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The Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge 2021

Quality and value offerings across the board

The third Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge took place at the end of September 2021. The jury sat down at the Conference Centre at Klein Joostenberg, Stellenbosch, to adjudicate quality and value entries. The focus of this event is to give the younger generation of wine and spirit consumers a voice. Often wine and spirit panellists are older and not in touch with the preferences of the younger generation.

Millennials do not have the same tastes as their parents, nor did they grow up in an era with limited choices dominated by a few major producers. They are more experimental, not influenced by tradition, and are on the way to becoming an influential, fine-wine consuming generation. That is why the convenor of adjudicators, Celia Gilloway, selected mostly younger panellists. The continued growth of this event is an acknowledgement of the unique features that are filling a need in the South African industry. Several high-end wines and spirits were entered, as well as several value offerings.

Demographic changes

Some good news first: The wine and spirit industry has been hoping for this. With declining sales and a love of health and fitness among the younger generation, Generation Z and Millennials are finally drinking more.

The bad news is that this new trend was probably fuelled in part by a global pandemic that has ushered in an era of destruction throughout the economy, including the wine and spirit industry’s portion of it.

It is undoubtedly worth focusing on this demographic shift. Role-players in the wine and spirit industry must make difficult decisions in the coming months during the economic challenges created by the pandemic. The youngest consumers have the longest road ahead. The level of their consumption has consequences that will compound as time goes on.

Younger consumers are more comfortable shopping and interacting online. Making wine and spirit culture more approachable and shareable will be crucial if the industry wants to see this interest grow.

Malu Lambert judging spirits

Consumers are driven by both quality and value 

The Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge awarded Gold Awards to all the outstanding products and Value Awards to wines R190 and below and spirits at R380 or below. Some products achieved both awards and can now proudly display a double award.

Best Sauvignon blanc, Rosé and Gin on show:

 

There is a move by younger consumers towards a preference for Sauvignon blanc, Rosé, and Gin. This event put focus specifically on these three categories. Every year, fashion and tastes change, and therefore The Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge will always stay up to date with new trends.

This year the Trophy for the best Rosé / Blanc de noir went to KWV for their 2021 Laborie Rosé.

The Trophy for the best Sauvignon blanc went to Klein Roosboom for their 2021 Jéan Sauvignon blanc.

The Trophy for the best gin went to Time Anchor Distillery for their Mirari Celebration gin.

Kobus van der Merwe - Senior Winemaker from KWV
2021 Laborie Rosé
Piti Coetzee - Winemaker at Klein Roosboom
2021 Klein Roosboom Jéan Sauvignon blanc
Shanna-Rae Wilby from Time Anchor Distillery with the Merari Gin
The 2021 Merit Wine and Spirit Tasting Team

The wine judges were Jono Le Feuvre, Spencer Fondaumiere and Kerry Alborough.

The spirit judges were Neil Tabraham, Malu Lambert and James Copeland and Georgio Meletiou.

Tasting comments

The categories that received the most entries were Sauvignon blanc and Rosé, followed by Shiraz. Overall, there were more white wines entered compared to red. The Spirit category was dominated by gin, as expected, followed by Grappa and Rum.

The Sauvignon blanc wines showed a diversity of styles. The nose of the wines ranged from tinned peas, asparagus to the more exotic and tropical notes. Most of the wine had vibrant acidity and balance. The tasters commented that consumers are becoming more experimental. Where Sauvignon blanc was the go-to wine for wine evenings, younger consumers might try Chenin blanc or other wines they have not tasted before.

Chenin blanc as category seem to continue showing well at tastings. Most of the 2021 wines were packed with freshness and flavour. The wooded examples were well made, with some showing lots of complexity. The tasters generally agreed that price is a huge factor when deciding what wine to buy, and Chenin blanc is a front runner in that category.

All the tasters agreed that the ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) movement is not present among younger consumers anymore.

The tendency towards drier rosé wines with good acidity serves the Rosé / Blanc de noir category well. Many of these wines tend to be on a lighter colour spectrum ranging from a slight blush to salmon. The wines, in general, had good acidity and were invitingly elegant with good balance. Some quality contenders shook up this customarily pedestrian class. When pressed on what colour they preferred for Rosé and Blanc de noir, the panel was divided, with preferences ranging from salmon to darker pink colour.

The Pinotage and Cape Blends did well in general, and the styles seemed to have evolved towards more fruity wines.

The Merlot was consistent, and some of the 2020 wines were fruit bombs. The Shiraz class is showing that South African Shiraz wines are world-class. Most Shiraz wines were well-structured with smoky, leathery tones. There seems to be no obvious move towards Shiraz and Merlot among younger consumers, and they seem to keep the door open to try new things.

The judges scored the brandies very well and were among their favourites for the day.  The Vodkas were well balanced with good aromatics.

The Gin class had a mixed bag ranging from mediocre to absolutely sublime. The London Dry gins were clean and juniper forward with a dry finish and were generally very good. Another special mention should go to the pink gins that did very well.

Younger consumers are apparently not brand loyal when it comes to gin, and will experiment and try new brands constantly.

Overall, the judges were pleased with the spectrum of quality wines and spirits entered. The Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge 2022 details will be announced in the last week of January 2022.

We are thankful to our partners who helped to make this event possible:

For all enquiries, visit https://themeritchallenge.com, or email hello@themeritchallenge.com

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