THE ‘GRAND WINES COLLECTION’ (GWC)

Following the annual release of the SAWi Wine Awards Report, Minister Alan Winde, MEC of Economic Opportunities and Tourism in the Western Cape, labelled the SA Wine Index as ‘an excellent benchmark for the wine industry.’ He went on to say: ‘It showcases South Africa’s highest quality wines. I’m pleased to see that Western Cape wine farms have through the Index at last received the recognition they deserve’.

This excellent endorsement serves to underline the true value of the South African Wine Index – it exists to identify and promote South Africa as a producer of exceptional wines expressed in the form of the ‘Grand Wines Collection’ (GWC), in through which South Africa is able to hold its own on the international vinous stage. It constitutes an exciting new South African wine calling card for lovers of wine.

Using the Grand Wines Collection, South Africa is able to confidently market itself as a premier international wine producer. Similarly, the world now has access to the finest South African wines, in one collection.

But, what is platform for the Grand Wines Collection? Well, the South African Wine Index (SAWi) has created a system which after 10 years of dedicatedly tracking the quality performance of all wines in South Africa, brought about what is known today as the ‘Grand Wines Collection’ (GWC). Today, the GWC is the only luxury brand of its kind in the world and so different in nature from anything else that it is officially acknowledged as the particular, definitive and concrete benchmark standard for identifying top wines. If you want to know what a good wine is, this is it.

This unique system called the ‘Algorithm of Excellence’ distils the collective wisdom of more than 100 authoritative multi-national wine competitions, reviews and listings to present a single point score representing the perceived value of a wine, stripped of the subjective noise of various judging panels. As such, SAWi can legitimately claim to have identified South Africa’s best wines.

In tracking multi-national outcomes of wine competitions, it only focuses on results above gold status and which are then converted in a point’s format through an index methodology. In the process either scoring outcomes from 93 points and upwards are used or specific set point scores for obtaining accolades such as double gold, trophies and the like.

The index also allows for weights to be applied according to the importance of the event, very much like that of the tennis or golf circuits. These weights differ in application between local and international events with four layers each.

Therefore, a wine that is included in the GWC has a multi-vintage track record based on a 10 year roll-over base. This then remains an on-going process. What such results have shown up is that it is very unlikely that GWC wines will lose their status, showing on-going consistency in quality. This makes the portfolio very unique and an ideal base from which to build home cellars.

WHAT IS FINE DINING?

The term ‘Fine Dining’ brings to mind all kinds of images, from crisp white tablecloths to waiters in tuxedos. Fine dining, just as the name suggests, is a sit down restaurant which offers patrons the finest in food and wine, service, and atmosphere. One could expect a more formal atmosphere here with much more attention to detail.

To take it to the ultimate, some typical services provided in a fine dining restaurant include escorting patrons to the table, holding the chair for women, escorting patrons to the restrooms if needed, crumbing the table between courses, and replacing linen napkins if a patron leaves the table. New wine is never poured in the same glass, and silverware is replaced entirely between courses. [acknowledgement – thebalancesmb.com, defining the concept best].

Fine dining was inspired by Haute-cuisine or ‘Grande’ cuisine which refers to the cuisine of ‘high-level’ establishments, gourmet restaurants and luxury hotels. It is characterized by meticulous preparation and careful presentation of food, at a high price level. It usually reflects cooking that is done in a very skillful and complicated way. Fine dining has retained elements of this. [Wikipedia]

In addition to who was eating Haute-cuisine and what exactly it consisted of, the term can also be defined by who was making it and how they were doing so, including serving dishes in small and numerous courses which represent ‘gourmet’ dishes today. Professionally trained chefs were quintessential to the birth of haute-cuisine in France with its extravagant presentations and complex techniques. Today this is what still distinguishes fine dining.

As for wine list offerings, especially at larger establishments, these lists are deep in vintage and price points, offering everything from a lower priced wine, with others in much higher-priced categories, with a few additional rare vintage choices too. Many restaurants at this level will have a Sommelier, offering diners information about the wines and how they pair with the food.

