Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge 2022

Quality and value wines and spirit across price points

The fourth Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge took place recently in mid-August 2022, and the judges sat down at the Conference Centre at Klein Joostenberg Stellenbosch, looking for both quality and value.

The focus of this event is primarily to give the younger generation of wine and spirits consumers a voice. Often panelists are only of the older generation and not in touch with the preferences of the younger generation.

Millennials (those currently approximately between 26 and 41 years old) and generation Z, do not have the same tastes as their parents, nor did they grow up in an era with limited choices dominated by a few major producers. They are more experimental, not influenced by tradition, and are on their way to becoming influential, high-quality and valued consumers. That is why panelists were selected to fit into this age group. The continued growth of this event is an acknowledgement of its unique features that are filling a need in the industry.

The Event Chairman, Brad Gold said: “I am excited about the Merit and Wine Challenge’s initiative that approaches a younger demographic. As an industry, we all need to be investing in our future consumers, and I hope this will aid that cause.”

Demographic changes

Millennials have a lot less disposable income than their parents and more economic realities to face, so they have to be more savvy spenders. Good quality wine is a lot more expensive than it was in the mid 90’s, even if the price is adjusted for inflation.

Role-players in the wine and spirit industry must make difficult decisions in the coming years after the economic challenges created by the pandemic. The youngest consumers have the longest road ahead. They look for value, and their consumption has consequences that will compound as time goes on.

It is well known that younger consumers are more comfortable shopping and interacting online. Making the wine and spirit culture more approachable and shareable will be crucial if the industry wants to see this interest grow.

Brad Gold - Chairperson

Consumers are driven by both quality and value 

The Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge awarded Gold Awards to the outstanding products and Value Awards to wines R190 and below and spirits at R380 or below. Some products achieved both awards and can now proudly display a double award.

The gold award is based solely on the scoring of the panelists, whereas the value award is correlated to the price in order to determine if the products offer real value for money.

Best Performers

This year saw a huge growth in entries, particularly on the spirits side. Some producers seem to do consistently well at the Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge. Now in its fourth year, we saw that the following wineries performed the best:

  • Nicholson Smith Agencies
  • Slanghoek Wynkelder
  • Van Loveren Family Vineyards

The distillers that performed the best were:

  • Select Beverage Company
  • Time Anchor Distillery
  • Kindred Spirits

There seems to be a huge need for the younger consumer’s voice to be heard, away from the dogma of the past.

Trophies awarded

There is a move by younger consumers towards a preference for Chenin blanc, Rosé, top red wine, gin and rum. This event focuses specifically on these categories to award trophies. Every year, fashion and tastes change, and therefore the Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge will always stay up to date with the latest trends.

This year, the trophy for the best Rosé / Blanc de noir went to Van Loveren Family Vineyards for their 2022 Daydream Chardonnay Pinot Noir.

The trophy for the best Chenin blanc went to Leipzig Winery for their 2020 Chenin blanc.

The trophy for the best red wine went to Groote Post for their 2019 Groote Post Shiraz.

The trophy for the best rum went to Earthbound Distillery for their Earthbound Amber Rum.

The trophy for the best gin went to Select Beverage Company for their African Craft Honeybush Gin.

The wine judges were Brad Gold, Callan Williams, Marlvin Gwese, Erica Taylor, Chris Groenewald and Denzel Swarts.

The spirits judges were Neil Tabraham, Janine van Zyl and Greg Mutambe.

Tasting comments for the wines

The categories that received the most entries were Chenin blanc and Rosé, followed by Merlot and red blends. Overall, there were more white wines entered compared to red.

Chenin blanc as a category seems to continue showing well at these tastings. Most of the 2022 wines were packed with freshness and flavour. The wooded examples were well-made, showing lots of complexity. The majority of the judges thought that Chenin blanc is definitely overtaking Sauvignon blanc as the go-to white varietal, and unoaked Chardonnays are just a few steps behind. The trophy for best Chenin blanc went to Leipzig Winery for their 2020 Chenin blanc. This wine scored very well, and it was praised for it’s “beautiful balance and restraint”. The judges all thought that Chenin blanc is a top contender value wise, and a definite go-to for the younger generation.

