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Tim Atkin South Africa Special Report 2017

By , 13 September 2017



TA2017The fifth annual Tim Atkin South Africa Special Report 2017 is now out. Special acknowledgements as follows:

Winemakers of the year: Chris and Andrea Mullineux
Young Winemaker of the year: Mark Le Roux of Wateford
Winemaking Legend: Neil Ellis

Overall White Wine of the Year: Sadie Family Kokerboom 2016
Overall Red Wine of the Year: Beeslaar Pinotage 2015
Overall Sweet Wine of the Year: Mullineux & Leeu Essence 2012
Overall Fortified Wine of the Year: De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve 2015
Overall Sparkling Wine of the Year: Graham Beck Cuvée Clive 2011
White Wine Discovery of the Year: Rall Ava Chenin Blanc 2016
Red Wine Discovery of the Year: Gabriëlskloof The Landscape Series Cabernet Franc 2015
Best Value White of the Year: Swartland Winery Limited Release Roussanne 2017
Best Value Red of the Year: Onderkloof Cabernet Franc 2014
Best Value Sparkling Wine of the Year: Villiera Tradition Brut NV

The report costs R340 and is available to download here.


13 comment(s)

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    Le Penseur | 18 September 2017

    First of all let’s get the credentials right. Tim Atkin is a British Master of Wine since 2001. As of June 2017, there are 356 MWs in the world, living in 29 countries.

    Atkin writes for a number of publications, including: a monthly column in Woman and Home, the Wine List Inspector for The Economist’s Intelligent Life and Wine Editor at Large at Off Licence News. He also regularly contributes to: The World of Fine Wines, Imbibe, and Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine. On television, he appears regularly on BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen as one of the programme’s wine experts. In September 2012, Atkin appeared on a BBC One Inside Out programme about the English wine industry. On radio, he does interviews on Radio 4’s Today Programme and Eddie Mair’s PM show, among others.

    1988, 1990, 1993, 2004, 2006: Glenfiddich Wine Writer of the Year
    1991, 1992, 1994, 1996: UK Wine Guild Wine Correspondent of the Year
    1994: Wines of France Award
    1995: The Bunch Award for Wine Journalism
    1995: Waterford Crystal Wine Correspondent of the Year
    1999, 2002, 2003, 2004: Lanson Black Label Award
    2005: Wines of Portugal Award
    2007: International Wine & Spirit Communicator of the Year
    2007: World Food Media Awards Best Drink Journalist[4]
    2009: Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year
    2011: Born Digital Award for http://www.timatkin.com and Louis Roederer Wine Website of the Year

    I don’t think that anyone of the commentators can claim, remotely, that they possess the same qualifications, experience and awards regarding the subject matter of tasting wine.

    Secondly, it seems as though South Africans intrinsically possess some kind of split personality. Whenever a critic is of the opinion that the wines presented for tasting are of exceptional quality they question the higher marks given. However, in the same vein whenever a critic, and it may be the same critic, is of the opinion that the wines presented is not of such high quality they will again criticise the critic in respect of his or her opinion on the basis that the scores are absolutely way to low.

    It seems, and I may be wrong, however not on the basis of what has been written by some of the commentators, that they have assumed and based their commentary on the basis that there must be an even spread of scores or points awarded between 80 points and 98 points. This is simply wrong. Why? The presumption is that statistically the wines that Tim has tasted must represent the classical Bell curve. This is not so.

    Tim Atkin has tasted approximately 1685 wines which were submitted by the various producers. Surely these producers, they would be naive to do otherwise, submitted the wines which they were of the opinion are their better products. This in itself, statistically, shifts the Bell curve to represent more wines in the upper echelon of such a graph.

    Such comments by Udo: “That is just silly”. James: “Because 95+ points course are becoming more common than beach balls at a Nickelback concert.” “… but we’re clearly seen the very definition of score inflation.” Lloud: “Only 149! That’s a ridiculous amount to score that high.” Kwispedoor: “Tim Atkin has been accused of score inflation before and, let’s face it, wine writers are always more popular with producers if they score highly. There is a lot at stake…” are a preposterous simplistic belief, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge, that the scores awarded by Tim are simply too high.

    What these commentators in actually refer to is the so-called Rank-based Grading System. Someone must be ranked better and someone must be ranked worse, therefore only a certain percentage of wines will, and must, get an A+ grading. Norm-referenced grading systems are based on a pre-established formula regarding the percentage or ratio of wines within a whole class who will be assigned each score or mark.

