TOPS at Spar Johannesburg Wine Tasting Champion Nkululeko Mkhwanazi
TOPS at Spar Johannesburg Wine Tasting Champion Nkululeko Mkhwanazi

#TheWineShow: Meet Joburg's Wine Tasting Champion

By Partnered Time of article published Jul 9, 2019

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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.

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