The Sauvignon blanc wines showed a great diversity of styles. The aromas ranged from tinned peas and asparagus to the more exotic and tropical notes. Most of the wines had vibrant acidity and balance, and were praised for their fruit and freshness.

The tasters opinions were divided regarding the younger generations interest in Sauvignon blanc. Some noted that it is still a key varietal, however that the younger generations taste is more diverse. Sauvignon blanc has given away some market value to Chenin blanc because of its great value for money, and consistent style.

The Sauvignon blancs that performed the best were the Bloemendal Estate 2017 Suider Terras and the Slanghoek Prvate Selection Sauvignon blanc 2022.

Janine van Zyl - Sommelier

The tendency towards drier rosé wines with good acidity serves the Rosé / Blanc de noir category well. Many of these wines tend to be on the lighter side of the colour spectrum, ranging from a slight blush to salmon. These wines, in general had good acidity and were invitingly elegant with good balance. Some quality contenders shook up this customarily pedestrian class. The judges were adamant that Rosé, as a category is often more dependable than varietal wines as far as quality goes and the category offers great value compared to varietal wines. The trophy for best Rosé / Blanc de noir went to Van Loveren family Vineyards for their Daydream Chardonnay / Pinot Noir 2022.

The Pinotage and Cape Blends did well in general, and the styles seemed to have evolved towards more fruity wines, with enough soft tannin that offered a lingering aftertaste.

The Merlot was consistent, and some 2021 wines showed extremely expressive fruitiness with soft tannins. Merlot seems to be a winner amongst the younger generation, the tasters siting the juiciness and approachability, but also the fact that the varietal is so easy to pronounce and remember.

The Shiraz class showed that South African Shiraz wines are world-class. Most Shiraz wines were well-structured with smoky, leathery tones.

There seems to be no obvious move away from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot amongst younger consumers, but they seem to keep the door open to try new varietals. There were a couple of stand-out red wines at the tasting, including the Groote Post Shiraz 2019 that won the trophy for the best red wine on show, and the Meerhof Arbeitsgenot Grenache Noir 2020 that scored very high.

Tasting comments for the spirits

The spirit categories were dominated by gin as expected, followed by rum and brandy. Rum did not always enjoy the respect it deserves, and this year the rum trophy celebrates this category, showing that it is not just pirates who enjoy rum.

The judges loved the brandies, and they were amongst their favourites of the day, with the Kindred Spirits 14-year-old brandy their top pick.

There is a common misconception that Vodka must be absolutely neutral, but water with some alcohol does not taste very interesting. This year the Vodkas were well-balanced with very good flavour. The best unflavoured Vodkas were The Dynamite Distilling company’s Drysdale Select Reserve Vodka, and the West Coast Distiller’s Tronk Voël Naartjie Vodka that did extremely well.

The Gin class was a mixed bag with some absolute stunners. The London Dry gins were clean and juniper forward with a dry finish and were generally very good. It was the new styles of gins as a class, that really surprised. This class allows distillers freedom to express themselves and to innovate.  The trophy for best Gin went to Select Beverage Company for their African Craft Honeybush gin. Another favourite was Poetic License’s Poetic License Fireside gin.

Rum has come a long way but rumours of its coming heyday, popularity wise, were greatly exaggerated. The wait for quality rums does however, finally seem to be over as there were both aged and unaged rums that shined. The panelists all agree that Rum is highly underrated and that a lot of marketing has to go into improving the category’s image. The rum trophy was won by Earthbound Distillery’s Earthbound Amber Rum. Another knock-out rum was from Rostberg, with their Lafitte’s Goelette French Rum.

It was found that individual awards were well below fifty percent of the total entries.

Overall, the judges were pleased with the spectrum of quality wines and spirits entered. The Merit Wine and Spirit Challenge 2023 details will be announced in the last week of January 2023.

