Democracy presumes that everyone who votes has an equally well-informed opinion. Notwithstanding this rather obvious defect, it is the preferred system in a majority of countries around the world. Clearly most citizens in most democratic countries have simply abandoned any hope of finding a better way to direct their affairs. They go through the charade of electing their leaders. Sometimes, such as with Brexit, they vote for an idea or a proposal. Perhaps in doing so they are merely giving expression to their perceived self-interest. Mostly, I suspect, they are ticking a box and then getting on with their lives, as best they can.
If this is how people make decisions about matters which could have a massive impact on their lives, it would seem safe to assume that, where the choice is irrelevant to anything more than a couple of hours of happiness, they would willingly let a roulette wheel point them the right direction. However, when it comes to choosing which wine to buy, this is plainly not the case. There is an entire industry built on wine purchasing advice: the opinions of individual critics, the ratings of panels and published guides, the rankings of competition judges.
It’s been said that the reason that academic disputes are so acrimonious is that the stakes are so low. Applying the same logic to wine judgements, it seems safe to conclude that the volume of advice around what wine to buy is in inverse proportion to its relevance. One critic says a wine is great. Another (sampling from the same bottle) deems it junk. How much does it matter anyway? Unless your thirst/need is desperate, you are either going to drink the wine because you like it, or else you will abandon it. After all, you are only at risk for the price of a single bottle. If you don’t care all that much, and to you most wine tastes pretty acceptable, there’s very little reason to spend more than R100 on a bottle. If it does matter to you, settle on the advice source you trust most, and get on with your shopping.
If you consider yourself relatively well informed about what wines are worth drinking, you will probably make most of your choices on a subconscious aggregation of information – in other words, the “brand value.” Unless you have this information lurking in your head, you may well find it useful to turn to the Top Wine SA guide, published since 2004 by the former editor of Wine Magazine, Mike Froud.
The 2020 edition of the SA Wine and Cellar Classification has just been released online. Its judgements aggregate the top ratings and awards delivered by local and international tasting panels and competitions. It sets these results in a wider context by adding to the rankings of the past twelve months the broader perspective of the past decade. Like the SA Wine Index, its methodology aims at completeness. The two resources differ in respect of their selection of judges/competitions, and the weighting allocated to each of them. For Froud, all wines must have been judged blind.
His classification is a valuable summary of the top performing wines across a range of categories. Its limitation – which is common to all of its primary sources – is that not all producers enter their wines in competitions. Allowing for the fact that many of the fashionable “geeky” wines may never have come before any of judging panels (and will therefore be absent from Froud’s Top Ten tables), the SA Wine Classification is a very good guide to the form.
The full ranking is available online at https://topwinesa.com/ For an idea of how useful it is as a resource, it’s worth looking at the list of the current top ten Chardonnays: Chamonix Reserve, Groot Constantia, Hamilton Russell, Jordan Barrel-fermented, Jordan Nine Yards, Kershaw, Oak Valley Groenlandberg, Paul Cluver, Rustenberg Five Soldiers, and Tokara Reserve. Based on a list like this, you would be hard-pressed to fault the methodology.