Classic winners classic wines? Yes and no

The visiting French judges were on possibly their best behaviour at this year’s awards evening of the Classic Wine Trophy. (See here my earnest colonial distaste for last year’s Gallic exuberance!) Last Friday evening they were not consistently quite comme il faut, but pretty civilised on the whole. And the owner and organiser of the competition, Christophe Durand (who makes three eminently chic local wines – a chardonnay, a chenin-based blend and a shiraz – under the Vins d’Orrance label), well Christophe was, as always, a handsome and suave example of sophisticated, witty French savoir faire.

But the wines, what of the wines? The idea behind the competition is that the all-French panel of judges will, with their magnificent noses trained on the wines of what its still undoubtedly the greatest wine-producing country on earth, resolutely reject the over-oaked, over-ripe monstrosities and pick out wines of great elegance and subtilité, not to mention raffinement and delicatesse. Did they? Well, yes and no. As usual.

They awarded seventeen gold medals (that seems to be a limit they work to), and most of them were at least plausible – though it was noticeable that the weight of numbers went to red wines, against the opinion of most reputable local critics, who fancy Cape whites more.

And in fact, the whites were very good, particularly the Chardonnays, and particularly the excellent examples from Vergelegen and Hamilton Russell. The Glen Carlou Quartz Stone showed a great deal of oak – but some people, even eminent Frenchmen (and they were all men this year), like that sort of thing.

Amongst the reds, the two pinot noirs, from Paul Cluver and Chamonix, stood out handsomely. Both very good; at my table there was some debate about which was the better of the two – on the night I preferred the Paul Cluver Seven Flags, primarily because it’s lower alcohol gave a more graceful balance. And I admired the La Motte Pierneef Shiraz more than some did. The Pinotages from Groot Constantia and, particularly, Southern Right were also thought deserving winners at our table.

We rather scratched our heads, however, at the Druk My Niet cabernet, which seemed a fairly standard warm-country wine of no great distinction, and the cab-based blend from Thelema – defininitely cooler-climate (Elgin), though with big alcohol and no compensating concentration. And Raka Biography seems more of a typical medal winner than a classic wine. (The Port which won the sweet wine trophy was unfortunately served virtually tepid, which didn’t do it any favours at all, and made even late-evening judgment impossible.)

One of the advantages (for organisers) of results like this, with just a short list of winners, is that it’s not discernible which wines are being overlooked. If you sit next to André van Rensburg of Vergelegen, though, you do discover that his excellent red flagship blend was entered, and then you wonder how some of these others could have shouldered it out of the way. (The brilliant 2009 Vergelegen White blend was also entered in vain, but that wine is still only starting to emerge and it might take a panel of super-Frenchmen to recognise its quality in amongst a big line-up.)

But on the whole, as well as offering the winning winemakers, the judges, and a handful of pernickety media people a happy evening at the Taj Hotel in Cape Town, the Classic Wine Trophy produced some excellent wines on its list of winners. Four of them were from Groot Constantia, which became the overall winner, and its likeable winemaker Boela Gerber won a trip to – where else could it be but France?



  • Groot Constantia


  • Teddy Hall Wines Blanc de Blanc 2005


  • Groot Constantia Gouverneurs Chardonnay 2009


  • Groot Constantia Shiraz 2008


  • Quinta do Sul Vintage Port 2008


  • Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2010
  • Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay 2009
  • Glen Carlou Quartz Stone Chardonnay 2009
  • Vergelegen Reserve Chardonnay 2009 Continued…/


  • Raka Biography Shiraz 2008
  • La Motte Pierneef (Shiraz/Viognier) 2008
  • Paul Cluver Seven Flags Pinot Noir 2008
  • Cape Chamonix Pinot Noir 2008
  • Druk My Niet Find Art School Collection (Cabernet Sauvignon) 2009
  • Warwick Wine Trilogy (Bordeaux Blend) 2007
  • Thelema Sutherland (Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot) 2008
  • Groot Constantia Pinotage 2009
  • Southern Right Pinotage 2009

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