THE SAWi GRAND WINES COLLECTION (GWC)                                                                                                                                                

Given the dynamism and excellence achieved by South African wines today, SAWi has, through its Algorithm of Excellence (AOE), set a multi-vintage aspirational wine quality benchmark of 93/100 points for recognising wine excellence. These achievers certainly show up the best that the Cape wine industry can come up with.  This brings together top producers under a new luxury brand concept promoting fine wines in the wine industry here as a collective and provides a credible quality attestation to consumers with a new interest in enjoying outstanding South African wines. This disruptive approach influences things in the space the industry finds itself through changes in the way we think, onto new brand building opportunities.

Until the introduction of the Index, quality adjudication of wine only depended on annual events, which by their nature present the once-off and subjective view of adjudicators. This not only makes it difficult to track performance over time but, more importantly, it prevents a meaningful and empirical deduction from being made. With its AOE, SAWi adds a convincing definition as to the state of SA Wines. This is expressed in the SAWi ‘Grand Wines Collection’ (GWC) which shows the overall best wines the country has. Results show that there is also no question that the so called ‘old guard’ still holds the very front positions. With that, SAWi has now been publicly lauded as the official benchmark for the measure of wine quality in South Africa.

The GWC comes in the form of a wine cultivar ranking list for all wines. It is important to appreciate that this ranking list makes use of the SAWi 10-year multi-vintage rolling mechanism, in which a minimum of 3 years’ official wine results are required. In general, the GWC also shows up interesting indications of historically entrenched cultivar terroir successes which, as for fine wines today, still act as a mainstay to be nurtured. The GWC ranking list represents almost 400 of the 8000+ South African wines currently available.

The SAWi ranking mechanism is similar to commonly accepted world sport rankings where, even with a loss, results from the previous year(s) have a meaningful impact on a wine’s placing in the ranking list. Anyone who follows the ranking system in major sports should see why this particular point is significant. In rugby or football, for example, teams are re-ranked every week, based on their most recent games, creating instability and emphasising recent results over long term performance.

In explaining the AOE, It is important to accept that the status of wine competitions differ according to how balanced wine panels are compiled or the easiness to pick up a medal of some sorts. Tennis tournaments are similarly broken up into different "tiers" with the higher tier events earning more points per round achieved than the lower tier events. The cumulative SAWi wine ranking does not take into consideration any lower tier results (below 91 points) when calculating the ranking.

The GWC Ranking works much as the ATP tennis system does, on a 24 week rolling window where wines earn a specific number of points for each event (competition, rating, review or listing) throughout a calendar year. The more points a wine has earned at a particular event, the more points there are to defend its ranking the following year. A change in the ranking thus also depends on how well other players do.

Points are compiled from the nature of competition results. For instance, winning an event locally is one thing but doing it internationally is certainly a higher achievement. Just consider the worth of a trophy in such respect or being recognised as part of a top 10 list! Surely, that should count more points. 

Given the rolling nature of the rankings, the best scores for a particular vintage are selected once a year and are not replaced by any most recent weaker result. While lower numbers in a particular year (similar to a loss in a grand slam) may influence the ranking, it may only slightly affect the ranking if the result emanated from a slightly weaker ‘tournament’.

As can be expected, a number of wines stand atop others. To become ‘No 1’ is akin to continuously winning the highest multi-national accolades available. This is what the GWC wines are consistently achieving. Points can hold steady for some time, depending if another wine overtakes it or falls behind. It is expected that point-scores on the ranking list should not change significantly but rather highlight consistency.

This is not the case regarding the majority of wine competition results. Even worse are statements of so called top 20 wine lists without the support of a convincing system of measure. Otherwise, considering various ratings as wine competitions follow each other creates instability and confuses the consumer with some scores below 80% and others at 90%. A top wine simply doesn’t do that, which exposes the subjectivity in wine judging. If tennis rankings, for example, were compiled in this manner, Roger Federer would never have hit the astonishing streak of 237 consecutive weeks in the ATP rankings. After all, he lost more than twenty times while in this position!

Together, the above provides a base for defending numbers, which refers to the challenge of rather matching or exceeding one’s finish from the previous year. The ultimate achievement comes not in reaching the top, though, but in staying there. Therefore, to stay on top winemakers must consistently produce the best.

The question would be which wines from the SAWi all-comers ranking will be good enough, and stayed the course long enough to reach the listing at another seasons end. So far, only 4 wines have been good enough to spend 4 consecutive seasons at ‘no 1’. But everyone starts at the bottom. Are there any challengers out there? 

While it is clear from these rankings which wines are arguably the mainstay of the industry, it is certainly also true that the local wine industry has moved on and is not what it was yesterday, given that the strong standing in the industry of some leading cultivars of the past era seems to have lost the lead and are even perhaps tenuous. The variety of wine cultivars which are excelling today is simply showing that there are almost no longer many single pinnacle wine varieties on their own in the lead any longer that dominates at the very top. 

Chardonnay and Shiraz are definitely South African strengths, and augmented by blended wines (including Bordeaux types) in particular. While it seems that fine Cabernet wines are dwindling, one would have expected that Pinotage would feature much stronger. Is it also that difficult to accept that Merlot is not contribution to the success of the South African ’fine wine’ story? With ample blend and style differences, Bordeaux Blends, apart from a few, could come over not to be here nor there. Is it perhaps to do with the name too? Chenin Blanc features well but is still dominated by non-wooded types, which poses the ‘why not’ question and thus doesn’t yet justify a split. With almost 200 MCC wines around, only 14 made the rankings list for wine excellence.  

As for the ranking status as a quality indicator, it shows that most GWC market prices compare well. That does not mean that there is no room to up prices further.

A publication on SA Fine Wines is available at winery tasting rooms and selected wine outlets. This ranking will be updated annually.


All SAWi scores and the NWN ranking are determined using SAWi’s unique ‘Algorithm of Excellence’ (AOE). While the utmost care is taken in the preparation of these scores, errors and omissions are possible. Producers are encouraged to inform SAWi of competition and other results at year end.  

© Copyright 2009 - 2013 | SA WINE INDEX
branding |