Cheers to SA’s top winemaking stars

The Constantia Glen tasting room.

Three Cape Peninsula wineries have topped a popular wine commentator’s annual special report, despite lockdown bans on alcohol sales and exports.

Steenberg Vineyards, Constantia Glen and Groot Constantia scored over 90/100 for some of their special wines.

Tim Atkin, a British Master of Wine and wine commentator, releases an annual special report on the best wines in the world.

Tim Atkin’s South Africa Special Report, now in its eighth year, is highly regarded internationally as an independent assessment of the country’s wines.

Mr Atkin says despite South Africa’s well-publicised problems, the country is making the best wines in its his- tory.

“Over the decade I’ve been writing these reports, it has been a delight to see the general improvements in quality and the tentative emergence of a South African fine wine sector, with bottles that are discussed, cellared, coveted, shared and sold at auction. Rather than just a few individuals, what we have now is a constellation shining bright above us in the firmament, made up of more than 100 winemaking stars.”

To prepare his report under the restrictions of Covid-19 this year, Mr Atkin tasted 1 381 wines in London and had 62 Zoom calls with winemakers to replace his usual month-long tour of the Cape.

He rated the wines according to the international 100-point system and released the 225-page 2020 South Africa Special Report last week with his top wines, winemakers and grape growers of the year, and a Hall of Fame of recent winners.

Overall, 268 wineries were tasted and 1068 wines rated 90 points or more, says Mr Atkin.

Steenberg Vineyards excelled with three of their stand-out wines breaking the 90-point barrier.

Top scorer, at 93/100, is Steenberg’s vintage prestige cuvée, Lady R 2015, followed by two prized sauvignon blancs from the 2019 vintage, The Black Swan on 92 points and the Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc on 90.

“The passion and dedication of our team when creating our wines is evident when great results like this are achieved,” said Steenberg Vineyards cellarmaster, Elunda Basson.

Describingthepinot noir-dominated Steenberg Lady R as a “very smart bubbly” with “an extra level of richness and concentration”, Mr Atkin was impressed by its “comparatively youthful style with good focus, depth and intensity”.

His tasting notes referred to redcurrant, toast and lime flavours and say its structure bodes well for further bottle ageing.

As a blend of Steenberg’s two best sauvignon blanc vineyards, Mr Atkin says The Black Swan “always seemed to have an extra dimension of focus, depth and intensity.”

He says, “grapefruit and lemongrass flavours combine appealingly here, with good weight and a herbal flourish.”

Mr Atkin called the Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc “one of those go-to Constantia sauvignon blancs that never lets you down.”

He singled out the wine’s “extra perfume and flavour” from a few hours of skin contact and picked up “crunchy gooseberry and grapefruit flavours and some supporting leesy weight.”

Constantia Glen had four signature wines breaking the 90-point barrier.

Top scorer in the Constantia Glen camp with 94/100, was the flagship red, Constantia Glen Five 2016.

Constantia Glen spokeswoman, Shannon Petersen, said it was crafted from Constantia Glen’s dryland vines of all five classic Bordeaux red-grape varieties: cabernet sauvignon (30%) cabernet franc (29%), merlot (23%), petit verdot (12%) and malbec (6%). The result, she said, was an accomplished wine of great complexity, defined by a vibrant core of dark fruit.

Mr Atkin describes the wine as “long, complex and a candidate for the cellar” also commenting that “Constantia Glen are making some of the best red wines in this historic region at the moment.”

The Constantia Glen wines applauded with 93 points were the estate’s second signature red blend, Constantia Glen Three 2017, and the white blend, Constantia Glen Two 2019.

Referring to the Three as “one of the better Constantia reds”, Mr Atkin describes the wine as “very much a cool climate style with cassis and capsicum flavours, fine tannins and subtle 25% new wood.”

His take on the Two, a refined blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon, was “subtle, scented and elegant with pink grapefruit and vanilla pod flavours, racy acidity and deftly integrated leesy weight”.

The “sappy, fresh and crisp” Constantia Glen Sauvignon Blanc 2019 was also awarded a rating of 90 points by Mr Atkin.

Groot Constantia spokeswoman, Carmen Lerm, said seven of their wines scored 90/10. The Chardonnay 2018 achieved 92 points, Groot Constantia Gouverneur’s Reserve Red 2017 got 91 points, Groot Constantia Gouverneur’s Reserve White 2017 got 92 points, Groot Constantia Grand Constance 2016 received 94 points, Groot Constantia Lady of Abundance 2017 scored 90 points, Groot Constantia Landgoed Pinotage 2018 got 90 points and Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2019 scored 90 points.