Nouvelle-cuisine was a movement towards conceptualism and minimalism and was a direct juxtaposition to earlier haute- cuisine styles of cooking, which were much more extravagant. While menus were increasingly short, dishes used more inventive pairings and relied on inspiration from regional dishes. These lighter dishes and more modest presentations are today also the order of the day in fine dining establishments. [Wikipedia]

The above is as opposed to casual eateries, cafes or family-style restaurants that serve moderately-priced food in a casual atmosphere. Casual dining comprises such places like a, coffee house, tearoom, luncheonette, hamburger stand, fast-food joint, fast-food place, (all French), creamery, dining car, dining coach, dining saloon, diner, lunch bar, snack bar, sushi bar, rotisserie, cafeteria, barbecue and spaghetti house.

Given the above, SAWi is particularly alert to fine dining as it has evolved today into an eclectic blend of cuisines and dining concepts. While that could potentially still represent a broad range of eateries, including a chophouse, bistro or, brassiere, diner and grill-room and the like, it should clearly show an element of smartness and elegance in the restaurant outlay and the style of food and wine offering, as backed up by stellar service (thus all found in the smaller details). This then forms the basis for SAWi in its decision for inviting entries for its fine wine list awards.

And as a last thought: What has happened to some typical services provided in a fine dining restaurant including escorting patrons to the table, holding the chair for women, escorting patrons to the restrooms if needed, crumbing the table between courses, and replacing linen napkins if a patron leaves the table? New wine is never poured in the same glass, and silverware is replaced entirely between courses. [thebalancesmb.com].

BACKGROUND TO SAWi WINE LIST AWARDS

A great restaurant is one that, whatever its concept, conveys its sensibility through wine as well as food. – David Lynch

‘Most restaurant wine lists are praised and given awards for reasons that have little to do with its real purpose, as if it existed only to be admired passively, like a stamp collection. A wine list is good only when it functions well in tandem with a food menu. – Gerald Asher

“Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.
Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living.”- Robert Mondavi

Hugh Johnson, one of the world’s most respected wine writers, recognises these kinds of awards as the sommelier’s chance to shine: ‘Great chefs get stars; great wine lists get less attention’.

As Johnson alludes too, wine lists do not receive the attention that they deserve. In the SAWi World of Fine Wine it has become something of priority for all the reasons as set out about the wine list awards on this website.

Many of us when sitting down in a restaurant have the habit of first taking the wine list and scrolling over the prices depending on the wine category we fit into (as a personal behavioral attribute):
– social drinkers who normally go for the cheapest wine;
– basic wine drinkers who rather choose a label they know and also won’t spend much;
– conservative traditionalists (snobs) who normally do not know what a good wine is but, mostly targets middle-of-the-road bottles, while also being influenced by price;
– wine enthusiasts who are experimenters and adventurers who want to know what a good wine is and are keen to learn more and therefore ask questions first;
– connoisseurs going after higher end wines to impress and enjoy the experience with others.

So, what’s the problem? Well, let the penny drop. Do you allow yourself to order some other appetizing drink first until you have decided what to eat if you really want to experience how food and wine can complement each other? As it stands, it could well be argued that the majority of restaurant wine lists are of little help to let patrons discover their taste preferences of wine and as a result to exit their comfort zones and try something new. The list must satisfy all the needs for lunch or supper and celebrating events. It should obviously also fit the food menu.

Then again, the wine list may be as good as it gets but, in top establishments, should be backed up by a well-trained sommelier or wine-stewards that knows wines and could engage and provide valuable advice based on a guest’s food preferences. Once served, these experts should share more information about the particular selection (that is if patrons are interested to know). In other words, their mastery should be put to good use in engaging enough with patrons.

WINE LIST EXPERIENCES

‘See if any of this sounds familiar: You’re in a restaurant that takes wine very seriously, one where a thick, leather-bound, 25-page book arrives with great fanfare–and a thud–at the table. If you’re in a group with no discernible host, who picks it up? Ideally there’s a wine geek in the mix to take charge (fraught with its own perils, not least of which is listening to that person). Otherwise it’s a game of hot potato–one that few diners want to play anymore.

