Wine ratings have always been controversial, regardless of whether it is done by an official tasting panel, wine competition judges or wine writers.
And although I might not always agree with them, I do think wine ratings are important. When you are a producer and close to your product, they give some perspective and to the consumer perhaps the all-important differentiation between wine and commodities.
Sure, the retail sometimes expect their entry-level wines to taste the same year on year, but the essence of wine is that it represents the terroir and vintage and does not taste the same every year. Doing a rating of Coke would be meaningless – at its very essence it should taste the same year after year, country for country. That should never be the case with wine!
Well-known wine writer, Tim Atkin, has been publishing a report rating South African wines for the past few years. I very much enjoy reading this. Not only am I of course interested to see how he rates our own wines, I also think his opinion reflects an international quality perspective.
Having said that, there is something that bothers me.
I believe in the importance of classification (do read my blog A guarantee of origin and quality – the value of classification)
And while the South African certification system and Wine of Origin scheme base the wine qualification on origin rather than quality, I value classification based on a total package such as the French First Growths.
It seems that I am not alone as the recently founded Cape Vintners Classification also aims at qualifying Cape wines based on various factors: the site and origin of the wine, environmental respect, quality as well as history and heritage. Incorporating environmental practices and conservation of heritage are quite modern and shows that wine-making is much more than producing wine from grapes. As much as I think this is going into the right direction though, to belong to the CVC requires paid membership. We are a paid member as well. It is however not an industry organisation.
So what does this have to do with Tim’s report? What bothers me is that it is called Cape Classification. Perhaps Tim has identified a gap in the market and perhaps he used the term without considering how official it sounds. He does explain that it is his classification of Cape wines and does not claim it to be the official system. My problem however, is that it took an outsider (and with that I mean someone outside the South African wine industry, regardless of how well he might know the industry) to put our wines into a quality classification system. Is the Cape wine industry not supposed to have taken responsibility for this?
For the consumer Tim’s 2015 Cape Classification might look very much like an official qualification, rather than one person’s take on the industry.
There is no denying that for the industry to implementing such a system will not be an easy task. Even Italy’s age-old Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC or controlled designation of origin) or Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG or controlled designation of origin guaranteed) ran into trouble and had to be flexible to accommodate other areas. (Read my blog: The Story of the Super Tuscans)
Understanding that it is not an easy process, that someone will always be unhappy and that perhaps it was not Tim’s idea to be the official voice of South African wine quality, I am definitely of the opinion that if we want to include quality as part of our classification system, that it cannot be the responsibility of a wine writer. It has to go through official channels.
(Purchase Tim Atkin’s full report on South Africa)