Leading wine authority and Master of Wine Tim Atkin’s South Africa 2020 Special Report has helped position the country as a major player in the global wine space. He doesn’t easily dish out 100 points for a wine, but this year he managed to award two 100-point nods of perfection – which is testament to the ongoing improvement in the quality of our wine. Anton Pretorius asks him about his report and the most notable challenges facing our industry.
Your latest report reflects South Africa’s surge in wine quality levels. What do you attribute this to?
The 2019 vintage really surprised me, because it was a very difficult vintage. One producer in the Walker Bay region said to me that it’s the first vintage in 25 years that made him weep. Someone else described it as a “bitch of a vintage”. Bruwer Raats told me he saw botrytis in Cabernet Sauvignon for the first time. Despite this strange and challenging vintage, the white wines blew me away. They were simply amazing. There were incredibly low pH levels. The other thing is, with consolidation in the industry – and there’ll be more of that in the future – you simply can’t get away with making bad wines anymore. The competition in the top-10 wines I mention in my report means there’s just no room for bad wine.
Perfect 100-point scores don’t come easy. But now South Africa has managed three 100-point scores in three years. Is this also testament to our significant rise in quality?
Yes, you’re right – I don’t set out to give 100 points easily, but I thought the Porseleinberg Syrah 2018 was extraordinary. I’ve always loved that site and the wine. It’s really quite a dramatic change in style. Rosa Kruger once described the site as brutal and the previous styles of wine from that site were just that: brutal, bloody and much like eating offal. Now it’s got this incredible finesse, beauty and delicacy from such a cruel, harsh site. The Sadie Family Skurfberg 2019 Chenin Blanc was also stunning. If any white wine grape was going to get 100 points in South Africa, it was Chenin Blanc, and if any producer was going to get it, was either Eben Sadie or Chris Alheit – or maybe even David Sadie in the future.
Speaking to producers and wineries, what were the big challenges this year?
Well, of course Covid-19 and lockdown were undoubtedly this year’s biggest challenges. For close on five months South African producers were unable to sell any wine, with a tiny hiatus in the middle of it. Exports were stopped for a while. International tourism is pretty much closed down. But the amount of wine still left over in cellars from the previous vintage is a major problem ….
A full version of this article appears in the November 2020 issue of WineLand Magazine.
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