    Rank-based grading only measures performance relative to a given group, but not the real achievements of a given wine. A wine with moderate attributes could be the best of a bad group, or the worst of a good group. For example, in a generally good group the pressure to assign a lower score along the curve would produce an artificial lower mark, although all wines actually performed quite well. This also works the other way round: in a group with generally bad performance, the wines whose performances are not totally bad would be singled out to form an artificial group of A- wines, although in another context they would never get these scores.

    Tim Atkin responded by saying: “All I can say my defence is that I think 149 wines that I tasted in SA are worth gold medals, judged by international standards.

    Thus it is clear that Tim Atkin must have used a Standards-based grading system. A Standards-based Grading system is based on a fixed numeric scale from which the critic assigns a score based on the individual performance of each wine. The scale does not change regardless of the quality, or lack thereof, of the wines. For example, in a class of 100 wines there might be no one or any number of wines who score high enough to achieve a score of excellent [95+ if you will], or who fail.

    The advantage is that wines are not compared against each other, and all have the opportunity to pass the standard.

    Some lame excuses are made that Tim Atkin’s integrity is not questioned. The tone and manner of comments by these self-appointed “expert critics” clearly place in question his integrity, objectivity and ability.

    As stated above none of the self-appointed “expert critics” possess the same qualifications, experience and awards regarding the subject matter of tasting wine. Therefore, the comments, if not attacks, is appalling and shameful, but, as said it seems that South Africans possess a rather split personality.

    These self-appointed critics complain profusely about the number of wines, namely 149, that scored 95 points or higher. To these self-appointed critics please name those wines that, clearly, do not deserve to be rated 95 points or higher according to your expert opinion.

    Please, do not extrapolate without facts. Inference must be carefully distinguished from conjecture or speculation. There can be no inference unless there are objective facts from which to infer the other facts which it is sought to establish. But if there are no positive proved facts from which the inference can be made, the method of inference fails and what is left is mere speculation or conjecture.

      Kwispedoor | 18 September 2017

      Hi, Le Penseur (or is it Tim’s mom?)

      😉 I’m just pulling your leg – despite Tim’s own eloquent responses, you also put forward some very good points, although I think there is perhaps a bit too much talk of systems, facts and graphs for a matter that is after all so very unscientific and subjective.

      Personally, I have much enjoyed the contributions here, with many useful tidbits – even if I don’t agree with everything.

      I’m not sure what you find “a preposterous simplistic belief” in the excerpt that you quoted from me, but things are always a bit too simplistic if they are taken from their whole/context (which is still there for everyone to see). But even if one does take the excerpt out of its context, it remains true: Tim HAS been accused of score inflation before, wine writers ARE always more popular with producers if they score their wines highly and there IS a lot at stake. If one wants to know where I was going with that, the whole comment should be read though.

      I do agree with you that people’s remarks on the Internet can often be unnecessarily malignant and that this vitriol should rather be reserved for the likes of political parties and faceless bureaucracies (bastards!!). Tim was ready to respond though, as he admitted even in his report that he expects to be accused of score inflation again. I suppose the exercise of assigning a numerical value to wine is so fraught with problematic issues that himself and other wine professionals must be used to the perpetual controversy that comes with it. Wine geeks will always enjoy to agree and disagree with published results.

      We have seen more and more benchmark-type tastings (of manageable size) where SA wines are compared in blind tastings to some of the best that the rest of the world has to offer and I find these quite useful in us coming to a better understanding of our rightful position in the wine world. I think most agree at this stage that our best wines really are somewhere up there with the cream of the crop – exactly how high up is understandably debated with much enthusiasm.

    Udo | 14 September 2017

    I am a huge fan of SA wines, but 149 wines scoring over 95 points? That is just silly.
    And I am missing a few wineries which should have been in the report, like Scali, Springfontein and Grangehurst?
    Still a huge effort from Tim, thanks for that.

    Is 2016 better then 2015? Tim states this: “Even in a difficult vintage for whites like 2016”

    But I guess all the high score’s will help sales. I will use them and hopefully it helps. Even wines from Niels Vergburg (sic) 🙂

    Tim Atkin | 14 September 2017

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. To a large extent, I have addressed these in the report (which I suspect few of the people above have paid for or downloaded). See, in particular, my comments about 2016. Both Gordon Newton Johnson and Eben Sadie think 2016 is a better white wine vintage than 2015.

