Cape Town, South Africa – Every year, South African Airways (SAA) convenes a panel of leading winemakers and sommeliers to choose the wines served on-board its aircraft in the coming 12 months. This year, the process began on 25 August and culminated in a media and industry briefing on 27 August at the Nederburg Wine Estate in Stellenbosch.
At the briefing, the panel of 12 judges reported back on the more than 800 wines they have tasted over the past two days, and answered questions.
“The annual wine selection is one of SAA’s most hallowed traditions and one that we—and the industry—take seriously. SAA is a showcase for South Africa on many fronts, not least of them our excellent local wines,” says Bongi Sodladla, SAA Senior Food & Beverage Manager and Sommelier, who leads the process. “The judges’ report-back acts as a ‘state of the wine nation’, and provides an opportunity to give an assessment of where our wine industry is at present.”
The judges’ selection of approximately 60 wines will be announced at an awards ceremony on 1 November 2014.
Aside from Sodladla herself, this year’s panel included eight women and four men—a gender division that reflects the fact that the selection process traditionally takes place in August, women’s month. This year, Sodladla secured a mix of wine-makers and sommeliers to gain the perfect balance between technical expertise and the pairing of food and wine.
Sodladla has also put together a panel with strong African roots, complemented by international expertise from the husband-and-wife team of John and Petronella Salvi, who are based in France. Petronella Salvi, however, was born in South Africa.
“All the judges are experts in the field and most have worked with us before. Experience is important because a wine’s characteristics are exaggerated at high altitudes, something that has to be part of the selection process,” Sodladla notes. “Pairing the right wines with the right food is an integral part of the travel experience on SAA.”
The logistical process of the tasting is coordinated by Bennie Howard, well-known Cape Wine Master. What is clear is that a flight ticket with SAA also includes a selection of the best vintages the Cape Winelands have to offer.
South African Airways is a Star Alliance member that offers flights to 38 destinations worldwide. Domestically, SAA operates 544 flights a week between Johannesburg – Cape Town, Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth. Regionally SAA offers 24 destinations across the African continent and its international network creates links to all major continents from South Africa through 10 direct routes. In the regional category, SAA has received the Skytrax ‘Best Airline in Africa’ Award for 11 consecutive years.