1 Reserve Blanc de Blancs whilst tasting this in London last year. With extended time on the lees this is a fully-fledged, serious sparkling which reflects vintage champagne style. The Graham Beck stable delivers a superlative selection of very fine sparkling wines, and this Blanc de Blancs is a wonderful showcase of Blanc de Blancs with age.”
Flight Two – Sauvignon Blanc – Result: Win to New Zealand (2:1)
Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2014, New Zealand
Duncan Savage Sauvignon Blanc 2014, South Africa
Matched with citrus cured ora salmon, creme fraiche, Craggy Range garden herbs
Roger Jones comments: “Duncan Savage had successfully won in the last round against New Zealand with his Sauvignon, but with a high profile player like Greywacke coming in it would have been hard for Duncan to repeat his Goliath feat, however I believe both wines are similar in texture and quality and both represent a serious style of Sauvignon.”
Flight Three – Chenin – Result: Win to South Africa (2:2)
Millton St Anne Chenin 2014, New Zealand
Stellenrust 51 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2015, South Africa
Matched with baby mackerel with wild mushrooms
Roger Jones comments: “New Zealand are not famous for Chenin, but Millton is world famous and, in a shock win last July, Millton’s Chenin defeated South Africa in this flight. With team selection changed, however, young Tertius Boshoff from the aged Chenin dynasty of Stellenrust came up trumps, delivering a masterpiece. I am equally delighted as we make our own label Chenin at this winery.”
Flight Four – Chardonnay – Result: New Zealand Win (3:2)
Neudorf Moutere 2015 Chardonnay, New Zealand
Hamilton Russell 2015 Chardonnay, South Africa
Matched with fresh scampi tempura, scampi bisque, potato and saffron crisp
Roger Jones comments: “Two superlative Chardonnay that benchmark world class. Honoured that both Tim and Judy and Anthony and Olive have supported these challenges from the start, difficult to choose between them. Whilst speaking to Bob Campbell MW this week who rated the Neudorf 2014 a 100 point wine, I asked him about the 2015 which I rated higher, he noted that he was not in the habit of giving out 100 pointers that often, so how often? His answer was “once and that was the 2014″. Equally the Hamilton Russell has achieved superlative marks in Wine Spectator and sets the benchmark for South Africa, with a star studded stable of winemakers learning their trade here.”
Flight – Five – Pinot Noir – Result: New Zealand Win (4:2)
Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir 2015, New Zealand
Crystallum Cuvée Mabalel 2015, South Africa
Matched with lamb rack, pressed belly, heirloom tomatoes, Craggy Range honey and verjus
Roger Jones comments: “The boy against the masters. The previous result was so close in the UK that Nigel Greening from Felton Road excelled the virtues of Peter-Allan Fynlayson’s mastery Pinot. However on the night in New Zealand, Felton’s Calvert with its purity and just sheer class was a brilliant showcase of how Blair Walter the winemaker, together with Nigel, have evolved this iconic Felton Road brand into a benchmark Pinot.”
Flight Six – Benchmark Reds – Result: New Zealand Win (5:2)
Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah 2014, New Zealand
Waterford The Jem Cab Blend 2009, South Africa
Matched with Welsh rarebit cigar with charcoal salt
Roger Jones comments: “Two wines that captain their countries in style and quality, proud to be on the same page as these wines, despite Craggy earning a hugely respectful score, as you will note from below there was a strong support of Waterford’s wine when matched with the Welsh cigar”
Result: Win to New Zealand
Winemakers’ reactions at the event:
My refection on the wines by Jason Stent winemaker at Paritua
“I thought the wines were all excellent examples of New World quality and excellence. I tried to approach the tasting from a purely hedonistic approach and tried my best to be non-partisan. So even though it was quite obvious to me which country the wines were from, I looked at how the wine and food combined and which combination worked best for my palate. So half of my votes went to South Africa.”
So, for me in general, the New Zealand wines when tasted before food had brighter fruit and aromatics, and looked like the better wines to enjoy as a stand-alone drink, but the South African wines had wonderful texture and when combined with the food pairing they shone.
My stand out wine and food pairing was the Waterford The Gem 2009 matched with the Welsh rarebit cigar. For me this really made the wine shine.
The Duncan Savage Sauvignon Blanc and Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc, are both a wine style that resonates with me as they are so good to drink with food and will also age well.
Overall an excellent selection of wines that would grace any table and truly enhance a dining experience.
Thanks for the great evening Roger.”
And from Matt Stafford head winemaker at Craggy Range
“Roger Jones once again assembled a fantastic selection of wines for the latest Tri Nations Wine Challenge to see South Africa and New Zealand put their very best forward.
The home town advantage proved too strong with the vibrancy of the wines from the young lands of New Zealand enchanting the diners before the food pairings showcased the fine textural notes of the South African contingent.
Sparkling honours were shared with the oxidative softness of No. 1 Family Estate up against Graham Beck’s wonderful purity.
The Sauvignon Blanc result was no surprise but the strong showing by Duncan Savage created much discussion.
Likewise, the quality of South African Chenin shone through against New Zealand’s very best from James Millton.
The Chardonnay contest was a question of style and the subtlety of Neudorf showed through to no great surprise given its wonderful pedigree bestowed on it by many NZ Chardonnay lovers despite being up amongst a classic from Hamilton Russell.
With the most extensive collection of Felton Road anywhere in the world at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn it was pleasing to see Roger showcase the Calvert Vineyard so wonderfully with the finest NZ lamb to push aside the impressive Crystallum offering.
The finale could not have been scripted better with the 2014 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah winning the popular vote from many of its loyal followers in the most one-sided contest of the night to much applause.
The next round will be held on Friday 14th July, when Australia take on New Zealand in the grounds of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn in the UK. New Zealand are the only team who have not lost a round to date but South Africa lead, albeit having played three more rounds than everyone else.
So the scores on the doors please….
After 6 rounds, 3 in Cape Town, 2 in UK and 1 in NZ the scores to date are:
South Africa – 3 wins – 2 draws – 1 loss
New Zealand – 1 win – 2 draws
Australia – 3 losses