Making lists

The agony of indecision is matched only by the relief of finishing my selection of wineries and wines for two lists I’ve recently been asked to compile.

The more difficult of the pair was that requested by my colleague, Tim James, who regularly every two years, conducts a poll among various industry people about their top wineries and wines.

Participants have to list – according to any criteria they wish to use and in any order, their top five wineries, a further 15 to make up the top 20, then three re-invented or up-and-coming. As for individual best wines, of whites and reds, five of each are required, with just three each for sparkling and dessert or fortified wines.

Quality, as it should be, is my immediate criteria; a subjective judgement, of course, so one can expect to find outliers in the top five and twenty. Consistency would follow; a one or even two year wonder won’t crack it. Knowing and understanding the winemaker’s inherent philosophy, as well as the wines themselves, provide confidence of choice. But as satisfyingly logical as such critera are, it’s easier to look for readier solutions: who’s being talked or written about, who’s winning medals, who’s just up there. Plucking names from out of your head is so much easier than the confusion that arises from a trawl through Platter or old tasting notes.

When the results are announced, take into account the instant re-call factor.
If the best winery limit is difficult, James has created even more of a hornet’s nest with the up-and-coming category; the competition is so hot out there, which of course is good news. Many more wineries have focus and a plan, but making good wine isn’t enough; getting noticed via today’s vibrant social media is vital, for all sizes of winery; more should learn how to use it effectively.

Sadly, my up-and-coming selections over the last two polls have born very little fruit. Just one I nominated last time has made it to my top 20 list now. Some are slower to show their true potential than others, so I live in hope for those still around (there’s at least one that no longer exists!).

Top whites and reds? No vintage required, so consistency rules, but with only five candidates, who to leave out causes painful head-scratching. One can argue, as I do, that it is a useful outlet for stand out wines in a large range, where the other members don’t allow for the producer to be a top 20 nomination. The good news arising from this situation is the exponential growth, in both shades, of choice in varietal wines or blends.
The same is true of sparkling wines – read Méthode Cap Classique – I can’t imagine anyone nominating any other style. The specialists tend to take this category, partly because they have at least one wine which isn’t rushed on to the market and with such a technical style, the upward learning curve is necessarily long.

Dessert wines have always been one of South Africa’s strengths; here James has teamed them with fortified. On the whole, there are more and better dessert wines, so I had little hesitation in giving them the lion’s share.

The agony was eventually ended with a sigh of resignation that I’d never be entirely happy. I’m rather hoping my fellow pollsters make good my omissions.

Michael Fridjhon’s request for suggestions across 16 categories for this year’s Six Nations allows for more liberal choice: up to 10 wines for each. In such categories as white varieties (other than sauvignon, chardonnay or riesling), sauvignon and chardonnay themselves, white blends, shiraz, cabernet, other red varieties, Bordeaux-style blends, other Red Blends and dessert wines, the difficulty is to limit the selection to 10 – in fact they could make up the whole show.

Of more interest is that in selecting riesling, aromatics other than riesling (gewürztraminer and viognier), pinot noir and other red varieties (think grenache, cinsaut), there are, if not 10, many more likely candidates than in the past.

What this indicates is that, at last, South Africa is gaining some depth of quality across the board, a strength that has seen the Aussies usually taking country of show on the (now) six nations (it started as three) South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, now joined by Chile, Argentina and, last year, the United States.

My feeling that we’re gaining depth is borne out by something Fridjhon wrote when asking for our help: ‘Last year – while we didn’t win the majority of the trophies – we came within a whisker of winning the whole event.’ In other words, we did well in each category.
The competition is held somewhere around end July, early August with the results announced a couple of months later.

Results of James’ Grape poll will be revealed somewhat sooner; the value of either will undoubtedly be open to debate.

But what isn’t in dispute is that thanks to an ever enthusiastic and inquisitive bunch of youngsters and not-so-youngsters, the South African wine scene has now reached a stage of exciting evolution.

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