Trophy wines triumph against the backdrop of a sector under growing pressure

Trophy wines triumph against the backdrop of a sector under growing pressure
Patson Mathonsi and his palate deliberate. (Photo: Supplied)

This year’s Trophy Wine Show has yielded 19 best-in-class trophies, including four Museum Class trophies, 32 gold, 86 silver and 320 bronze awards.

Exciting, refreshing and refined: Wine shouldn’t knock you over the head to be impressive. And yet, among the 688 reviewed for the Trophy Wine Show, the panel of local and international judges found a wealth of attention-grabbing whites (particularly Chardonnays and wooded sauvignon blancs), sophisticated cabernet sauvignons and Cape blends, classy MCCs plus a smidge of “soeters” – excellent and world-class representations of fortified wines, a category that is yet to be fully appreciated in South Africa.

Among them were upscale offerings alongside high-volume supermarket wines from Woolworths, niche varieties and some museum-class wines to be proud of. 

On Thursday, the results of the 2023 Trophy Wine Show – brought by Investec – were hosted at Delaire-Graff outside Stellenbosch. This is the first time the competition has hosted its awards function in the Winelands rather than in the Mother City and the second year Investec has been the headline sponsor. 

Judging took place in the week of 15 May, by international judges Jancis Robinson MW OBE; Benjamin Roffet, France’s best sommelier of 2010; and wine writer Anne Krebiehl MW, alongside South African wine judges Heidi Duminy CWM; James Pietersen, CEO of the Wine Cellar Fine Wine Merchants; winemaker Trizanne Barnard; Patson Mathonsi, regional sales manager for Spier Wine Estate; Warwick cellarmaster JD Pretorius; associate winemaker at Mullineux and Leeu Family Wines Gynore Hendricks; and Cathy van Zyl MW, associate editor of Platter’s South African Wine Guides. 

The judges’ deliberations yielded a total of 19 best-in-class trophies including 4 Museum Class trophies, from 32 gold medals, 86 silver medals and 320 bronze awards. Thirty-six percent of wine received no medal at the show, which speaks to the rigour of the judging. 

It’s not an Oprah-esque “you get a medal, you get a medal and you get a medal”. 

The silver and gold medal and trophy-winning wines will be available for public tasting for one night only in Johannesburg on 14 June and Cape Town on 21 June. Wines will be available for sale via the show’s online fulfilment partner, Port2Port, which will also be represented at the two tastings. Winning wines will also be offered at a series of Masterclass tastings hosted by Investec for the bank’s corporate and high-net-worth clients over the course of 2023 at venues around South Africa. 

This year’s Most Successful Producer overall is Zevenwacht Wine Estate, with three best-in-class trophies: the Sunday Times Trophy for Best Sauvignon Blanc, the Harold Eedes Trophy for Best Chenin Blanc and the Rosa Kruger Trophy for Best Old Vine Wine, awarded to Zevenwacht Z Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2022 and the Zevenwacht Z Collection Chenin Blanc 2022. Zevenwacht winemaker Hagen Viljoen, who has been at the property since 2018, won two additional silver medals for his 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2021 Chardonnay. This is the first time Zevenwacht has won any trophies at the show. 

The High Road Director’s Reserve 2019 won the Riedel Trophy for Bordeaux-style Red Blend, the Vinolok Trophy for Best Premium Wine and the Investec Trophy for Best Red Wine Overall. 

Survivor Cellar’s Master Series Chardonnay 2022 (from Overhex) won the Miele Trophy for Best Chardonnay and the Investec Trophy for Best White Wine Overall. MAN Family Wines’ Essay Syrah Cinsault & Grenache & Mourvèdre won the Investec Trophy for Best Rhône-style Red Blend and the Investec Trophy for Discovery of Show (best value gold medallist). 

The Investec International Judges’ Trophy (for the gold medallist with the highest combined scores of the three international judges) was awarded to The Villiersdorp Winery Syrah 2020. 

The organisers explained that Villiersdorp is one of three newcomers on the trophy winners’ podium this year, sharing the status with Bloemendal and The High Road. Canto and Bloemendal are the only two newcomers as gold medallists. Commenting on the results, judge Jancis Robinson MW OBE said South African Chardonnay is a real attribute for the country. 

“They express the ocean influence and coolness in the vineyards, and I get the sense South African winemakers are very confident making Chardonnay. 

“The Shiraz class I judged was just massively much better than the class I judged in 2007. There was sophistication and intention there. There are a variety of styles, as there should be.” 

She said the Trophy Wine Show competition, which is judged “blind”, is not only a great reflection of where the South African wine sector is, but also a great benchmarking exercise, against international standards. 

Mathonsi, the former sommelier for award-winning Johannesburg restaurant DW11-13, said fortified and dessert wines were very strong class. 

“It’s always been a strong class. Unfortunately, we had less of them this year. South Africa really makes some stunning fortified wines and dessert wines. 

“In SA, we don’t have the culture of drinking dessert and fortified wines, while we are making one of the best in the world.” 

The South African wine industry is in a “wretched” state, notes the chairperson of the show, Michael Fridjhon. When the Trophy Wine Show launched in 2002, the country had 107,000 hectares under vine, farmed by 4,346 growers whose fruit was crushed in 428 cellars. Today the vineyard area has shrunk to about 90,000 hectares, with about 600 growers. Only the number of wineries has increased, mainly because of the growth in the boutique brand sector. 

“Over two-thirds of all wineries produce on average less than 8,000 cases [of wine], and a significant percentage of them sell more wine in bulk than in bottle, it is clear that the industry is facing a crisis. We have hundreds of very small producers making minuscule quantities of wine which are sold on allocation for what appear to be gratifyingly high prices. 

“But we are losing growers at the rate of at least two every week, and vineyards at the rate of 1,000 hectares per year – and have been doing so for two decades.” 

He said wine shows like these give top-performing wineries greater recognition and allow them to sell greater volumes of bottled wine, at higher prices. 

“The outcome of this week’s deliberations will make the reputations of newcomers, and burnish the reputations of the better known wineries, helping them to remain in the public eye in the presence of the ever-increasing number of almost ‘off-grid’ producers.” 

Other winners: Trophy awards: Buitenverwachting ‘1769’ Limited Release 2020 (Noble Late Harvest) De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve 2020 Groot Phesantekraal Berliet Pinotage 2021 Laborie Blanc de Blancs Cap Classique 2017 (KWV) Zevenwacht Z Collection Chenin Blanc 2022 Old Road 12 Mile Syrah 2021 Zevenwacht Z Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2022 (Wooded) Vergelegen G.V.B White 2021 Neil Ellis Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 Thokozani Cabernet Franc 2021 (Diemersfontein) Villiersdorp Winery Syrah 2020 Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal 2020 (Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera) Bloemendal Kanonberg 2017 Bloemendal Semillon 2016 Eikendal Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Bosman Optenhorst Chenin Blanc 2013 (Old Vines); Gold Medal Winners: Benguela Cove Chardonnay 2022 Bloemendal Tyger Syrah 2016 Bon Courage Chardonnay Unwooded 2022 Canto Méthode Cap Classique Brut 2020 Delaire Graff Banghoek Reserve Chardonnay 2022 Delaire Graff White Reserve 2021 (Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Blend) Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve The Cape Mist Sauvignon Blanc 2022 Hartenberg Woolworths Reserve Collection Chardonnay 2022 KWV Cathedral Cellar Sauvignon Blanc 2022 Louisvale Five Barrels Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 MAN Free-run Steen Chenin Blanc 2022 Oldenburg Rondekop Stone Axe Syrah 2021 Spier Woolworths Private Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. DM


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