Prescient Pinot Noir Report 2020: Top 10

By , 8 September 2020

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Introduction

This year’s Pinot Noir Report convened by Winemag.co.za and sponsored by multinational financial services company Prescient is now out. There were 30 entries from 24 producers and these were tasted blind (labels out of sight) by a three-person panel, scoring done according to the 100-point quality scale.

Top 10

The 10 best wines overall are as follows:

De Grendel Op Die Berg 2018
Price: R220
Wine of Origin: Ceres Plateau
Abv: 13.7%

Flying Cloud Sovereign of the Seas 2018
Price: R295
Wine of Origin: Outeniqua
Abv: 13.1%

Iona Elgin Highlands 2018
Price: R290
Wine of Origin: Elgin
Abv: 13.74%

Kershaw Elgin Clonal Selection 2018
Price: R605
Wine of Origin: Elgin
Abv: 13.5%

Kruger Family Wines Elandskloof 2019
Price: R195
Wine of Origin: Elandskloof
Abv: 13%

La Vierge Noir 2016
Price: R230
Wine of Origin: Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge
Abv: 13.73%

Lothian Vineyards Vineyard Selection 2019
Price: R295
Wine of Origin: Elgin
Abv: 14.09%

Shannon Rockview Ridge 2018
Price: R345
Wine of Origin: Elgin
Abv: 13%

Sutherland 2017
Price: R190
Wine of Origin: Elgin
Abv:13.5%

Tesselaarsdal 2019
Price: R525
Wine of Origin: Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge
Abv: 13.3%

Iona, Elgin.

About the category

Though a notoriously difficult grape to work with on account of how fragile it is, Pinot Noir is capable of making red wines of great refinement and elegance. It is at its most glorious in Burgundy, France but there are now impressive examples from Oregon in the USA, New Zealand’s South Island and increasingly South Africa. At the end of 2019, it was the 12th most-planted variety locally making up 1.3% of the total area under vineyard.

What characterises Pinot Noir in the most basic terms is a certain sweet fruitiness and lower levels of pigments and tannin relative to the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is difficult to judge on account of how ephemeral it is in the glass but this is precisely the charm for many.

What does a top Pinot Noir go for?

The average price of the Top 10 is R319 a bottle with Sutherland 2017 the most affordable at R190 a bottle.

In-depth analysis

To read the report in full, including key findings, tasting notes for the top wines, buyer’s guide and scores on the 100-point quality scale for all wines entered, download the following: Prescient Pinot Noir Report 2020

Shop online

Johannesburg boutique wine retailer Dry Dock Liquor is offering all wines in the Top 10 for sale – buy now.

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Comments

29 comment(s)

  • Richard15 September 2020

    Is it still relevant to call this the “top 10 Pinot in SA” despite many producers, the best among them, not participating? (If we suspend the argument about why they don’t enter just for a moment). Resuming the ongoing argument: if we look at the comments here and the comments on other SA Pinot articles or reviews on winemag it is surely very clear now that there is an issue with the coverage of SA Pinot by winemag?

    • Christian Eedes16 September 2020

      Hi Richard, I’m not sure what I can say that I haven’t already when it comes to refuting the notion that Winemag.co.za has some kind of agenda when it comes to local Pinot Noir, except that it probably was coming off the lowest quality base of any category when SA wine’s modern era began in the mid-1990s – now that the fundamentals are more or less in place (the right clones on the right sites, healthy planting material, more sensitive winemaking), my instinct is that the improvements are going to be dramatic.

      • Colin16 September 2020

        I don’t think anyone is thinking there’s an agenda Eedes. More an inability to understand what you are tasting. It is quite apparent to most of us who tastes a little broader than you do.

        • Christian Eedes17 September 2020

          Hi Colin, Let’s consider Comtes Lafon Volnay 1er Cru Santenots du Milieu 2017 currently available from Wine Cellar at R2 500 a bottle and rated 93 by Neal Martin of Vinous and 92 – 94 by Allen Meadows of Burghound.com – would you say this wine is being over-scored or under-scored?

          • Colin17 September 2020

            I’ll play your game sure. I can’t give you a definitive answer in terms of a score on the 2017 because I haven’t tasted it and probably won’t for another decade. Typically 1er cru Volnay is tighter than nun’s bum on release and takes at least a decade to start integrating before it is enjoyable to drink.

