SA best wineries

Wine fundis vote for the Cape’s finest top 20 wineries

Mail & Guardian wine writer, Tim James, has conducted a wine poll among writers, sommeliers, wine masters and buyers at regular intervals over the past twenty years to gauge expert opinion on SA’s finest wineries. He’s done it again this year, and the results are both similar and very different.

He writes that the first stirrings of a revolution in South African wine became noticeable around the time that Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president.

“Suddenly, Cape wine could creep out from under its stone and find a welcome in the wider world — and learn in that brighter light what was wrong with itself and even, a little, what was right. This set in motion a remarkable process of change, of extraordinary and exciting developments in the wine industry, even if the social aspect lagged somewhat.”

In 2001, in the context of the early years of the wine revolution, he conducted a poll of local wine professionals to establish a top 20 list of producers. Continuing change meant new entrants to the game and ever-shifting reputations, and he repeated the exercise in 2003, 2006 and 2010 – and again now.

James is the first to say that this is not a definitive list – an impossibility, considering how the number of producers and brands has doubled in the last decade or so alone.

But to make it at least plausible, he persuaded 29 professionals with different perspectives to do the poll: five sommeliers, five retailers, four eminent critics from Britain – South Africa’s biggest foreign wine market – and 15 local wine writers and judges.

Each submitted two lists, one giving, in any order, their top five wineries and the other listing another 15 to give an overall top 20.

In the end, he notes, there was a remarkable degree of consensus hiding behind the large number of wineries nominated. Of those 95 wineries, in fact, 41 were named only once or twice. It is cheering, though, he adds that quality is sufficiently widespread for 54 wineries to have been considered good enough by at least three voters to appear on a top 20 list.

At the peak there was essential agreement and also a new element of consistency in that the top three were the same as in 2010. But previously the top five had been close, whereas now only those three jostled for top spot – and then came a big gap. It is worth noting that the leading three come from different wine regions, reflecting the spread of excellence.

Change continues. There are four new entries this year, one re-entry and five disappearances. Only eight on 2001’s list still find a place in 2012. Of the top five in 2001, two (Vergelegen and Rustenberg) have slid down the rankings and two (Veenwouden and Neil Ellis) have been squeezed out of the list altogether by hungry newcomers…..

Mail & Guardian: Read about SA’s top 20 wineries