The Six Nations Wine Challenge is a unique show – and a unique event. It is, on the one hand, a great equalizer, though it is equally a great promoter. In its early days, when it existed in parallel to the Tri-Nations Rugby Championship and so only the wines of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were judged, it produced largely predictable results, given the domination of Australasian palates and the very fragile state of the re-born Cape wine industry. As such it was neither newsworthy nor worth the effort of unpacking the results.
However, as it came to incorporate the South American wine industries (which both de-stabilised the regional aesthetic of Australasia and introduced a wider spectrum of flavours and judging categories), and as both New Zealand and South African wines began their steep quality climb, many of the results became less predictable. In terms of overall country rankings very little changed: both Australia and New Zealand offered a vastly greater number of producers and therefore a greater number of possible entries than Argentina, Chile and South Africa. But from the trophy, runner-up and medal perspective, the field was suddenly altogether more level. Anyone willing to mine these results could discover a treasure
trove of fabulous wines, many of which had not existed a decade previously.
This situation prevails today, though with marked changes: the South Americans, beset by their own economic crises, are under-represented, while the North American entry has introduced a wealth of extraordinary and finely made submissions. Suddenly the Six Nations Wine Challenge is truly a New World Wine Competition, a showcase presenting the great and good from the most vibrant wine industries on earth. Those who now unpack its results will easily be able to discover the finest – and best value – wines available for sale anywhere, and will be able to track the dynamic of transformation through the edgiest of the world’s wine producing nations. No serious collector, and certainly no sommelier or Master of Wine student can afford to ignore the results of this competition. The smart money now follows them on an annual basis to see, measure and understand the pace of change in the world of wine.
Today the competition is unrecognisable compared to how it was fifteen years ago. Australian wine is less obviously “sunshine in a bottle,” Kiwi wine is more confident, Cape wine less tentative and the submissions from the Americas – especially but not exclusively in the classes for which they are known beyond their borders – are breathtaking in their intensity and finesse. Who – ten years ago – would have thought that the 2019 show’s best fizz would come from Canada, its best sauvignon from South Africa, its best Pinot from the United States, and its best shiraz from New
Zealand? Who would have thought that Canada would bag more class trophies than any other wine producing nation except the United States, and that its trophy swag would equal the combined haul of Australia and New Zealand? The pace of change is quicker than we realise: we are like passengers hurtling at almost infinite speeds across zero gravity space: we think we are standing still, but once a year we get a chance to sample and quantify the pace of progress, and we are forced to look back and see, as if for the first time, the distance we have traversed.
Michael Fridjhon | South Africa