            That said, 2017 was a particularly good vintage for Burgundy, with the same Neal Martin you mentioned saying on Vinous “The 2017 reds are very good, often excellent, and from time to time, bloody awesome. The benign growing season predicates one of the most consistent vintages I can remember in 20 years of visiting Burgundy.”

            And in the same breath, Comte Lafon is one of the better producers in that part of the world, so I would say Neal contradicted himself and is probably a point or two low. But only time will tell.

            All of this is completely irrelevant to you because you score only South African wine, which is more often than not ready within a year of vintage and shows more on release than red Burgundy from the Cote de Beaune. You have a ton more to work with than anyone rating Burgundy and you are consistently low with your scores.

            • polin17 September 2020

              colin , so your the boffin , everyone else is wrong , so start your own report or magazine

              • Duncan17 September 2020

                Bizarre that this whole silly brouhaha started because Winemag said the Storm pinots are very good, but one or two people got mad because that wasn’t an effusive enough review.

                (For what it’s worth, I think the previous Storm vintages are incredible, though I haven’t had a chance to try the 2018s. Nor have I tasted as much top end Burgundy as I’d like. But even if I had, and had strong opinions, I don’t see why I’d want every critic to share my exact preferences.)

            • Christian Eedes17 September 2020

              In reply to Colin: Ah, now we’re down to philosophies of scoring. Ageing potential has to be an important consideration upfront and the general lack of age-worthiness of modern-era SA reds (not just Pinot) is surely a point of concern although I know our top winemakers are aware of the issue and are working hard to address this. By the way, I was on the Wine magazine panel that gave the maiden 2008 vintage of Crystallum Cuvee Cinema 5 Stars in 2010 (personal rating: 19/20) so I don’t always score low – it would be interesting to know how that is showing today. As for Storm, the other darling of the Pinot crowd, it’s not like we can open a bottle from a decade ago as he didn’t get going until 2012.

              Regarding more recent releases, I’ve given Newton Johnson Windansea 2018, Crystallum Cuvee Cinema 2019 and Restless River Le Luc 2019 all scores of 95 this year alone and this is where I think SA Pinot maxes out for now. I appreciate that many are seduced by the abundant aroma and silky tannins that the local stuff offers from the get-go but these on their own do not a Grand Cru make…

        • Mike Froud23 September 2020

          So Colin, Richard… What do you make of the inaugural Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Awards, which have the backing of the SA Pinot Noir Association? Interesting that Kershaw got the nod again, and/but…

          • Colin24 September 2020

            Do you have a point Mike, or are you just blowing hot air? Must say I didn’t know of these awards, so I Googled it. Know most of the judges and trust their palates. What is your problem with Kershaw?

            • Mike25 September 2020

              Sjoe! Talk about lost in translation… No problem with Kershaw, Colin. Kudos to the winemaker for getting good reviews from two panels, and/but with different vintages. Interesting that you approve of the judges on the Mosaic Top 5 tasting panel, given that they too scored low, which was what you faulted the Winemag panel for. Not one of the 109 wines entered in the Mosaic Top 5 competition was scored 93 or higher by the panel…

              • Colin25 September 2020

                What did I say Mike? Read properly. I said I don’t know the competition / report. I had to Google to get info. Never even heard of the ratings. How does that translate to me saying anything about their scores? Condoning/approving it?

  • Mike Froud8 September 2020

    Puleeez, Lisa! Entry cost of 2 bottles plus R950 is hardly prohibitive.

    • Henry8 September 2020

      Come on Mike – sponsor a few of these entries if you think its so little. How about the 5 pinots that Newton Johnson produces. Its not even quite R5k – not so much is it? Remember to add the wine cost to the price you old high roller.

      • Mike Froud8 September 2020

        Dear Henry, dear Henry… The cost of entry is less than the cost of a six-pack in the case of many top producers. And now you want to feel sorry for the fellas who have more than one Pinot Noir in their portfolio?! The thing is, the fee is not the main reason for declining the opportunity to submit their wine for review…

        • Henry9 September 2020

          Ah, so you’re from the school of “He makes wine, so he must be rich”. R950 isn’t nothing Mike. Not in this economy where you didn’t have sales for a few months and not when you have to submit samples as well. Marketing budgets are limited Mike and let’s be frank and honest here – Christian and Winemag haven’t exactly been shooting the lights out in terms of how they promote South African Pinot Noir.

