Searching for the unicorn of great wines

wine show
Winemaker Gavin Patterson receives the Pinot Noir trophy for Paul Wallace Brave Heart from Old Mutual head of marketing, Vuyo Lee.
In this week’s “A Vine Time” Sam Venter looks at how wine awards can unearth new trends, hidden gems and that elusive treasure: a five star at a bargain-basement price

Wine awards can turn up all kinds of interesting things aside from the obvious medals and trophies – new trends, hidden gems and, sometimes, that unicorn of the wine world: a gold-class wine at a bargain-basement price.

This year’s Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show did all that, and also received high praise from its three international judges, who rounded out a panel of local experts for the competition’s world-class thoroughness and fairness of judging (which makes this a bottle sticker actually worth looking out for).

The international judges also singled out South African chardonnay (doing a great job and in a distinctive style), our “really amazing” bubblies, and Bordeaux-style reds and cabernet (naturally balanced, judicious use of oak, not over-ripe or over-acidified), as having world-beating quality in their ranks.

At a tasting of the trophy winners in PE this week, show chairman Michael Fridjhon also highlighted the “extraordinary evolution” of pinot noir, with the first Pinot Noir Trophy since 2012 awarded to the sublime Paul Wallace Brave Heart from Elgin. Deeply savoury with bright black cherry fruitiness, it’s “exactly the wine to show the new era of Pinot Noir in South Africa”.

Diversity in varietals and blends, length of wine-making history and geographic origin of this year’s trophy-winners showed that quality isn’t confined to centuries-old cellars or long-established areas like Constantia and Stellenbosch.

They were joined on the awards podium by brand-new wineries, and wines from as far afield as Prieska in the Northern Cape (the Best Cabernet Sauvignon Trophy for Landzicht Winemaker’s Reserve 2015), proving that “good wine doesn’t have to be made within 50km from Cape Town”, Fridjhon said.

It’s worth noting the wines are tasted completely blind – no labels, origins, vintages or price tags disclosed and in the case of blends, not even the cultivars revealed.
Just 41 of 636 medal-winners reached the score of at least 93/100 for a gold medal and of those, 20 were awarded trophies.

And the unicorn? Actually, there are two. Buitenverwachting Meifort, winner of the Bordeaux Blend Trophy, has long been the wine lover’s best-kept secret, for bold elegance, complexity, and quality way above its price tag in the R70 department.

The other is the 2015 Secret Cellar 702 from Ultra Liquors, a Merlot-Malbec-Cab Sauv blend from Stellenbosch that nabbed a 94-point score, gold medal and the “Discovery of the Show” Trophy, and costs a mere R37 a bottle.

It does need some ageing (those who bought the 2013 after it got the same award two years’ ago say it’s really smooth now) but at the price it’s worth buying and stashing away for a few years. Or if you must drink it now, open it a day before you plan to drink it.

All the winning wines (except Secret Cellar from Ultra) are available at Makro until June 30 at pre-medal prices, or order them online via the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show app.

The app has detailed info on each winning wine, lists the top 10 in each category and the best value wines, and rather clever, includes the serial number range of the batch the judges tasted, so you can be sure you are buying the very same wine.

Find all the winners on the app or at

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