That’s tough for me to accept. I’ve spent the past decade working as a sommelier in restaurants with supersize wine lists, but I’ve come to realise that my acquisitiveness appeals to only two types of customer: the aforementioned oenophile, a guy (it’s usually a guy) who’s just as likely to bring in his own bottle as he is to order something from me, or the fellow sommelier, also usually a male nerd, whose childhood affinity for, say, baseball cards morphed into a fascination with oxidized, skin-fermented white wines from Slovenia.

But when it comes to typical drinkers, I’m under pressure to edit things down. As one friend put it: ‘I don’t come to your restaurant to read a book’. I learned the less-is-more, one-page approach to wine
lists rather than just buying anything that had been my MO for much of the previous decade. I had
to make each choice count. I was curating rather than collecting. The result reads like a menu rather than a list, which is the whole point; the idea that a great cellar must be a ‘deep’ one is on the way out.

It’s tough to downsize. Sommeliers don’t really ‘do’concise. Much as I have come to love parsing the differences among Barolos (and acquiring as many vintages and producers as possible), it’s my job to find a perfect, textbook Barolo for the person who’s never tried one. Because on any given night, I deal with greater numbers of neophytes than of fellow connoisseurs and finding wines for them is more difficult–and more satisfying–than jousting with an expert.

So, is the short list a better way to go? If you trust the restaurant, yes. My idea of a great restaurant is one that, whatever its concept, conveys its sensibility through wine as well as food. While my cork-sniffing brethren and I may hate to admit it, an encyclopaedic list doesn’t really do that. It may be a book, but it doesn’t tell a story’. – David Lynch

TO BREAK A MINDSET

Breaking the mind-set that ‘Premium quality wine only came from classical European wine nations and the odd high end Napa Valley cult winery’, was never going to be easy. Neither for South Africa nor newer entrants to the premium wine markets like Chile and Argentina.

But one of the wonderful aspects of the fine wine end of the wine trade is that to change perceptions, you don’t need advertising, call centres or mass media marketing – you merely need credible people of influence to put wine in glasses, tell the appropriate ‘authentic’ story, and importantly, benchmark top local wines in order to befriend the consumer. Fine wine after all is normally bought on recommendation… more push than pull. That is, if you know what fine wine is?

The hand sell of premium SA reds and whites was seriously difficult in the early 2000s. Success relied on tight ranges of high quality top flight wines, plentiful support from winery owners and wine makers, and total belief from the merchant selling the wines. After all, wine in South Africa is still dominated by the volume driven cheap wine class which makes up 75% of bottled wine here. Only a proportion of the balance of 25% can actually be classified as fine wine.

Therefore, it is still a challenge for South Africa’s finest icon wineries to bed down the idea in consumer’s minds that the Cape’s finest could compete with the world’s best on a daily basis. While the quality of SA’s top wines improved, the more journalist were required to sit up, take notice and talk up the more expensive premium offerings from the Cape. But, did they? Have they got their act together? No doubt, consumer scepticism still prevails as consumers here and abroad is still only connecting with the usual commodity type of wines.

Hence the role of the South African Wine Index and its ‘Grand Wines Collection’, slowly laying the foundation for consumers in the broader market to start taking fine South African wines seriously. Today the category offers the most exciting value for money premium wines in the New World. Viva Africa! Your time has finally come.

THE SOUTH AFRICAN WINE INDUSTRY ENLIGHTENED ANEW

In 2009 SAWI started out by tracking outstanding achievements in fine wine making with its multi-vintage ‘Algorithm of Excellence’. In this long arduous quest, there were no footsteps to follow, so a road was embarked on which no one has pointed to as yet, but SAWi knew that success comes from changes in the way people think. In the process SAWi followed a goal that was definite and clear.
This brought up the result after 8 years culminating in its ‘Grand Wines Collection (GWC).

Those whose wines were taken up in the GWC are the ones that fight the good fight on a daily basis. In the process, they have taken over the custodianship of esprit or guardianship of the wine industry, being the ones putting in the hard yards day by day; and the renewed focus in the industry today is due to their cleverness and sustained vigour in excelling in winemaking.

While sharing in their achievements, one notice a common spirit amongst these performers, with lots of passion, perfection and pride in what they do, inspiring enthusiasm for those that are to follow. Such passion and care is enlightening the industry anew towards a brighter future.