          I would as producer much rather use my budget on competitions where my wine won’t be judged by the category it is in before it has actually been tasted.

    • dion martin10 September 2020

      Isn’t a certain amount of wine also needed to be made available for the gala dinner, and what about sticker purchases?

      • Christian Eedes10 September 2020

        Hi Dion, We stipulate 36 bottles of wines placing in the Top 10 to be served at the gala dinner and roadshow tastings – we will obviously waive this condition in the event that Coronavirus prevents us from going ahead as planned (which unfortunately looks increasingly likely although we are putting off a final decision as long as possible). Sticker purchases are entirely voluntary.

    • Dion Martin10 September 2020

      Dear Mike

      It seems like it isn’t just R950 plus two bottles. Should your wine make the Top 10, a winner needs to supply 36 additional bottles. With an average price of over R300 per bottle that is a loss of more than R10000 in revenue. As a shareholder in winemag.co.za I am sure, or I hope, that you are aware of this.

      In the age of Covid, lock down, restrictions on economic activity etc these are surely serious financial factors that need to be considered.
      Cheers

      • Christian Eedes10 September 2020

        Hi Dion, Just to be clear about our modus operandi: We have asked the Top 10 in each category to reserve 36 bottles but will only be holding the outright best in category to the stock requirement and the others will then be free to release their wine into the market – our intention for doing it this way was simply to create some suspense in the lead-up to revealing our wines of the year.

  • Uwe Böbs8 September 2020

    Well, lets be straightforward and look at the possibility that Hemel-en-Aarde PN is probably nót the top spot for this varietal anymore. It is clear that Elgin has taken over that crown.
    Perhaps the Bouchard Finlayson, the HR, Summaridge, La Vierge, Creation, Spookfontein all do not make the grade !
    Overtaken by new kids on the block !

    • GillesP8 September 2020

      Hi Uwe, what do you make of Storm PN from HEA? Probably among the best.

      Valley.

      Not sure where is Crystallum from but also in the tops

  • Lisa Harlow8 September 2020

    It’s just unfortunate more don’t enter, but I get that marketing budgets are tight, especially this year with the local alcohol ban. I also know SA winemakers and in fact UK winemakers who don’t enter any competitions, as they don’t see their value.
    I guess my main concern is the lack of entries from Hemel en Aarde which I would definitely say is the pinnacle of Pinot Noir in SA. I have seen quality increase enormously over the last 5 years and tasted some superb examples back in March, none of whom entered
    It’s a tough old world out there at the moment

  • Wilfried Goessens8 September 2020

    Always am happy to receive ur info about the best wines.What about the comment from Miss Harlow?
    Greetings from Belgian wine lover!

    • Christian Eedes8 September 2020

      Hi Wilfried, As you can see, I’ve replied to Ms Harlow but allow me to expand as to why I think entries are reduced. Firstly, given the plethora of wine competitions, expenditure on entry fees becomes a heavy cost to bear. This issue has only been exacerbated by the difficult trading conditions bought about the Coronavirus pandemic. Secondly, and more significantly, I think the fact that many top-end producers eschew competitions goes towards the post-apartheid newness and fragility of the industry – it takes a particularly tough mind-set on the part of a winemaker to regularly submit his or her wine to the rigours of a blind tasting by a credible panel. Many producers contend that they don’t need or want third-party endorsement but tend to be quite happy to submit their wines to sighted tastings when pre-existing pedigree is always an influence on outcome.

  • Lisa Harlow8 September 2020

    Only 24 producers and most of the best Hemel en Aarde producers missing? Makes the report very unbalanced for me, and doesn’t tell the true story of what is really happening with Pinot Noir in South Africa

    • Christian Eedes8 September 2020

      Hi Lisa, The tasting that formed the basis of the report was open to all but it is of course the prerogative of the individual producer to choose not to participate. As to why so many of SA’s top cellars are apprehensive of blind tastings such as these makes for an interesting topic of debate.

      • William Liw8 September 2020

        If you are at the top of the hill already, there is nothing to gain and all to lose.

        If you do well, then “it’s natural” and you are one of the “leader in the varietal anyways” but if you do badly then “oh no….”

        • Christian Eedes8 September 2020

          Hi William, I don’t buy the argument as it negates human endeavour as a factor in the production of great wine. It’s akin to the top seed in a major sporting code not defending his or her title because he or she’s beaten everybody numerous times before…

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