Bordeaux classifications for South Africa ?

Monday, 1 July, 2013
Dave March, CWM
Tim Atkin MW has produced a review of South African wines in a ranked order akin to Bordeaux Growths; i.e. First Growth being the highest level, Second Growth the next, and so on. It is available for R180 from and no, I haven’t read it.
He has several years of experience of South African wines, many visits here and based his analysis on some 700 wines plus his previous knowledge.

Now, I’m not about to criticise Tim Atkin. I respect his tasting abilities, his integrity and his judgement, and he stresses his report is ‘a bit of fun’ as much as anything and acknowledges it isn’t thoroughly comprehensive. Tim has attempted a double whammy, ranking not only wines, but wine producers in his assessment. Not an easy thing to do if you consider statements of his like, ‘I consider Paarl and Franschhoek to be underachieving’, and ‘SA whites are better than reds’.  Still, it got me thinking.

Firstly, I totally support this kind of analysis. Flawed as it may be, anything which gets international audiences talking about SA wines has to be good. As Oscar Wilde said, ‘There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’. It also plants the idea that SA is making wines at all levels, including the very top, something many outside of this country are slow to realise. So does it matter if some top wines are missing, or we disagree with his rankings? As an industry we should rejoice if Tim thinks Tassenberg is First Growth (he doesn’t, does he?) as much as we should when La Motte picks up another international gong; it’s all about brand SA.

That’s one of the reasons I haven’t read Tim’s report. I know I would be shouting at his choices and raging in despair at his omissions. But it isn’t about that. If it gets arguments going between the likes of Tim and Oz Clarke and Jancis and Robert and Michael and others then all the better.

So would a ranking system, say the ‘Growth classification’ benefit SA? As long as it remained flexible so that movement between growths was possible (but not resulting in the carnage of the St Emilion re-classifications which ended in little change but vast sums of money spent and friendships in tatters) then why not?  It would have to be based on more than the market price of the wine, and include cultural image, vintage variation, demand, competition success, historical status, reviews…and it would have to be judged by impartial experts.
No wonder we don’t have one. In time this might become easier. In Bordeaux the market itself threw up the ‘best’ wines over two hundred years of trading before the 1855 classification based its rankings on price; maybe in another 100 years SA’s top wines will be as obvious. I like the sound of ‘South African Grand Cru’ as well, with the next layer being ‘Premier Cru’, but that has the ring of the almost valueless St Emilionrankings again, where the term is more of an appellation signifying 0.5% higher alcohol. The fact that more than 300 of the 550 producers in St Emilion can put ‘Grand Cru’ on their label is not a position SA needs to be in. 

To stir the pot, though, I thought I would offer my ‘Growths’. Feel free to scream and write to your MEC. As soon as I began I realised how difficult this would be. Do I include Ataraxia, Newton Johnson, Cape Chamonix, Raats, Tokara ? And what about Boplaas and DeKrans and Villiera’sMCC ?  If I include them all do I devalue the prestige of being ‘a growth’?

By the way, ‘Cru Bourgeois’ merely signifies those wines bubbling under and quite capable of rapid ascent.

First Growth

Ken Forrester FMC Chenin Blanc

Kanonkop Paul Sauer

Sadie Columella

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance

NederburgEdelkeurNoble Late Harvest


Second Growth 

Sadie Palladius

Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage

DeToren Fusion V

Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon

Bouchard F Galpin Peak Pinot Noir Tête du Cuvée

Third Growth           

Haskell Pillars Shiraz

Vilafonte Series C

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon

Rust en Vrede Single Vineyard Syrah

Paul Cluver Riesling Noble Late Harvest


Fourth Growth

Cape Point Isliedh

Uva Mira Chardonnay

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay

Meerlust Rubicon

Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Fifth Growth

Rijks Reserve Chenin Blanc

DeWetshofBateleur Chardonnay

Jordan Nine Yards Chardonnay

De Trafford Cabernet Sauvignon

Stark-Conde 3 Pines Syrah

Hartenberg Gravel Hill Shiraz

Groot Constantia Grand Constance


Cru Bourgeois

KleineZalze Family Res Cabernet Sauvignon

Stellenzicht Shiraz

Warwick Trilogy

Vergelegen V

Rustenberg Peter Barlow

Thelema The Mint Cabernet Sauvignon

Mullineux Straw Wine



There are 34 wines in my list, 27 in the first five growths, fewer than half of those included in the Bordeaux 1855 classification, and that is perhaps as it should be, for a nation where the playing field is still changing. Agree or disagree, but at least my list is free.