You would’ve noticed that we haven’t been blogging as much as we did towards the end of last year. The main reason for this was the distraction of us attending Michael Fridjhon’s wine tasting academy. Run in conjunction with UCT’s Graduate School of Business at the Grande Roche it was certainly one of the more enlightening wine experiences of my life.

Kicking off at 9 o clock on Friday morning, any thoughts of an easy ride or of students/attendees having supreme tasting knowledge were blasted away within 10 minutes after the first flight of 6 wines was poured. The class got the first flight spectacularly wrong, and it set the trend for day 1 and most of day 2. Most people only started finding their feet again by the end of day 2. Some never found their tasting feet again.

The main objective of the Tasting Academy is to get more competent judges for the industry, and this is done through analysing all the wines as if a competition is being judged. From the first flight of wine for the weekend till the last wine of the exam, proper analysis is the order of business.  All the wines are tasted blind, and you are expected to make rational arguments on variety and origin by analysing what is put in front of you. Getting the wine right is less important than having a rational, well thought out and substantiated argument on why you are saying what you are saying about a wine.

We tasted and analysed 246 wines over the 2 and a half days. There were also whole sections on wine faults – not just a fascinating subject, but also extremely relevant. And of course we consumed vast quantities of wine with dinner on the 2 nights. For the 2 and a half days of the course we tasted in the region of 300 wines in total. Its not an insubstantial amount of wine and all that acid was murderous on our teeth. I had sensitive teeth for a few days, and a visit to the oral hygienist in the next few weeks is already in the diary.

Michael Fridjhon was not the only lecturer we had, with Christian Eedes, Gary Jordan, Pieter Ferreira, Christine Rudmann and Charles Hopkins also presenting lectures, while Christian and Gary sat in on all the classes as students (you’re never to old to learn!).

It is difficult to single out wines out of such a big line up, but here are some of the more interesting wines we had a look at.  Have a look at some of those vintages.  We’ll never see most of these wines ever again…

Guigal Condrieu 2009 (France)
Golan Village 1996 (Israel)
Louis Latour Pouilly Vinzelles 2010 (France)
Graham’s Vintage Port 1985 (Portugal)
Jean Daneel Chenin Blanc 2003 (South Africa)
Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray 1984 (France)
Marc Bredif Rich Vouvray 1983 (France)
Louis Latour Grand Ardeche 2004 (France)
Louis Latour Macon Lugny 1990 and 1986 (France)
Louis Latour Meursault 2001 (France)
Rieussec R 1985 (France)
Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1995 (South Africa)
Uitkyk Carlonet 1985 (South Africa)
Chateau de Beaucastel 1993 (France)
Chateau Gruaud Larose 1966 (France)
Champagne Louis Roederer Vintage 2005 (France)
Brice Grand Cru Ay NV (France)
Bouchard Finlayson Tete de Cuvee 2010 (South Africa)
Louis Jadot Beaune Premier Cru 2009 (France)
Guigal Cote Rotie 2000 (France)
Chateau Cheval Blanc 1989 (France)
Malandes Chablis Vaudesir Grand Cru 2010 (France)
Moss Wood Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 1993 (Australia)
Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 (Australia)
Alsace Riesling Reserve Personelle Hugel 1976 (France)
Carmes de Rieussec Sauterne 2007 (France and my wine of the weekend)
KWV 1969 Hanepoot Jerepigo (South Africa)
Maury 1937 (France)

Obviously there were MANY MANY more wines, and to be honest this is a fraction of the wines I enjoyed. Having oddities like a wine from Israel or a Greek Merlot in the mix, just made it more interesting.  We even had a Tassenberg thrown into a Bordeaux line-up!

Christian, Michael & Gary no doubt plotting something…

To give you an idea of what your day looks like, here’s a breakdown of day 2:

08:00 – 09:00 – Chenin Blanc Masterclass
09:00 – 10:00 – White wine and aging
10:00 – 10:15 – Break
10:15 – 12:00 – Red wine and aging
12:00 – 13:00 – Sparkling wine
13:00 – 13:45 – lunch
13:45 – 15:00 – Sparkling wine continued
15:00 – 15:15 – Break
15:15 – 18:15 – Red wine
18:15 – 19:30 – Chardonnay Masterclass
20:00 – Dinner

It’s a long, hectic, information overload kind of day, and by the end of it, everyone was exhausted.

If you are serious about wine, have a look at the next tasting academy. It is held in January each year, and 20 students are selected to attend on application. It did not just change my outlook on wine, it changed my life. Finishing the challenging exam and driving out of the Grande Roche’s premises, we felt like we had accomplished something monumental – I was a changed man.

See Christian Eedes’s account of the weekend