Christine Austin looks back on memorable trips to South Africa, Chile, France and Spain in a busy 2015.

Another year rolls in, bringing with it new tastes and new challenges, but before we really get started with 2016, here are some of my drinking highlights of 2015.
As always, the most outstanding trip of the year was the one I made with the winners of the Fiendish Wine Quiz. Liz Szwarc and her partner Trevor were the lucky winners of a fantastic trip to South Africa, courtesy of Accolade Wines, who are the people behind brands such as Flagstone, Kumala and Fish Hoek.
There were so many highlights of this trip including the cable car ride up Table Mountain, the cheetah reserve and the sailing boat trip round Table Bay but the real treat had to be the trip out to the vineyards. Just an hour’s drive from Cape Town, we were in the middle of a steep vineyard, at around 540 metres altitude, where there is enough breeze to keep temperatures down and allow the grapes to ripen slowly. This was the source of grapes for Flagstone’s Music Room (Asda Wine Shop £14.97). Bruce Jack, founder of Flagstone, now part of Accolade’s portfolio, took us through the range, each wine distinct for its style, source of grapes and depth of flavour. Corking Wines in York has a fine selection of Flagstone wines.
One aspect of Accolade that I had not realised before this trip is just how much they support the local population, in particular the pre-school children in the nearby Kayamandi township. Here Accolade has built a new school for 120 pre-primary children. Accolade doesn’t shout about its good work, but maybe we should. Kumala wines are available from Morrisons, and the Merlot Cabernet Shiraz blend is down from £8 to £5 until January 10, and is well worth a taste.
South Africa was on my itinerary again in August when I swapped summer clothes for woollies and a coat to judge the Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Awards in Stellenbosch. With fellow judges from Israel, New Zealand, India, New York and all points around the globe, this was an opportunity to sharpen my taste buds and compare notes. Top wines from this competition included Flagstone’s Writer’s Block (Corking Wines £15.49); Bon Courage Inkara Shiraz 2013 (Drinks Well, Ripon, £19.95); Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay (Waitrose £9.99) and Rustenberg Five Soldiers Chardonnay (Field & Fawcett £27.95).
No sooner had I unpacked my jumpers than I was packing them again for a trip to Chile to judge another international competition, the Catad’Or. Just in case you think this is a glamorous way of spending a few days, let me enlighten you. We sat in a windowless room for several days judging wines with the added interest of a TV crew filming each sip and slurp. The top winners were Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, (The Wright Wine Co £12); Casas Del Bosque Syrah Gran Reserva 2012 (Halifax Wine Co £12.95) and Casa Silva Carmenère Reserva 2013 (Field & Fawcett £9.60).
The real treat after judging was to head to Maule, around four hours’ drive south of Santiago. This is the home of many century-old vines, some of which are the old variety País Planted on their own roots, long-lived and disease-resistant, they produce a few bunches of grapes each year, which have generally gone into local wine, but now there is a new idea. Because País can manage to grow without the help of miles of irrigation pipes that wind their way around newer vineyards, it is thought they might play a role in modern winemaking.
I tasted several wines, some from the País variety and some from old vineyards of Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Carignan, and all of them have character, depth of flavour and a new style. Latitude in Leeds has stocks of the vibrant red berry-filled Garage Wines Cabernet Franc 2912 (£19.99) and the darker, spice-edged Carignan (£21.99). If you would like to try the light, almost Gamay flavours of País, Torres Chile Reserva de Pueblo 2013 (Hoults £9.99) is the one to buy.
Not all my trips have been long-haul and it is sometimes the thrill of a short visit to a vineyard that brings back memories and flavours. I had forgotten just how enjoyable the fresh, lively, cherry-filled flavours of Saumur-Champigny are in summer. A quick visit to Penedès in Spain took me to the vineyards and wineries devoted to making cava. I was genuinely surprised how much cava has improved in recent years.
This year I shall enjoy spending time at Gonzalez Byass in Spain with the winner of the 2015 Fiendish Quiz and I will invite a keen wine taster to join me for the International Wine Challenge. I also look forward to seeing many of you at various food and drink festivals in York, Leeds and Malton.

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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