Top 20 South African wines

By Jamie Goode | 4 April 2016

Top 20 South African wines

 

It’s that time again. The time when South African wine journalist Tim James sends out a questionnaire to key wine journalists, sommeliers and retailers in South Africa and abroad who have a special interest in the country’s wines. 27 people in all were polled. We were asked to give him a list of our top 20 producers, identifying our top five out of this list. And from the responses, he compiles an overall list of the 20 best producers, according to opinion formers. Because this is South Africa and the journalists there don’t trust each other all that much, the whole process is of course audited, to take away any grounds for accusations of fiddling. And, when the results are released, we all go back to our notes to see how well our own personal lists tallies with the final group list.

 

I’ve done this exercise a few times now (it was first done in 2001, and has been repeated several times since), and I always find it very interesting. Some of us (me included) are very enthusiastic about new producers and the latest developments. Others take a more measured approach where they like to select producers with a longer track record, and pay homage to some of the industry greats. Overall, there’s a natural balance to the final ranking, and each time the list is compiled, it gives a snapshot of how the wine scene here is evolving.

 

THE 2016 TOP 20 LIST (in ranking order)

Mullineux

Sadie Family

Kanonkop

Boekenhoutskloof

Alheit

Newton Johnson

Chamonix

Paul Cluver

Cape Point Vineyards

David and Nadia

Reyneke

A A Badenhorst

Crystallum

Klein Constantia

Vergelegen

Tokara

Delaire Graff

DeMorgenzon

Jordan

Savage

 

A few thoughts. First of all, it’s really, really hard coming up with a list of just 20 producers like this. There are so many good ones, and in the end you just have to go with your instinct and make an semi-emotional decision. There’s no real way of being objective. What criteria would you specify? The producer’s best wine, or the whole range taken together? Performance over one vintage, or over several? Personally, I just think: if there was a table full of wines, which ones would I go to first? Which would be the empty bottles? It’s quite a personal decision. Second, it’s a bit mean ranking producers. How would I feel if there was a list of top 20 global wine writers? Of course, I’d be thrilled to be on the list, but I’d also be gutted if I wasn’t. Ultimately, from the producer’s perspective, it’s great to be on a list like this, but it’s only a list of some peoples’ opinions, so if you aren’t on it, then that doesn’t really mean anything.

 

And the list itself? For the first time, Mullineux has overtaken Sadie as the top producer, and there are five new entrants to the top 20 list: Alheit, Crystallum, David & Nadia, DeMorgenzon and Savage, four of whom were on my list.

 

Kanonkop has been in the Top 5 every poll since 2001 (when it shared this position with

Vergelegen, Veenwouden, Neil Ellis and Rustenberg: how times have changed!). There are only three other survivors from the 2001 list: Boekenhoutskloof, Jordan and Klein Constantia.

 

Personally, I think there’s an inertia to this list. It takes time for local commentators in particular to recognize that traditionally excellent producers are no longer at the front of the pack. The bar has been raised, and some of the top names of 10 years ago are still making excellent wines; it’s just that there are new entrants who are making wines that are even more compelling. It’s easier to see this from a distance, I reckon. For this reason, I reckon the official top 20 list is a few years behind where things really are now, but that, of course, is my personal opinion.

 

So how was my list? Here it is. We were asked to rank the top five in order, and then give a further list of 15 in no particular order. This is how I voted.

 

 

Sadie Family

Mullineux

Savage

Testalonga

Alheit

 

Craven

Boekenhoutskloof

Reyneke

Kanonkop

B Vintners

Badenhorst

Rall

David and Nadia Sadie

Chamonix

Crystallum

Newton Johnson

Restless River

Blank Bottle

Cape Point

Graham Beck

 

You might be surprised at a few of these choices, but where newer producers have been included, it’s because their wines are truly brilliant, even though they may not have much of a track record. And I have included Graham Beck simply because I’m so impressed with the work they are doing with Methode Cap Classique, and I think this needs to be recognized. We shouldn’t take lists and rankings too seriously, but they are fun, and it’s always an interesting exercise to take part in. 

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