Some wine recommendations mean more than others… Plain and simple!

WINE AWARDS, ratings, reviews, recommendations. They needn’t be complicated or controversial, however it helps to know what you’re dealing with in distinguishing between pretty darn useful, somewhat interesting, and just a waste of time… Some folk get into a froth over whose opinions count most – besides your own that is – and some troubled souls even question whether wines should be rated at all by anybody other than themselves. On one hand it has to do with context. On the other it’s about the scoring system and how the scores are presented. The desire to compare all manner of things is innate – people generally love the idea of competition, if only to argue about the outcome. Which is why Top Wine SA looks for consensus among the experts over time and in various forums, preferring the results of respected panel tastings to individual assessments, conducted without the judges knowing the names of the wines, where they come from or the prices. It’s also why we’re relaxed about there being a number of great wines and cellars of whatever kind at any given time, rather than insisting that there can be only one.

In every major wine market there are critics with considerable followings in their individual capacities. In the UK, these include Jancis Robinson, Tim Atkin, Oz Clarke, Hugh Johnson, Jamie Goode, Anthony Rose, Andrew Jefford, Robert Joseph and quite a few others. In the USA, the most influential wine recommendations include those in the online and print versions of Robert Parker and The Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, whose reviews of South African wines are by Neal Martin, James Molesworth and Lauren Buzzeo respectively. Whereas South Africa’s leading wine commentators when it comes to their own assessments are ‘Wine Wizard’ Michael Fridjhon, Tim James (Grape) and’s Christian Eedes. All of these professional tasters’ opinions can be interesting and some of our personal tastes may well be in line with some of theirs. But none of their reviews conducted solo count towards the SA Wine and Cellar Classifications.

Also in every major wine market there are challenges, competitions, shows, championships, awards and guides involving taste-offs that vary in size, focus and procedures. They culminate in ratings or awards that range from trophies and medals of one sort or another to 20- and 100-point scoring systems. Definitions of the accolades differ, either bracketing groups of wines according to quality and interest, or ranking numerically to come up with precise pecking orders. However, such is the nature of certain competitions that they have little bearing… For information about those panel tasting results that count towards the SA Wine and Cellar Classifications, see here. The following are local examples of those that don’t:

What’s odd about these wine competitions?

The award focuses on the winemakers but the judging focuses on the wines. There’s one competition for winemakers up to the age of 30 and another competition for the rest. And every year the main event is limited to a particular, different type of wine, precluding a large number of top winemakers from entering.

No transparency, nowhere to see all of the results – only the entrants get told how their wines have fared. Wines that have not done well at other competitions are targeted and gold signifies so-called good value more than it does good quality. It’s amazing that the Cape Wine Academy is involved!

Only  wines made using organically-grown grapes and wines made according to Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) guidelines are eligible. Talk about limiting the competition. ‘Greener’ should be better, or what’s the point? Is it good or isn’t it, especially given the higher price? Even some of the organic wine producers steer clear.

The competition is not transparent, the results are not published, only entrants get told whether their wines have won or not. An aim is to commend more wines than any other competition. Another case of ‘if we can’t win there, then let’s try here’.

The wines are judged while still in their infancy, with some way to go before they are finally bottled. So the winners can taste quite different by the time they are available for purchase.



  • Liesl van Niekerk

    Having read ‘Some recommendations mean more than others’, I have a bottle of [highly rated] Nederburg Edelkeur 2002 that I would like to sell, as I don’t drink any dessert wines, and wonder if you could assist me?

    • To sell your ageing Edelkeur, you could approach the specialist wine shops such as Caroline’s or La Cotte or Norman Goodfellows to see if they might be interested or have a customer who might be. You could also consider putting a notice in the classifieds on The thing is, prospective buyers will want to know about the storage conditions: if the temperature, humidity and lighting etc weren’t ‘perfect’, you may as well give it away to somebody deserving, as a gift, i.e. if there’s really no possibility of discovering for yourself just how enjoyable ‘botrytis wine’ can be!

  • Among the questionable wine competitions in the UK is one called the Sommelier Wine Awards, which is exclusively for wines served in hotels, restaurants, pubs and bars – wines sold in supermarkets or specialist wine shops are barred from entry!

  • About those questionable wine competitions… Yes, I concur, and it took courage to write, I suspect…