The SAWi concept is a disruptor in the South African wine world which influences things in the space the industry here finds itself onto new brand building opportunities. The new message is about a noble course going forward. This means that the GWC belongs to a hereditary class with high social status; showing fine personal winemaking qualities. Could this be ascribed to some sort of disruption only or is it the start of the 4th revolution in winemaking terms here in SA?

Today, the message to the world out there is that South Africa has arrived in standing their ground amongst the world’s best in fine wine making as represented in the GWC. It is time to take note.

ESSENCE OF AN INDEX

THE SAWi WINE INDEX

Anyone old enough to appreciate South African wine has an opinion on the fermented grape: there’re probably as many wine writers and awards as there are wine makers. With well over eight thousand local wines, how do one decide what to drink?
Is choice based on the number of trophy stickers the bottle bears, Google what Christian Eedes drank last night or see how many stars the Platter Guide gave it? Or just based on pot luck?

Opinions are by nature, subjective. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with subjectivity since we’re entitled to our preferences and opinions, it makes determining a reliable wine ‘standard’ difficult. National and international competitions are a starting point as these are generally blind tastings judged by a professional panel but even these have limitations: wine producers often have to pay to enter, limiting the sample size; scoring protocols differ and there’s no measure of a wine’s performance, year on year. And how on earth is the man in the wine shop meant to know which award trumps which?

Let’s illustrate by way of analogy: imagine you wish to invest your savings. Would you be comfortable buying shares based on a single reference point (i.e. company X won a gold medal in the 2010 Da Vinci Start-up Awards) or would you prefer information which tells you how company X performed over the last 5 years in relation to similar companies? The gold medal offers limited information as it relates to an isolated event in company X’s history while the latter offers greater insight into the relative performance of the company over a longer period and is thus more meaningful to your decision making process. Now the company operates within an industry with a known average index of 85 for example and X’s score is 90, you could safely conclude that this company is in the top percentile of the industry and is probably a good investment. This concept of an industry index allows the investor to determine the company’s comparative ‘value’ and forms the basis on which shares can be traded on stock markets.

So, what’s the answer in the case of wine choice?
An Index system process which:
– retrieves existing data and applies a specific formulation;
– finds precise values based on multiple criteria; and
– expresses a particular status (via a standard unit).
As such, an index is a single number, the result of a mathematical equation designed to aggregate a set of data effectively, allowing comparing like with like.
– this symbol affirms the state or condition of something in particular;
– a body of facts/information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid;
– something serving as a visible/tangible representation of a fact or a state of quality.

Indices provide us with benchmarks, their usefulness evident in our daily life: from the CPI (Consumer Price Index) to GI (Glycemic Index) to BMI (Body Mass Index) to the Dow Jones Index. What if this could be applied to the wine industry? Perhaps finding the holy grail of great wine would finally be within reach.
‘An Index of Wine Excellence…’

This is the concept behind SAWi, the South African Wine Index, a score derived from a multi-phase algorithm to help wine lovers identify consistent excellence. Such scores take into account a specific wine’s best results over multiple vintages, national and international accolades won, proven record of quality as well as trophies and Top 10 listings. In other words, only accolades above a gold medal. As such, the collective wisdom of the judging panels, authoritative reviews and the wider wine industry is distilled into a single figure that drowns out much of the subjective noise, making it easy to distinguish truly extraordinary wines.

It has become particularly clear that all those making wine are excited by the potential a reliable, recognizable standard offers the industry. With a credible index as a benchmark, the true value of South African wines can now for the first time be gauged and celebrated. Most importantly, to be rolled out to the two top market segments namely wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs.

Having built out an eight year performance record for all SA Wines, a milestone was reached which enables SAWi to announce it’s ‘Grand Wines Collection’ (GWC) in 2016. This collection represents 400 wines which made the benchmark of 93/100 over a ten year adjudication period. It culminated in a world first wine cultivar ranking list from where unique sets of combined wine lots are offered to the above target market, with SAWi answering the calls of high profile private client individuals to help them to obtain good wine and to build up their private wine cellars. The GWC will be rolled out via unique wine lot compilations. A wine club affiliation process (with mainly wine enthusiasts as members) is well underway too.

