Some wines are better than others! It’s as simple as that!

THE TRUTH WILL OUT! On 1 October, the Excelsior wine estate outside Ashton in the Robertson district posted an article under the headline “How important is winning medals?” (to read in full, click here). On 2 October, freelance writer and professional wine judge Christian Eedes posted an article under the headline “Bling it on – the relative merits of wine competitions” (to read in full, click here). By 3 October there must have been plenty of readers wondering what Excelsior and Eedes were on about…

Every now and then there will be wine producers who take a swipe at certain wine assessment forums – or all of them – when they feel hard done by. And every now and then there will be wine critics who call into question the validity or importance of ratings awarded by judging panels – although it’s surprising when the call comes from a member of various panels, somebody who also organises his own competitions involving judging panels that he chairs.

According to Excelsior: “Most competitions are ‘sighted tastings’ where the judgement about the contents of the bottle will naturally be influenced by the reputation of the winery which produced it.”
Not true. Most wine competitions are based on ‘blind tastings’ – which means, as Excelsior later points out, that the judges “must make their assessment based on the contents of the glass rather than any preconceived ideas…”
Excelsior: “In the blind tastings, certain styles of wines tend to perform better… because they can make their presence felt amongst the throng”.
Well yes, certain styles – including really good ones – tend to stand out more than others. But no, not all wines that stand out on the basis of style perform better – some fare worse because of it, when they’re less attractive.
Excelsior: “Very ripe and oaky red wines do well, as do herbaceous, acidic Sauvignon Blancs and flamboyant, oaky, buttery Chardonnays.”
In fact, however, wines that show too much of a particular character and which are over-the-top in some way usually do less well in blind tastings.
Excelsior: “Anything controversial gets weeded out” when judged by a panel.
Not true. A panel of experienced judges can result in a controversial wine faring better than it would if assessed by an individual with an aversion to whatever characteristic is controversial. Tasters tend to reward interesting wines, including unusual surprises, although ‘controversial’ can often equate to ‘oops’.
Excelsior: “Non-decorated wine may well be really delicious but it just didn’t stand out in the competition… The wines which do battle their way to the winner’s podium are not necessarily to your/the consumer’s taste.”
Come again? Surely “delicious” will prevail. Surely, for the most part, what tastes good or not-so-good to the expert will taste good or not-so-good to the layman…
According to Christian Eedes: wine is a “goods category” that is “difficult to understand”.
For most of us, it’s about whether you like it or not, and if you like it then how much do you like it. To many wine enthusiasts, the product is special but only as complicated as you choose to make it. Star ratings, medals and trophies are meaningful to novice and connoisseur alike – albeit for some mainly as benchmarks against which to compare personal preferences.
Eedes: “What different sets of rankings achieve is to keep the wine industry fluid with no entrenched hierarchy… When it comes to interpreting results consumers are well advised to look for general trends rather than treating a single rating of an individual wine as absolute.”
Whereas there is most certainly a hierarchy in terms of particular wines that perform well more often than others – they might not win every time, and the hierarchy might well change from one decade or generation to another, but there are those that tend to be regular recipients when it comes to high scores and have impressive track records relative to other products on the shelf.
Who would argue with the following, given in alphabetical order, based on blind-tasting results over the past 10 years?
Top 10 SA Chardonnay wines include those from The Bergkelder/Fleur du Cap, Chamonix, Hamilton Russell, Jordan, Mulderbosch
Top 10 SA Chenin Blanc wines include those from DGB/Bellingham, Kanu, Ken Forrester, Spier
Top 10 SA Sauvignon Blanc wines include those from The Bergkelder/Fleur du Cap, Cape Point, Graham Beck, Steenberg, Vergelegen
Top 10 SA Semillon wines include those from The Bergkelder/Fleur du Cap, Cape Point, Constantia Uitsig, Steenberg, Stellenzicht
Top 10 SA White Blends include those from The Bergkelder/Fleur du Cap, Cape Point, Sadie, Tokara, Vergelegen
Top 10 Cap Classique sparkling wines include those from Graham Beck, JC Le Roux/Pongrácz, Simonsig, Villiera
Top 10 SA Cabernet Sauvignon wines include those from Boekenhoutskloof, Kanonkop, Rustenberg, Thelema
Top 10 SA Merlot wines include those from The Bergkelder/Fleur du Cap, Hartenberg, Thelema
Top 10 SA Pinot Noir wines include those from Bouchard Finlayson, Chamonix, Hamilton Russell
Top 10 Pinotage wines include those from Diemersfontein, Kanonkop, Rijk’s, Simonsig, Spier
Top 10 SA Shiraz wines include those from Boekenhoutskloof, Bon Courage, Cederberg, Raka, Simonsig, Stellenzicht, Waterford/Kevin Arnold
Top 10 SA Red Blends include those from De Toren, Ernie Els, Kaapzicht, Kanonkop, Rust en Vrede, Sadie
Top 10 SA Dessert Wines include those from The Bergkelder/Fleur du Cap, Klein Constantia, Nederburg, Nuy
Top 10 SA Port Wines include those from Axe Hill, Boplaas, De Krans

Enough already!