Top 100 SA wines? Well, not quite

The latest competition for South African wines – and perhaps the most widely unwelcomed in the media in advance, for right and wrong reasons – announced its results at a function on 19 April. One hundred wines had been chosen out of a just-about respectable 390 valid entries. They are presented without any internal hierarchy – just an alphabetical list (from Aaldering to Zorgvliet; see the full list below), with no scores attached. That is, the judges’ task was to elimate just under three out of each four bottles.

Looking positively at it all (and I’m afraid I’m always a competition sceptic, and more convinced by the problems), the 100 winners are mostly good wines, though there are a few that one wonders about – but there always are anomalies in such competitions. Personally, I think it much more sensible to offer a bank of winners like this, rather than parcelling out medals and rankings, which just tend, too often, to point to the problem of odd judgements. And certainly most of the winning producers will prefer this system. (The also-ran wines are always carefully catered for by organisers, who never mention them – this competition abides by that universal bit of organiser cynicism: don’t reveal the losers, it makes producers unhappy!)

And, going by what various judges have told me, Top 100 was clearly a well-organised and happy event. Panel chair Tim Atkin is quoted as saying that “Top 100 SA wines is one of the most exciting projects I have ever been involved with, setting new standards of professionalism and integrity for the Cape wine industry” (which is surely somewhat excessive, and grossly unfair to, for example, the Trophy Wine Show – but I should think he’ll be invited back next year, wouldn’t you?).

On the basis of what it has produced in its inaugural year, I should also think owner/organiser Robin von Holdt will be well satisfied, and feel entitled to expect a better entry next year.

Presumably some of the strange inclusions in the Top 100 list are because of the fairly small number of entries, but some of the inclusions and presumed exclusions are odd. Not a single Pinot Noir, though nine were apparently entered, and would presumably have included those of Bouchard Finlayson and Paul Cluver. The idea that those wines are not superior to some of the actual winners is baffling, even if you don’t think SA pinots are that great (but are our merlots that great? – not the Creation and Slaley ones, in my opinion, which are on the list, and which I tasted at the launch function).

And (also presumably), Steenberg would have entered the esteemed Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, if not the Magna Carta – but it was the pretty modest Steenberg HMS Rattlesnake which the judges chose.

Top-performing producers were Saronsberg and Cederberg; between them they apparently produce one tenth of the top 100 wines in the country.

Incidentally, an overview of the winners shows a pretty equal distribution between white and red: 46 white (plus seven bubblies and dessert wines) versus 43 red (plus four ports). The white triumph is more marked, however, when you learn from the statistics supplied in the book that there were vastly more red than white table wines entered – 222 as opposed to 143!

Of the whites, chenin was the easy leader, which is nice, followed by sauvignon and then chardonnay. The reds were led pretty equally by cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, and Bordeaux-style blends.

So to the real problems

The main problem is what the main problem was always going to be: the name of the competition, and the words that appear on the cover of the book. They come nowhere near expressing the truth. Which is a polite way of saying it’s a lie: these are by a very long distance not the top 100 South African wines. Just to list the most obvious absentees, it is nonsense to call your book this, when the non-appearances include Ataraxia, Boekenhoutskloof, Chamonix, De Toren, De Trafford, Eagles’ Nest, Haskell, Kanonkop, Meerlust, Morgenster, Sadie, Vergelegen and Waterford – a list which could be augmented by at least as many again famous names.

The list of a Top 100 that Angela Lloyd drew up for Grape from the votes of nine industry professionals recently (see here) is obviously not definitive by any means, but it does provide a useful measure for comparison. Of the ten wines that ALL nine Grape panellists voted for, only three are represented here. Of the producers in Angela’s list, 48 (by my rough count) did NOT enter this competition, while just 23 did.

Is it a problem that wines of the two South African winemaker-judges came through? And that all the winemakers on Robin von Holdt’s absurdly named “Wine Industry Executive” were also represented amongst the winners? Perhaps it is a problem for the “professionalism and integrity” that so enthused Tim Atkin – and I say that in sincere confidence that the winemakers didn’t judge their own wines, and that Tim’s chairing and integrity would have been beyond reproach. But in the absence of any mention on the website or the press release of any independent auditors, it is going to make some eyebrows rise. (I will follow up the question of an independent audit as soon as possible.)


The book

The book-of-the-show will apparently only be available in the first week of May. At R149, it’s something of a disappointment, in fact. Apart from nice maps, a fragment of industry information, some background stuff about the competition itself, and a little this and that, it is devoted to presenting the winning 100 wines. Two pages for each (the book is about as wide as Platter, but a little taller, and thinner), including a picture of the label, and some widely-spaced information about the winery and the wine, to accompany the judges’ and winemaker’s comments about the wine. But a trifle oddly, amongst the welter of information, the acidity and residual sugar levels of the wines (important info for geeks!) is absent.

I most enjoyed, I’m afraid, the statistics and logistics about the competition – from the number of entries that were “declined” (15 of them – why? something else to follow up), to the number of water biscuits consumed (3600). Fascinatingly there were only 40 faulty wines, of which corked wine counted for 23; only four had brett, which is cheering. But none at all, apparently, showed the notorious burnt rubber, which, given that Tim Atkin and Sam Harrop were involved – both famous accusers of South African wine being full of that nasty character – is extraordinary. If we didn’t have Tim’s assurance about the integrity of the whole business, I’d have thought it was a bit of a misrepresentation!