Competition Matters | Faster than Usain Bolt

My 8-year-old son is convinced that his best friend’s older brother is the second fastest man alive, after Usain Bolt. That said brother is 12, and runs a 100-metre sprint in just about enough time to allow Bolt to win his race, sign autographs and complete a press conference, is beside the point; to one adoring fan it’s only a matter of time before I hear the words “He’s faster than Usain Bolt!” and there’s a new champion atop the winner’s podium.

Until then, Usain Bolt has proved that he’s worthy of his place as the top-ranked 100-metre sprinter in the world – that despite recording only the 8th fastest time this year (tied with South African, Wayde van Niekerk, 2 places below another South African, Akani Simbine), and with everything to prove at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

“But we don’t do competitions,” was a common cry some years ago, when I asked a handful of producers about their international status – partly for some background work I was doing for an article in a local publication, and partly to interrogate the validity of the SA Wine Index, to which I had just been introduced.

The truth is every producer that puts a bottle on the table – whether mine or anyone else’s – is “doing competition”. Should the wine not be as good as that of ‘the competition’, the second bottle on the table will bear a different producer’s mark.

With social media being what it is, and the ready access we have to many sources of commentary about practically every wine sold and consumed at present (with ratings from stars to thumbs to glasses, or points out of 5 or 20 or 100) no-one can claim that they are above, or outside of, the competition circuit. They may not compete formally; but compete they do.

The SA Wine Index is unique in that it considers the multi-vintage performance of every South African wine across more than 100 national and international competitions, ratings, listings and reviews. The majority of these are listed on the sawineindex.com website, and any new and noteworthy platform that serves to make a statement about a wine’s performance or value is considered by the Index.

The Index aggregates the wine’s various multi-vintage performances, using a complex but not complicated algorithm that weights the various competitions and rewards best in class performances as well as consistency over a rolling 10-year window. The result is a single point score that definitively separates the athletes from the older brothers, and which provides a reliable measure of the true class of the wine.

And while The Olympic Games stands ahead of other competitions when it comes to any self-respecting athlete proving his or her worth, it’s not the only measure. Rather, while coveting an Olympic medal, athletes look to the IAAF rankings to properly indicate where they stand. In the same way, the SA Wine Index leads the wine world in its ability to definitively identify South Africa’s finest wines.

Terroir: Terrible or Terrific?

The SA Wine Index has, for many years, supported the notion that South African terroir is both a legitimate concept and significant in the production of consistently noteworthy South African wines.

While some will pooh-pooh the very notion of terroir, we were pleased to see that James Lawrence, writing recently on Wine-Searcher.com, doesn’t. His article headline South African Wine’s U-Turn on Terroir” is rather wishful, but we hope it’s prophetic, nonetheless.

The SA Wine Index results will make interesting reading for those into terroir. For the first time ever, SAWi will release the full list of South African wines to achieve SAWi Grand Wine status – an accolade bestowed on wines that have achieved an Index score of 93+, when considering non-vintage specific performance over at least three vintages, in more than 100 local and international competitions, ratings and reviews.

The list itself is sure to generate much interest, but it’s the underlying performance of certain styles and cultivars in certain regions that will get the aficionados reaching for their notebooks.

“Fine Wines Are Effectively Recession Proof”

In an article on InvestorIdeas.com, Jason Phillips, shares some investment insight, including a focus on wine investment – a popular alternative investment that can’t be overlooked

There are many different types of collectable investments; the most common ones are coins, violins and wine. Wine has become one of the most popular alternative investments as it has been shown to provide better returns over the last twenty years than many of the more traditional investment vessels. Part of the recent increase in interest is the belief that fine wines are effectively recession proof; this is, unfortunately, only true if you are able to hold onto the wine for the long term.

The premium wines are still the French wines, predominantly Burgundy’s, Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley. However, there are also some excellent quality wines arriving from Italy and Spain; even South Africa and California are starting to produce investment quality wines.
While we’re not qualified to offer investment advice, we’re confident that money spent on any of the wines that feature in the SAWi Ambassadors Collection will be well spent – whether now or in years to come.