Wine Cellar confirmed this week that Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2014 is South Africa’s top luxury red, ranking number 1 in both Cape Town and Johannesburg’s Luxury Red Taste-Offs. Wine…

Wine Cellar confirmed this week that Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2014 is South Africa’s top luxury red, ranking number 1 in both Cape Town and Johannesburg’s Luxury Red Taste-Offs. Wine Cellar hosted 36 tasters in Johannesburg and 35 in Cape Town in a grand blind tasting of South Africa’s most expensive and luxurious red wines. As part of our regular fine wine tasting series, which is open to the public, this social experience offered an opportunity to understand the palates and preferences of these top fine wine markets.

Considering the gap between 1st and 2nd this year, the Black Label was the overwhelming favourite; it also showed one of the lowest standard deviations of all the winning wines. Heralding from low-yielding bush vines that are 68 years old, the Black Label is a truly unique and special South African wine, and has been since its first vintage in 2006. It has an unbelievable floral bouquet, pure fruit and a deep, savoury shimmer. The palate is rich and yet supremely elegant with well integrated oak, fine tannins and a very long, lush finish. It wowed the tasters with its exotic styling and penetrating red berry fruit.

De Toren Book 17 and Vilafonté Series C once again made the top 3, showing remarkable consistency and their command of the luxury reds market. La Motte Hanneli R made an astonishing debut as a cool-climate Syrah blend with lovely elegance and detail. Mvemve Raats de Compostella also made the top 5, as it did in 2014.

Top 5 tables 2

Tasters were asked to evaluate 12 wines blind in a random order, which was later revealed to be the same order in both tastings. Tasters were given as much time as required for evaluation and ranking. The determination of ‘highest quality’, ‘best’ or ‘most favoured’ wine is open to interpretation. The criteria for ranking each wine were left up to the taster, with the ultimate aim of finding the most preferred wine in the line-up. The results can be analysed and interpreted in a number of ways through median, average and mode, as well as by analysing their standard deviation of rankings. After evaluating the results, however, the mean (average) was used to rank the wines from 1 to 12 (i.e. 1st place went to the wine with the lowest mean). The Black Label was the outright winner in terms of both average and median. Interestingly, the Rijks 888 Gold Pinotage was the winner when considering mode; it had the most 1st place rankings.

Wine selection
There are now 10 (we believe) red wines that sell for over R1,000 a bottle in South Africa. The two 4G wines were not available to Wine Cellar and we made room for new entries by removing the second De Toren luxury wine, the Black Lion. We then selected the most expensive wines in South Africa, but also added a few Wine Cellar favourites: the Mullineux Schist, Sadie Columella and Vilafonté Series C. The latter was placed 2nd in 2014 and the Swartland wines are arguably 2 of SA’s finest and rarest wines. These are all current wine releases, although the vintages ranged from 2009 to 2014.

Most controversial wines
Using the standard deviation, we can determine how similar the rankings of each wine were and, therefore, which wines were more controversial than others. The Rijks 888 Gold Pinotage was by far the most controversial wine with a standard deviation of 4.08, followed by the Mullineux Schist at 3.59. This makes sense; Pinotage often creates controversy in the market and Mullineux’s lean, almost Rhône-like character is appealing or off-putting, depending on the taster. Of the top wines, the La Motte Hanneli R had the lowest standard deviation of 2.97 – a strong demonstration of tasters’ common preference for this style.

Sadie Family Columella, arguably South Africa’s finest wine, again didn’t rank well in the tastings. Along with the Delaire Graff and Simonsig, its more austere style seemed to be overlooked in favour of rich fruit and softness.

Johannesburg versus Cape Town
Johannesburg’s results made for interesting reading. Their top 4 wines all had better average rankings than Cape Town’s top wine. The average standard deviations of all their rankings were also lower. This means that Joburg showed less variation in their preferences compared to Cape Town. Joburg knows what it likes!

Interestingly, Cape Town had 2 Shiraz (or Shiraz-based) wines in the top 5, while Joburg had 2 Pinotages.

The Sadie Family Columella and Mvemve de Compostella are sold out and we await their new releases in the next 3 months. All other wines are available to purchase here.

all wines table 3

There were no official auditors in this fun and fascinating tasting. For a spreadsheet showing all the (anonymous) results, please email


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