    I also suspect that some of the negative comments (and you are welcome to your opinion) are from people who haven’t tasted many of my 149 top wines. Line them up and taste them. At WOSA’s Intrepid tasting yesterday, 120 of them were on a table that was packed all day.

    Isn’t it sad when English people are more positive about the best, world class wines than some South Africans are? Isn’t it time you got over the cultural cringe? I also write about Argentina and there people celebrate success.

    I stand by my scores. I’m lucky enough to taste most of the world’s great wines on a regular basis. So what I can bring to my judgments and scores is an international perspective. I’ve never inflated a score in my life. See, for example, how many 100 point scores I have to Bordeaux 2015. Zero. And have you seen the scores that Australian wine writers routinely give their own wines, most of which are less exciting than the best South African wines?

    Most South Africans don’t taste wines from overseas. That’s not their fault. It’s just that these wines aren’t available. But you can taste and enjoy your own wines. South Africa is at a very exciting point in its development and I’m happy and brave enough to celebrate that.

    I wish a few more South African commentators would follow suit.

      James | 15 September 2017

      Thanks Tim. I just wanted to say, I’m in no way questioning your integrity. I think that the words “score inflation” carry a bit of baggage that I’m unaware of. But I did want to clarify my thoughts, if they weren’t already.

      1. South African wine has never been in better shape and it deserves to be celebrated. I couldn’t agree more. The best of it is hugely undervalued, both locally and abroad. You are a respected and influential international critic attempting to rectify that, and you’re bringing much deserved attention to our wine. For this, the wine industry, indeed all of South Africa, should be very grateful. Thank you! It’s very exciting that you also see our best wines so favourably, considering the quality of the international wines you are privy to daily.

      2. The scores that you awarded are inordinately higher than previous years. 50% more wines received 95+ points than 2016, which at the time you described as “the best since I started tasting 26 years ago”. No argument there either. My sole observation: unless 2017 was significantly better than 2016, across the board, aren’t the points are a bit out of joint? This only matters because it sets a precedent. It becomes the new standard. And as our wines continue their inexorable improvement in the coming years, the point scores will surely hit the proverbial ceiling.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see our first century. And I get that there are vagaries with the numbers game. But isn’t there a concern when everyone is awarded a distinction, a distinction is no longer that?

      Thanks again, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

        Tim Atkin | 16 September 2017

        Hi James

        Thanks for replying. I tasted significantly more wines this year, so we are not comparing like with like. I also tasted fewer “basic” wines and lots of new (to me) producers. Of the wines I tasted this year, 8.83% got 95+ (or gold medals). Last year, the figure was 7.28%. So yes, an increase. But not a massive one in percentage terms.

        Why so many wines? Thirty four of my top wines were 2015s, quite a few were older, but 76 (just one half) were 2016s. This surprised me as much as it does you. 2016 was hot and dry, but the best producers have made great wines, both whites and reds. Old vines help in some cases, but so does good viticulture (especially picking dates). I think it’s wrong to get into a mindset where 2015 is “great” and 2016 is “terrible”. Some 2016s are great too.

        All I can say in my defence is that I think 149 wines that I tasted in SA are worth gold medals, judged by international standards. These are just as good as a similar range of Australian and Californian wines, which receive much higher scores in their countries of origin, and significantly cheaper That’s why the lack of pride in SA is galling to me.

        The 95+ point tasting last week in London blew people’s minds. If you’ve not tasted them already, please do so. I’m happy to discuss the range when you have. Cheers. Tim

    James | 14 September 2017

    My social feed is awash with winemakers being congratulated on their exceptional showing in Tim Atkins’ 2017 report. The only thing is, their showings, while wonderful, aren’t exceptional at all. They’re the norm. Because 95+ point scores are becoming more common than beach balls at a Nickelback concert*.

    No disrespect to the producers who continue to produce awesome wines, but we’re clearly seeing the very definition of “score inflation”. Just compare his scores of last year to his scores of this year. And there’s your answer. It’s Maths. Or Science or something.

    The question is whether this is warranted. Without getting into too much detail, the majority of 95+ points are white wines from 2016; umm, a “ripe” vintage. I think it would be a hard sell to suggest that there are so many better whites from 2016 than 2015. Not buying that.

    The real question is, does it matter?
    All that really matters is what these super high scores mean for the wines being awarded them.

    Today, it means tweets and retweets. Tomorrow it hopefully means more wine is sold. This is doubtful in the local market. Where last year you were choosing between two 93-point bottles, this year it’s between two 96-point bottles that are arguably not quite as excellent on account of the vintage.