The winning entries this year were as follows:

ParticipantProduct NameVintageAward
10 Oxes Craft Gin10 Oxes Craft Gin SkulderNADouble Award
33 Eighteen33 Eighteen Dark RumNAMerit Gold
African Sun Wines (Pty) LtdMara Nyeupe2021Double Award
Barnardt Boyes WinesCarrol Boyes Sketchbook Rosé2022Merit Gold
Belles Bajan Brew SA (Pty) Ltd.1966: Artisanal Rum PunchNAMerit Gold
Bloemendal Wine EstateBloemendal Estate Sauvignon Blanc2021Merit Gold
Bloemendal Wine EstateBloemendal Estate Suider Terras Sauvignon Blanc2017Merit Gold
Cape Fynbos Wines & SpiritsCape Fynbos GinNAMerit Gold
Craft Link DistilleryGinologist OrientNADouble Award
Darling CellarsDarling Cellars Reserve Pyjama Bush Sauvignon blanc/Grenaché2022Double Award
Darling CellarsDarling Cellars Methodé Cap Classique Blanc de Blanc Brut2019Merit Gold
Darling CellarsDarling Cellars Reserve Six Tonner Merlot2020Double Award
Darling CellarsDC Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot2021Double Award
Die Mas van KakamasVêr In Die Ou KalahariNADouble Award
Die Mas van KakamasBraai BrandewynNADouble Award
Die Mas van KakamasKalahari Naartjie Infused GinNADouble Award
Dieu Donné VineyardsDieu Donné Blanc de Noir2022Merit Gold
Druk My Niet Wine EstateC682022Double Award
Druk My Niet Wine EstateT3 Rosé2022Merit Gold
Earthbound Distillery (PTY) LTDEarthbound Amber RumNADouble Award
Earthbound Distillery (PTY) LTDEarthbound Phambili GinNADouble Award
Earthbound Distillery (PTY) LTDEarthbound Angel Breath Gin Strawberry infused GinNAMerit Value
Frater Family WinesFrater Family Wines Sangiovese2021Double Award
Gember DistilleryTwo Gingers Spice RouteNAMerit Gold
Gember DistilleryTwo Gingers Soul FlameNAMerit Gold
Gravel Junction Wine & SpiritsThree Peaks CantataNAMerit Value
Gravel Junction Wine & SpiritsThree Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon2020Merit Value
Gravel Junction Wine & SpiritsThree Peaks Unwooded Chardonnay2021Double Award
Groote Post vineyardsGroote Post Shiraz2019Merit Gold
Jorgensens DistilleryKaapse Blou Maan GinNADouble Award
Kindred SpiritsSugarbird Juniper Unfiltered GinNAMerit Gold
Kindred SpiritsSugarbird Pino & Pelargonium GinNADouble Award
Kindred SpiritsSugarbird XO Brandy14 YearMerit Gold
Klein Roosboom Boutique WineryKlein Roosboom Johan Cabernet Sauvignon2020Merit Gold
La RicmalLerato Sweet RedNADouble Award
La Vierge WinesNymphomane2020Merit Gold
Le Roux & Fourie VigneronsMélodie2015Double Award
Leipzig WineryChenin Blanc2020Double Award
Meerhof WinesMeerhof Chenin blanc, Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Verdelho, Roussanne, Viognier2021Double Award
Meerhof WinesArbeidsgenot Grenache Blanc2021Merit Gold
Meerhof WinesArbeidsgenot Verdelho2021Double Award
Meerhof WinesArbeidsgenot Grenache Noir2020Merit Gold
Meerhof WinesMeerhof Premium Shiraz/Grenache Noir2020Merit Gold
Mischa Wines (Pty) LtdMischa Chenin Blanc Heritage Collection2022Merit Gold
Montagu WineryMontagu Winery Chenin blanc2022Merit Value
Montagu WineryLady Mary Montagu Sauvignon blanc2022Merit Value
Montagu WineryMontagu Winery Red Muscadel2021Merit Value
Nicholson Smith AgenciesPandora's Box - The Professor's PinotageNVMerit Value
Nicholson Smith AgenciesBob's Your Uncle - The Fat Cat CheninNVDouble Award
Nicholson Smith AgenciesPandora's Box - The Italian Job Dry Red BlendNVMerit Value
