Decanter Awards add to the merry confusion

If all you want as a producer is a gold sticker to help you sell your wine, you have no real problem – as long as you have enough money for entrance fees in your marketing kitty. Enter enough competitions and the chances are that one or other set of those long-deliberating panels – sniffing and swirling and spitting – will deliver the goods for you. Then all you do is forget about the big blind tastings in which you bombed and talk up the big blind tastings in which you do well. (And think with generous pleasure of the vast amounts of profits raked in by the owners and organisers of big blind tasting competitions, and realise that you’re in the wrong business.)

I happily agree that, in the impossible task of plausibly ranking wines, there are some virtues as well as problems in big blind tastings, just as there are in small sighted ones. The main virtue is that they can highlight the virtues of some wines whose modest reputations might prejudice sighted tasters. I’m generally more welcoming of that when it happens than I am when wines with a long-established reputation get trashed. So I’m inclined to think it probably a mistake when the latest vintage of Vergelegen White doesn’t even get a medal on this year’s Trophy Wine Show (TWS), having previously always got gold; and when Kanonkop and Morgenster get also-ran results or worse.

But I’m pleased to be reminded, as I was when tasting it earlier this evening, that Vrede en Lust Mocholate Malbec is a pretty respectable wine, even though I think the TWS was a bit excessive in giving it a gold medal. When we tasted it sighted for Grape earlier this year, Cathy van Zyl and I scored it 14.5/20 and Angela Lloyd and Ingrid Motteux gave it 13.5. I felt inclined to give it 15.5 this evening (insisting of course that six months in the bottle had done it a world of good!).  I don’t know how Cathy and Angela reacted to it at the TWS judging, or if indeed they judged it before it got to the final line-up of golds, which all the judges tasted. The point, of course, is that the judges were then tasting it somewhere in the middle of a more-or-less big line-up, and when their palates were (possibly, surely) more-or-less tired.

But this is a well-trodden path. Back to the task for wine marketers. I should think the producers of Dunstone Shiraz 2008 will more than once casually mention in public that the TWS gave their wine a gold (and that Platter gave it five stars, raising it from three stars for the previous vintage, incidentally, which says something about the possibility of sighted tasters being open-minded!). They are less likely to mention that the Decanter World Wine Awards (their results were announced earlier today, 18 May) gave it a bronze. Exactly the same split happened for KWV Mentors Semillon 2008 (I’m on the Decanter side in this one, and on the TWS side for the Dunstone). Zonnebloem Laureat got a TWS gold and didn’t even make it to a bronze for Decanter (it got a “Commended” certificate.

The list of Decanter trophies and gold medals for South African wine is appended below. (You can get all the results from the Decanter website, even though the relevant part sternly says “Results now live – STRICTLY TRADE ONLY”.) Apart from the usual curiosities, which might well turn into the welcome genuine discoveries I mentioned, the list of winners is reasonably plausible, with some rather iffy ones, I’d have thought.

How would this list work for you as a list of winners?:

  • Constantia Glen 2007
  • Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2009
  • Jordan Cobblers Hill 2006
  • Jordan Nine Yards Chardonnay 2008
  • Ken Forrester The FMC 2008
  • Meerlust Estate Pinot Noir 2008
  • Nederburg Ingenuity White 2009
  • Rustenberg Five Soldiers 2008
  • Rustenberg John X Merriman 2007

Bad luck. In fact, these wines were all along with Laureat in the dregs of the awards, getting sub-bronze Commendeds. Together with a handsome bunch from La Motte, the 2009 Sauvignons from Lomond, various Fleur du Cap Unfiltered wines, etc, etc.

A case of brilliant blind tasting justly demolishing established reputations? Or something a little more dreary – like getting things very wrong? I think I’d prefer to take my pick from the above list of also-rans rather than from the list of trophies and golds. And I suspect I’d be joined in that position by a number of people who loudly proclaim the ineffable virtues of these big blind-tasting competitions.


Results from the Decanter World Wine Awards

Regional trophies

  • South African White Blend over £10 : Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh 2008
  • South African Red Bordeaux Varietal over £10: Da Capo Vineyards Idiom Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Cabernet Franc 2006
  • South African White Single Varietal over £10: De Heuvel Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2009
  • South African Chardonnay under £10: Glenwood Vigneron’s Selection Chardonnay 2008
  • South Africa Red Rhone Varietal under £10: Kleine Zalze Shiraz Mourvedre Viognier 2009
  • South African Red Single Varietal over £10: Oak Valley Pinot Noir 2008
  • South African Sweet over £10: Paul Cluver Weisser Riesling Noble Late Harvest 2009
  • South African Red Rhone Varietal over £10: Robertson Winery Constitution Road Shiraz 2006
  • South African Chardonnay over £10: Uva Mira Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2008

Other gold medals:


  • Amani Vineyards Chardonnay 2008
  • Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh 2009
  • Dieu Donné Shiraz 2007
  • Doolhof Wine Estate Signatures Of Doolhof Malbec 2008
  • Escapades Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
  • Fairview Cyril Back Shiraz 2007 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 2008
  • KWV The Mentors Shiraz 2008
  • Meerendal Bin 159 Shiraz 2006
  • Nederburg Private Bin R121 Shiraz 2006
  • Nederburg Private Bin R163 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
  • Rijk’s Estate Syrah 2007
  • Rust En Vrede Single Vineyard Syrah 2007
  • Spier Private Collection Shiraz 2007
  • Stellenrust 44 Chenin Blanc 2008

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