    With any luck, it also means increased awareness and sales in overseas markets. Something SA wine deserves. So kudos to Tim for that. The problem (if it is even a problem) is that at this rate, the scores will be meaningless in a few years. We can all look forward to buying David & Nadia’s Aristargos in 2021, when it comes in at 109 points. It deserves to be more expensive too.

    I remember a discussion when finishing Matric back in the day: Is an A today the same as an A twenty years ago? As it happened, It didn’t matter. Never got that A. But you can be sure that when the whole class aced a test, that test was too easy.

    I’d like to extend my own thanks and congratulations to all the producers who are doing such a great job. They are making SA proud, making wine drinkers very happy and deserve to sell more wine and make more money.

    *I’m paraphrasing from Hot Rod. I’ve never been to a Nickelback concert. Or have I?

    Smirrie | 14 September 2017

    I am still digesting the new report but there are 3 scores quickly standing out for me.

    Leeu Passant Dry Red with 93 points. We all hyped up this wine including me. I wonder why this wine was not scored 95+ by Tim what in his mind scored it lower than expected. Still a high score but just not what i personally expected.

    Kokerboom 98 points and here i am not surprised.

    Fable Jackal Bird 95 points retailing at R120 what a bargain to purchase.

    Thank you Tim for such a comprehensive report it will make good bed time reading the following few days.

    Jaco van Zyl | 14 September 2017

    I find it difficult to grasp how a writer in Tim Atkin’s wheelhouse would inflate scores for one region only – if the inflation is result of desire to please producers, surely that would be the case everywhere. The producers which are the subject of the Bordeaux report, Rioja report, Argentina report etc. may take issue with a writer that unreasonably inflates scores in respect of one region. That would be counterproductive, or am I missing something?

    Now, perhaps Tim Atkin has a slightly higher affinity for South African wine than some other international wine writers (though writers like Greg Sherwood and Jamie Goode have certainly not been lacking in praise), but for me, I have to take him at his word that that genuinely is his view of the wines. If based on your experience the scores are higher than what you’d consider reasonable, that’s absolutely your prerogative.

    Regarding the vintages, from what I’ve seen, the whites from 2016 have generally received very favourable notices from a variety of writers and commentators (despite the challenges of the vintage). I did a quick check on the report, and off the 149 wines scoring 95 or higher, only 19 are reds from the 2016 vintage (off course more will be considered for next year’s report).

    All that said, I’d echo Kwispedoor and say that the quality of wine I’ve been enjoying in the last 12 months have been tremendous, and the money I’ve spent on it probably enough to cause divorce proceedings. Exciting times indeed.

    Lloud | 13 September 2017

    I didn’t pay for the report, but from the scores I’ve seen via social media, they seem very high. Saronsberg’s instagram page says that their Full Circle 2015 achieved 96 points, one of only 149 to achieve a score over 95. Only 149! That’s a ridiclous amount to score that high. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a fan of Saronsbergs Full Circle – I think it’s a very good wine. There are however a lot of 2016’s belonging to that report with very high scores and I didn’t think that vintage would score so high and am also starting to wonder wether the wines deserve such high scores. Are wine commentators giving away high scores to frivolously or are are wines simply that good now? 149 wines to score over 95!! I’d like to see how many wines he scores over 95 in other countries. I’m sure we can pull those figures if need be.

      Kwispedoor | 13 September 2017

      Apparently, this is what Tim said: “Inevitably, I will be accused of indulging in score inflation… All I can say in reply is that I fervently believe that South Africa is improving with every vintage (even tricky ones like 2016) and that the wines merit my plaudits. I do my best to see South African wines in a global context and mark them accordingly.”

      I’m sipping on a rather gorgeous Swerwer Chenin 2016 as I write this and I must say, despite the vintage woes, there have been some corkers in 2016. Tim Atkin has been accused of score inflation before and, let’s face it, wine writers are always more popular with producers if they score highly. There is a lot at stake…

      On the other hand, are we forever underestimating our own wines in SA? Do we look up to benchmarks in other countries so much that we (unfairly) can’t picture ourselves in the very top echelon?

      Personally, I know that I’m finding it increasingly difficult to stay sane and reasonable with my spending on SA wines – there sure are a massive amount of gorgeous wines out there. Actually, I’ll admit to losing that battle… It really has become a challenge just to try and taste most of them.

      When you ask if wine commentators are giving away high scores too frivolously or if wines are simply that good now, I’m guessing it’s probably a bit of both. We really do live in exciting times!

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