Q&A with Miguel Chan

Miguel Chan

The 2016 SAA onboard wine listing selection was recently announced and Sawubona caught up with Miguel Chan, Tsogo Sun Group sommelier and chair of the tasting panel, for the lowdown:

How does the wine selection process for the 2016 wine listing work?

The selection process was carried out entirely blind, as with previous years, with each panel having a chairperson based on their experienced and affinity with the category. The only information the judges were provided were the class tasted, style and vintage.

The panel of local and international judges complemented each other with their various backgrounds and vast experience. I was assisted in the process this year by three international judges, namely: Master of Wine Richard Kelley from the UK, Master Sommelier Christopher Bates from USA and Sommelier Wellington Melo from Brazil. The local judges were Yegas Naidoo, who is one of the most experienced tasters both locally and internationally, sommeliers Tatiana Marcetteau and Luvo Ntezo, winemaker Nomonde Kubheka and WSET graduate Laurie Smorthwaithe.

What’s involved in the judging process?

We use the widely accepted 100-points scoring system in order to give each wine a fair scoring and the chance of being selected, avoiding points and results compressions, which one would normally encounter on the 20-point scoring system. Scores were allocated after the discussion and agreement between judges.

Where there was a major point difference and the panel could not agree on a final score, I would step in to discuss and mediate to the final score. However, my score were not taken into the final tally.

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How long did the process take and what did the judges take into consideration?

The judging process lasted five days with two days to set up and three days of tasting, which included over 730 entries that had to be evaluated. Each panel had no more than 120 wines to taste daily, excluding the re-taste.

My brief to the judges were as follows:

1. Reward cleanliness, purity and expression of fruit, freshness in context of ripeness, savoriness, oak management and typicity of the class tasted. For example, a classic Cabernet Sauvignon needs to show cassis and blackcurrant with cedar and graphite layers or an unwooded Chardonnay, which needs to have the profiling of a Chablis, etc.

2. Judges were briefed to be wary of wines showing high acidity, high alcohol and high tannin (red), as these factors will be further accentuated once in the air, since the wines will be enjoyed at around a 35 000-feet altitude. It has been well documented that the human palate is compromised by air compression inside the cabin, as well as a lack of humidity. With our body in a dehydrating mode, there is less saliva, which alters both the olfactory sensation and taste buds.

What tastes great on the ground in most instances will not necessarily be a wonderful wine in the air, with the exception of a Champagne or MCC, or any other bottle of fermented sparkling wine because the CO2 contents tends to act as a buffer and mitigate the air changes.

How did you feel about the final outcome of the results and what do the results show about South African wines?

The final results show a fantastic diversity of style, which was rewarded by each panel. It must be noted that all winning/selected wines were re-tasted at least three times, alternating between the different panels and chairs, in order to ensure consistency throughout the process and the final score. The results is a confirmation of the ever-growing quality of South African wines, which are among the finest in the world today.

I am pleased with the final outcome and thank the judges for their meticulous work. However, the real judge will be SAA passengers and their appreciation of our hard work will be the cherry on top.

The elegant pool area at Southern Sun The Cullinan, Cape Town.

The Southern Sun The Cullinan, Cape Town where the winners for 2016 were announced.

What are your views on  the winners?

Orange River Cellars is the main winery in the Northern Cape. It sources its grapes from vineyards situated alongside the Orange River, hence the name, which is an unusual place in South Africa to grow wine grapes. Lately it has been quietly and confidently focusing on delivering great quality, clean, fruit-driven, juicy and refreshing wines, true to the type of the variety on the label. Its white wines have an elegance and delicacy making them ideal in a plane environment and the winning Colombard 2015 is a fantastic example of a crisp and mineral dry white wine.

Avondale is one of South Africa’s foremost organic and biodynamic producer, concientious about its surroundings and within the vineyards. It’s embodies the synergy between living organisms and soil health and is a stunning MCC sparkling wine that shows depth and vibrancy.

The Red Wine of the Year, Kranskop 2013 from Robertson (a boutique winery in the Western Cape) is a bright Merlot that’s all about freshness and contains the juicy delicate plums fruit which are typical of the variety.

Last but not least, the KWV Cape Tawny is without a doubt South Africa’s most consistent and finest expression of this Port style – it is world class.

The awards lined up and ready to be handed out.

The awards lined up and ready to be handed out.

What about the Chief Executive Officer Award and Chairperson’s awards. How are these selected?

The CEO Award rewards the producer with the highest aggregate scores across all entries and both Accolade and KWV can be proud of their achievements as this is testament to their overall quality across all brands and price points. The Chairperson’s Award is given to the largest volume of wine purchased.

In your view, what can SAA passengers in Business and Gold Class expect this year, in terms of SAA’s wine offering?

Expect a diversity of style and some of South Africa’s finest sparkling, white and red wines. These wines are not opulent or heavily oaken and passengers will find they are wines of pedigree, elegance and refined character, refreshing either on their own or paired with food. They might not be the labels or brands one is accustomed too, but that’s the beauty and depth of the ever-changing Cape wine industry. Seek them out, give them a try – they will make any South African proud of our wine heritage.

Avondale sparkling wine welcomes guests.

Avondale sparkling wine, a tribute to South Africa’s wine heritage. Images courtesy South African Airways.

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