The winners of the Top 100 SA Wines competition

  • Aaldering Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2007
  • Allèe Bleue Isabeau 2010
  • Anwilka 2008
  • Badenhorst Family Wines Red 2007
  • Bergsig Estate Cape LBV 2000
  • Bon Courage Jacques Bruére Brut Blanc de Blancs 2007
  • Boschendal Cecil John Reserve Shiraz 2008
  • Boschendal Reserve Collection Chardonnay 2009
  • Bosman Family Vineyards Optenhorst Chenin Blanc 2009
  • Bosman Family Vineyards Pinotage 2009
  • Bouchard Finlayson Kaaimansgat Limited Edition Chardonnay 2009
  • Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh 2009
  • Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh 2010
  • Cederberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2006
  • Cederberg Sauvignon Blanc 2010
  • Cederberg Shiraz 2008
  • Constantia Uitsig Brut 2007
  • Creation Merlot 2009
  • Creation Syrah Grenache 2009
  • David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Cederberg)
  • David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner Semillon 2009 (Cederberg)
  • De Grendel Rubaiyat 2007
  • De Krans Cape Tawny Port NV
  • De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve Port 2008
  • De Morgenzon Chen Blanc 2007
  • Diemersdal Eight Rows Sauvignon Blanc 2010
  • Diemersdal Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010
  • Dornier Wines Donatus Red 2007
  • Edgebaston Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
  • Flagstone Dark HorseShiraz 2007
  • Flagstone Treaty Tree Reserve 2010
  • Glenelly Grand Vin de Glenelly 2007
  • Glenelly Lady May 2008
  • Graham Beck Pheasants’ Run Sauvignon Blanc 2010
  • Graham Beck Bowed Head Chenin Blanc 2009
  • Graham Beck The Ridge Syrah 2006
  • Groot Constantia Shiraz 2008
  • Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2010
  • Hawksmoor at Matjieskuil Saint Alfege’s 2008
  • Hermanuspietersfontein Nr. 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2009
  • Jordan Chardonnay 2009
  • Jordan Chenin Blanc 2009
  • Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2010
  • Klein Constantia Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
  • Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2006
  • L’Avenir Grand Vin Chenin Blanc 2008
  • La Motte Pierneef Shiraz Viognier 2008
  • Le Riche Cabernet Reserve 2007
  • Longridge Chardonnay 2008
  • Miles Mossop Wines Saskia 2009
  • Mulderbosch Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2007
  • Mvemve Raats de Compostella 2007
  • Nick & Forti’s Shiraz 2006 (Saronsberg)
  • Nick & Forti’s Viognier 2008 (Saronsberg)
  • Neethlingshof Estate The Owl Post 2009
  • Oldenburg Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2008
  • Oldenburg Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
  • Oldenburg Vineyards Syrah 2008
  • Overgaauw Cape Vintage Port 1998
  • Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2009
  • Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2010
  • Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc 2010
  • Quoin Rock Nicobar 2009
  • Quoin Rock Oculus 2007
  • Raka Biography Shiraz 2008
  • Rickety Bridge The Bridge 2008 (Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Rijk’s Private Cellar Chenin Blanc Reserve 2007
  • Rijk’s Private Cellar Pinotage Reserve 2007
  • Rijk’s Private Cellar Touch of Oak Chenin Blanc 2009
  • Rustenberg John X Merriman 2008
  • Rustenberg Peter Barlow 2007
  • Saronsberg Full Circle 2008
  • Saronsberg Provenance Rooi 2009
  • Saronsberg Shiraz 2008
  • Saxenburg Private Collection Shiraz 2006
  • Simonsig Chenin Avec Chêne 2009
  • Simonsig Cuvée Royale 2005 Brut
  • Simonsig Frans Malan 2005
  • Simonsig Pinotage Redhill 2007
  • Slaley Merlot 2006
  • Spier Private Collection Chenin Blanc 2009
  • Stark-Condè Wines Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
  • Steenberg HMS Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc 2010
  • Steenberg Vineyards Semillon 2010
  • Stellenrust 46 Chenin Blanc 2010
  • Sumaridge Wines Maritimus 2009
  • Teddy Hall Wines Blanc de Blancs 2005 Brut
  • Teddy Hall Wines Chenin Blanc Reserve 2009
  • The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2009 (DGB)
  • The Bernard Series Whole Bunch Grenache/Viognier 2010 (DGB)
  • Tokara Director’s Reserve Red 2007
  • Tokara Director’s Reserve White 2009
  • Tormentoso Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2010 (MAN Vintners)
  • Tormentoso Syrah & Mourvedre 2009 (MAN Vintners)
  • Uva Mira Red Blend 2006
  • Vondeling Babiana 2008
  • Vuurberg Wines White 2010
  • Webersburg Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
  • Zorgvliet Five-Thirty-Five 2010 (Sauvignon Blanc)
  • Zorgvliet Sauvignon Blanc 2010


For further details see the competition website.

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