Nicholson Smith AgenciesBob's Your Uncle - Head Over Heels Cabernet Sauvignon MerlotNVDouble Award
Nicholson Smith AgenciesAden's Star - The Golden Fleece Red Blend2018Merit Value
Nicholson Smith AgenciesPandora's Box - Lock 1855 Merlot Cabernet SauvignonNVMerit Value
Nicholson Smith AgenciesPandora's Box - The Gooseberry Sauvignon BlancNVDouble Award
Nicholson Smith AgenciesBella Vino - Sublime WhiteNVMerit Value
Nicholson Smith AgenciesPandora's Box - The Persian ShirazNVMerit Gold
Nicholson Smith AgenciesPandora's Box - The Honeysuckle Sweet RedNVDouble Award
Nicholson Smith AgenciesBella Vino - Perky Pink RoséNVMerit Value
Poetic License DistilleryPoetic License Old TomNAMerit Gold
Poetic License DistilleryPoetic License Strawberry & CreamNADouble Award
Poetic License DistilleryPoetic License FiresideNADouble Award
Premium SpiritsDragon's Keeper GinNAMerit Gold
Rivertown SpiritsRivertown RUmgIN Spirit AperitifNAMerit Gold
Rivertown SpiritsRivertown African Sky Blue GinNADouble Award
Rivertown SpiritsRivertown Dark RumNADouble Award
Rosendal WinesRosendal Sauvignon Blanc2021Merit Value
RostbergLafitte's Goelette French RumNAMerit Gold
Select Beverage CompanyBenedict's London Dry GinNADouble Award
Select Beverage CompanyAfrican Craft Honeybush GinNADouble Award
Select Beverage CompanyAfrican Craft Baobab GinNAMerit Gold
Select Beverage CompanyAfrican Craft Naartjie GinNADouble Award
Select Beverage CompanyElderflower GinNADouble Award
Select Beverage CompanyAfrican Craft Hoodoo RumNAMerit Value
Slanghoek WynkelderSlanghoek Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc2022Double Award
Slanghoek WynkelderSlanghoek Private Selection Chenin Blanc2022Merit Value
Slanghoek WynkelderSlanghoek Legends Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc2019Merit Gold
Slanghoek WynkelderSlanghoek Crème de Chenin2020Double Award
Slanghoek WynkelderSlanghoek Noble Late Harvest2018Merit Gold
Slanghoek WynkelderSlanghoek Hanepoot Jeripigo2022Merit Value
Slanghoek WynkelderZonneweelde AAA Private Selection2019Merit Gold
Slanghoek WynkelderZonneweelde Pino2 Private Selection2021Double Award
Slanghoek WynkelderZonneweelde Chardonnay Private Selection2020Double Award
Sugar Baron Craft Distillery Pty LtdSugar Baron Single Estate Barrel-Aged RumNAMerit Gold
The Dynamite Distilling CompanyDrysdales Select Reserve Vodka - Triple DistilledNAMerit Gold
The Dynamite Distilling CompanyDrysdales Honey Melon LiqueurNAMerit Gold
Time Anchor DistilleryMirari African Botanics GinNADouble Award
Time Anchor DistilleryMirari Damask Rose GinNADouble Award
Time Anchor DistilleryMirari Celebration GinNADouble Award
Time Anchor DistilleryMirari Orient Spiced GinNAMerit Gold
Upland Organic EstateEarthsong2021Merit Gold
Van Loveren Family VineyardsVan Loveren Sauvignon blanc2022Double Award
Van Loveren Family VineyardsVan Loveren Daydream Chardonnay Pinot Noir2022Double Award
Van Loveren Family VineyardsVan Loveren Neil's Pick Colombar2022Double Award
Van Loveren Family VineyardsVan Loveren Cabernet Sauvignon2021Double Award
West Coast DistillersSeeKat GinNADouble Award
West Coast DistillersTronk Voël Naartjie VodkaNAMerit Gold

We are thankful to our partners who helped to make this event possible:

For all enquiries, visit https://themeritchallenge.com, or email hello@themeritchallenge.com