SA Sommeliers Discover Brandy Excellence at Backsberg Tasting

The fine quality of South African brandy was once again on show with Backsberg Estate Cellars recently hosting the South African Sommeliers Association (SASA). This group, comprising some of South Africa’s leading sommeliers working in the hotel and restaurant industries, took their seats in Backsberg’s atmospheric – if somewhat chilly – vat cellar. A great environment to experience some soul-warming potstill brandies.

The line-up consisted of six brandies: one each from Tokara, Blaauwklippen and Avontuur, while the Backsberg range included the esteemed trio of a 10yr, 15yr and the 26 year old First Distillation.

Danie Pretorius from the South African Brandy Foundation, the industry body responsible for the generic marketing of this category, was on hand to inform the audience of the status of our brandy.

Sales volumes were down over the last 10 years, but have recently stabilised. In the past three years at 30m litres per annum.

“What hasn’t changed is the fact that South Africa continues to win awards for the Best Brandy in the World wherever these competitions are held,” says Pretorius. “Strict regulations in the production of distillation wine, the distilling procedure and wood-maturation has created a culture for quality and excellence.”

This was definitely on show in the line-up the sommeliers had access to. The tasting was led by well-known brandy-maker Kobus Gelderblom, who explained the different procedures called on for tasting and sniffing brandy when compared to wine. No swirling of the glass, as this puts the aromatic esters out of balance. Add a splash of water to loosen up the complexities of this elixir in which over 800 flavour components can be found.

The three Backsberg brandies showed excellently. As Backsberg CEO Simon Back explained, it was the late Sydney Back who paved the way for potstill estate brandies in South Africa by leading the charge for changes to the laws governing distillation in South Africa. The regulations had prohibited distillation one wine estates. However, from 1991, a new era for local brandy production ensued, with Backsberg creating the first potstill estate brandy in this year.

At the tasting all the Backsberg brandies showed a refined structure, the spirit’s depth seamlessly combining with fruit and spice. The 10yr old exuded dried fruit and had a distinct citrus element, while the 15yr brandy showed deeper notes of spice and dark chocolate.

At 26 years of age, Backsberg’s iconic First Distillation brought a respectful silence to the tasting table. Dreamily soft and unctuous on the palate, this brandy had lingering flavours of fruit, cigar-box, earth and wild flowers, with a lengthy finish that made one wish the brandy glass were deeper.

Tinashe Nyumadok from SASA said that the tasting reminded the sommeliers that brandy is one of the jewels in the South African wine industry. “These are truly world class products that deserve greater attention from the hospitality industries,” he said. “There is diversity – in the composition of the products themselves as well as in the stories behind them. As members of SASA we will do our level best to make our customers aware of this fantastic category.”


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