TOPS at Spar Johannesburg Wine Tasting Champion Nkululeko Mkhwanazi
It was chardonnay that awakened the wine tasting skills of TOPS at Spar  Johannesburg Wine Tasting Champion Nkululeko Mkhwanazi, who
discovered his love of wine and his tasting skills at the University of Cape  Town Wine Society in 2002. 

He says, “I was attending weekly tastings, and I  will never forget when I first picked up the aromas and flavours of wine. It  was a chardonnay tasting.”

Mkhwanazi is a Creation Wine Brand Ambassador responsible for Gauteng,  KZN and Africa, and also sells Riedel varietal specific glassware and  Reciprocal Wines, a range of international wines.

Wine Tasting Championships at TOPS at Spar Wine Show

The SA Wine Tasting Championship (SAWTC) is convened by Jean-Vincent  Ridon, "The Flying Sommelier" and gives amateur and professional wine  tasters the opportunity to put their tasting talents to the test. This year the  SAWTC is hosted at the TOPS at SPAR Wine Show in Durban, Johannesburg  and Cape Town (with only Cape Town still to happen). 

Wine tasting  champions have the chance to be among the lucky few to travel to France  to compete in the World Blind Wine Tasting Championships in October.

Mkhwanazi, who grew up in Umlazi, Westville and Hillcrest in the Durban  area, attended UCT “where the wine bug bit”. He studied Politics
Philosophy and Economics, and then obtained a Wine Diploma at The Cape  Wine Academy.

Wine tasting takes time – and many different wines

He says his wine tasting skills developed over years. “There isn’t a single  formula for skilled wine tasting. It takes time, dedication and tasting  different tasting wines. Durban-based Highway Wine Society was really  influential; that’s where I was exposed to local and international wines,  young and old, and that’s where I tasted some amazing wines that I would  not have otherwise tasted.” 

Mkhwanazi adds that the Michael Fridjhon  Wine Judging Academy was influential in his development as a wine judge.  “2011 was a turning point in my career. I passed with distinction at the  Wine Judging Academy and was then invited to be an associate judge at the  Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show for four years, and in 2015 I was one of six  local judges. I’m delighted that this wonderful journey as a judge  continues.”

In May this year, Mkhwanazi had his international judging debut at the  Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in Aigle, Switzerland. He was one of five
South African judges among 300 from around the world. “This was an  incredible experience, and we also had the opportunity to tour, taste and
learn about Swiss wines.”

“TOPS at Spar Wine Show is great”

Winning the TOPS at Spar SAWTC in Johannesburg in June is another wine- tasting highlight in Mkhwanazi’s life. He says: “The SAWTC and the Wine  Show were great – in fact, it was the biggest TOPS at Spar Wine Show I have seen. I was impressed by the diversity of the wines at the show, which  featured new wineries and some premium brands that don’t usually do  wine shows.”

Previous wine tasting wins for Mkhwanazi include 5th place in the SA Wine  Tasting Championships in 2017 when he travelled with the team as a
substitute to Burgundy. “Tasting Burgundy in Burgundy and seeing famous  vineyards like Romanée-Conti and Échezeaux was very special. On the same  trip we visited Champagne, Germany Mosel and Rheingau – unforgettable.”

South African wines improving

Referring to South African wines, Mkhwanazi says that what makes them  special in general is quality and exceptional value for money. “The quality of  SA wines has improved in leaps and bounds, and the wine world is starting  to see the country as new world producer of quality wines. We also have a  new guard of young winemakers, our ‘Young Guns’, who are producing  exceptional wines.”

Mkhwanazi’s favourite variety is chenin. “Chenin rocks and I’m a big fan.  We make some exceptional examples across all price brackets.” 

His  inspiration in the industry is wine supremo Michael Fridjhon. “He has  played a huge role in my career, and what he doesn’t know about wine you  don’t need to know. Its always special to be in Michael’s company.”

SAWTC in Cape Town

The TOPS at Spar SAWTC continues in Cape Town.  Ridon says:  “The search is on for wine tasters with natural or cultivated talent –  potential wine tasting champions need only bring their palates. Over the  last few years, our search has uncovered an interesting assortment of  people from all walks of life in South Africa, some of whom are rising to  great heights in this amazing industry.”

How it works

Cape Town is the final chance to be a SAWTC in 2019. Simply register at the  SAWTC stand at the TOPS at SPAR Wine Show at GrandWest from 11 to 13 July  and step up to taste up to 30 shortlisted wines on show at  Thursday, Friday or Saturday sessions.

SAWTC local competitions take place on the Saturday evening in each  location where participants will be required to identify six wines "blind"
from the shortlisted SAWTC selection.

Winners from Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town will be invited to  participate in the national SAWTC final to be staged in Cape Town on 21
July 2019.  

The four best finalists will be selected to join Team South Africa  to travel to France to compete in The World Blind Wine Tasting  Championships in October 2019. 

Twenty-eight countries will participate to the world  blind tasting at Chateau of Chambord in the Loire Valley. The World Blind  Tasting Championships have been organised by La Revue du Vin France  since 2013.

The ‘Winederland’ tour continues

The TOPS at SPAR ‘Winederland’ Tour is South Africa’s largest travelling  wine show. After Cape Town, it goes to Port Elizabeth from July 25 to 27, Pretoria from October 3 to 5, East London from November 7 to 9, and  finally to Nelspruit from November 28 to 30.

To visit the TOPS at SPAR Wine Show in Cape Town at GrandWest from 11  to 13 July 2019, book your tickets here using "IOL" as the Promo code and  get an exclusive 30% off general admission tickets.