A Ruby Cabernet crowned as South Africa’s best young wine

young wine
Johan Ehlers, CEO of Agri-Expo, Willie Burger, cellar master of Badsberg Wine Cellar, and Christo Pienaar, chairperson of the South African National Wine Show Association (SANWSA), with the General Smuts Trophy for the best wine of 2020.

A wooded Ruby Cabernet from Badsberg Wine Cellar in the Breedekloof near Worcester received the coveted General Smuts Trophy as overall South African Champion Young Wine for 2020. In addition, this wine was crowned as the best entry in the category Other Red Cultivar at this year’s South African Young Wine Show. It was the third time Badsberg walked away as the overall winner. They also achieved this in 2016 with a wooded Pinotage and in 2009 with a Natural Sweet Wine.

This annual show for wines of the current vintage year – presented by the South African National Wine Show Association (SANWSA) in collaboration with Agri-Expo – took place later than usual this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the second time in the competition’s 188-year existence, the oldest of its kind in the world, that a Ruby Cabernet takes the laurels.

The winners of the competition’s 19 South African Champion trophies in total, including the Pietman Hugo Trophy for the best points achieved with five entries, have been announced. The customary gala dinner, where the trophies are handed over, was not held because of the COVID-19 regulations. Altogether 40 young wines achieved Class Winner status and 74 received gold medals.

In a unique result, two cellars, namely Robertson Winery and Wellington Wines, shared the Pietman Hugo Trophy. This trophy is awarded to the winery that scores the highest total points for its best five wines. They finished head to head with the total points for their best wines.

Good-quality white wines

The total entries showed a decrease, as the organisers expected, in view of the COVID-19 limitations. However, the judges’ overall commentary was that the judged wines were of outstanding quality. The quality of the 2020 white wines was particularly good.

Among the Chenin Blanc wines, the unwooded entries generally performed better than the wooded ones, which probably needed more time to come to their full right.

It was a particularly good year for the various Sauvignon Blanc styles. This, thanks to a very cool January and February. The judges were impressed by the many beautiful greener as well as tropical styles. In addition, this year has been very favourable for Chardonnay and the panel experienced top unwooded wines with good balance, mouthfeel, and length. The excelling wooded ones were characterised by balance, more natural acidity, and limy-citrus characteristics.

In the White Blend Class without wood, entries with typical Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon cultivar character stood out, as well as blends with Colombar, supported by strong tropical flavours. Among the Other White Cultivars, both wooded Sémillon and Viognier yielded more complex wines. Muscat cultivars, such as Morio Muscat and Irsai Olivér, showed well-rounded-off wines with good acid balance.

A good year for red wines

Regarding red wines, all the panels were unanimous that 2020 has been an exceptionally good year. The blended wines were full-bodied and mostly showed good balance. Merlot yielded beautiful full wines with soft tannins. The 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage has proven to be as exceptional as expected. Furthermore, the winners of gold and silver medals had great fruit purity and a firm, ripe tannin structure, both in the wooded and unwooded categories.

The Pinotage wines showed very well this year and the vintage’s quality was well-reflected in good colour, structure, and soft, rounded tannins. With Shiraz, the unwooded class stood out. The wines showed good cultivar characteristics, varying from elegant red fruit, with white pepper and a fine tannin structure, to dark fruit, black pepper and more complexity.

Other cultivars that stood out were Cinsaut, Touriga Nacional, Tannat, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot. About Ruby Cabernet, the panel stated that there were beautiful examples that “took our breath away”.

Judging and results

The almost 50 judges on 13 panels scrutinised the entries at Nederburg in Paarl. In terms of overall results, those who excelled at the show with two national winners each were the following:

  • Darling Cellars with the South African champions Merlot (wooded) and Red Blend Shiraz/Pinotage (wooded).
  • Spier Wines with the South African champions Sémillon (wooded) and their White Blend (Sauvignon/Sémillon) (unwooded).
  • Wellington Wines, with Pinotage (wooded) and Shiraz (unwooded).

The rest of the South African Champion wines are:

  • Chardonnay Nuy Wine Cellar, Chardonnay (wooded).
  • Chenin Blanc – Perdeberg Cellar, Chenin Blanc (wooded).
  • Sauvignon Blanc – Diemersdal, Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Other White Cultivar – Van Loveren Family Vineyards, Colombar.
  • Natural Sweet White Wine – Robertson Winery, natural sweet white wine (RS >20g/ℓ).
  • Noble Late Harvest Wine – Bon Courage Estate, noble late harvest.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – Alto Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon (wooded).
  • Dessert Wine – Excelsior Vlakteplaas, Red Jerepiko.
  • Muscadel – Namaqua Wines (Spruitdrift), White Muskadel Jerepiko.
  • Cape Style – De Krans Wines, Cape Vintage. – Press release, SA National Wine Show Association