Which SA wines boast best track records? Depends on who you ask!

FROM TIME to time Top Wine SA has fielded queries regarding how the South African Wine & Cellar Classifications compare with the South African Wine Index, which also has to do with good track records. For those who remain curious about the SAWi Wine Excellence Awards or how Top Wine SA’s selection of the country’s Top 100 and the Hall of Fame differ from SAWi’s Grand Wines Collection, the following should clear things up.

The SAWi Wine Excellence Awards are presented after measuring the performances of wines across multiple vintages according to the results of more than 100 local and international competitions and listings that range from widely respected to obscure, with the measurements expressed as values out of 100 in awarding medals (Grand Gold and Platinum) as well as trophies. The South African Grand Wines Collection (GWC) is based on those wines scoring more than 93 points in terms of SAWi’s multi-vintage “Algorithm of Excellence” using a 10-year performance track record and presented according to their ranking in descending order. The system involves “participating wineries”, a “cumulative average of the wines’ best results in several tastings over some years (with exceptions for new releases)” and reviews by both individual critics and tasting panels both with and without the knowledge of producers’ identities or the prices of the wines. More about the South African Wine Index here.

The SA Wine & Cellar Classifications are presented as the consensus of the top panels – a pooling of expert opinions about South African wines reviewed around the globe – based on the top ratings and awards in the most respected forums for the assessment of wine quality and interest value (about 30) where South African wines have a significant presence. The reviews are all by panels of judges (none by individuals) who conduct their assessments without knowing the names of the wines or their producers, the Classifications based on top ratings and awards presented during the previous 10 years – a minimum of three top-rated vintages to qualify (no exceptions for new releases) and without confounding matters by publishing scores used in the calibration process. The Top 100 wines in terms of the Classification are the most highly rated of the country’s most successful wines of the past 10 years and, as per the Top 10 and Top 20 in the various Classifications according to wine type or grape variety, they are presented alphabetically rather than in order of ranking.

The Top Wine SA Hall of Fame comprises those South African wines that stand out as having received top accolades – gold medal or better – from the top tasting panels locally and internationally for at least eight vintages in respect of a 10-year span of vintages rated during the past 10 years.

For more about the SA Wine & Cellar Classifications, see here.



  • So where do they concur, SAWi’s GWC and the Top Wine SA Classification? In terms of South Africa’s Top 10 wines in the main categories, say, as of April 2017 …

    CHARDONNAY: Chamonix Reserve, Groot Constantia, Hamilton Russell, Jordan Nine Yards, Oak Valley, Paul Cluver and Rustenberg Five Soldiers.

    CHENIN BLANC: DeMorgenzon Reserve, Ken Forrester The FMC and Stellenrust Barrel Fermented.

    SAUVIGNON BLANC: Cederberg, David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner, Graham Beck Pheasants’ Run, Kleine Zalze Family Reserve and Tokara Reserve Collection Elgin.

    CABERNET SAUVIGNON: Le Riche Reserve, Rustenberg Peter Barlow, Stark-Condé Three Pines and Waterford.

    MERLOT: De Grendel, Longridge and Shannon Mount Bullet.

    PINOT NOIR: Bouchard Finlayson Tête de Cuvée and Galpin Peak, Chamonix, Hamilton Russell, Newton Johnson Family Vineyards, Oak Valley and Sumaridge.

    PINOTAGE: Diemersfontein Carpe Diem, Kanonkop, Rijk’s Reserve, Wildekrans Barrel Select Reserve and Windmeul Reserve.

    SHIRAZ: Cederberg, Eagles’ Nest, Kleine Zalze Family Reserve and Saronsberg.

    CAP CLASSIQUE SPARKLING: Desiderius Pongrácz, Graham Beck Brut Blanc de Blancs and Villiera Monro Brut.

    UNFORTIFIED DESSERT: Delheim Edelspatz Noble Late Harvest, Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest, Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, Mullineux Straw Wine, Nederburg Private Bin Edelkeur Chenin Blanc Noble Late Harvest, Nederburg Private Bin Eminence Noble Late Harvest Muscadel and Paul Cluver Riesling Noble Late Harvest.

    CAPE PORT: Boplaas Cape Tawny, Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve, De Krans Cape Tawny, De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve, KWV Cape Tawny and Landskroon Cape Vintage.

  • SAWi’s response to “Which SA wines boast best track records?”:

    While on the face of it a comparison like this should be welcomed, it could also confuse the reader, especially if some aspects aren’t cleared up in terms of what was said. Furthermore, while both Top Wine SA and SAWi represent a pooling of expert opinions around the globe, in the way that it was said it could be deduced that both systems are similar, which they certainly are not. While both measure wine performances over multi-vintages, the difference is in the methodology.

    SAWi is about identifying SA’s fine wines only, to become part of the ‘Grand Wines Collection’ (GWC). It is not in the business of publishing lists of top 20 or top 100 wines or leading cultivar wines or anything like that. The wine cultivar ranking list is simply a breakdown of the GWC.

    It should be realised that SAWi is an Index and, for instance, one of the critical aspects is that SAWi uses strict criteria in applying weightings to distinguish wine panels from one another, as no wine panel is the same. Also, SAWi doesn’t just provide a “cumulative average of the wines’ best results in several tastings over some years”. For instance, receiving an international accolade should certainly count more.

    While Top Wine SA and SAWi consider blind-tasting results from the same multi-national wine panels in many instances, it is strange to note that Top Wine SA regard their considerations to be based on top rankings and awards from the most respected forums. This could easily imply that SAWi’s are not?

    Furthermore, it was said that in contrast, SAWi uses results from competitions and listings which range from highly respected to obscure. SAWi believes that valuable information can be gained by using a wide range of results. Naturally, some results are deemed more valuable and would receive a higher weighting in the process. As an example: the fact that a Platter 4½ Star or 5 Star rating has a sighted pre-selection process would make this less contributory to a wine’s rating as compared to, say, an IWSC result.

    As to SAWi’s motivation for publishing scores and/or rankings: just providing a list of top 100 SA wines provides little insight as to how the 100 was selected or how these wines stack up against each other.

    Addressing the reference made to ‘participating wineries’: we engage wineries to provide feedback and insight into the development base of SAWi – for example, how we determine competition weightings in the algorithm.

    Having managed to draw the top wineries together under one umbrella for the SAWi mission, we are grateful for the support and insight that such wine industry leaders have lent us through the years, without which SAWi would undoubtedly not have achieved the level of recognition that it has as a benchmark for quality South African wines. Nevertheless, it is also important to note that all South African wines are rated when selecting and publishing the GWC.

    Hopefully the above sheds more light on the matter to generate further dialogue. After all, we are sure that Top Wine SA and SAWi are both noble causes acting in the interest of the SA wine industry.

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