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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
|10 Oxes Craft Gin||10 Oxes Craft Gin Skulder||NA||Double Award|
|33 Eighteen||33 Eighteen Dark Rum||NA||Merit Gold|
|African Sun Wines (Pty) Ltd||Mara Nyeupe||2021||Double Award|
|Barnardt Boyes Wines||Carrol Boyes Sketchbook Rosé||2022||Merit Gold|
|Belles Bajan Brew SA (Pty) Ltd.||1966: Artisanal Rum Punch||NA||Merit Gold|
|Bloemendal Wine Estate||Bloemendal Estate Sauvignon Blanc||2021||Merit Gold|
|Bloemendal Wine Estate||Bloemendal Estate Suider Terras Sauvignon Blanc||2017||Merit Gold|
|Cape Fynbos Wines & Spirits||Cape Fynbos Gin||NA||Merit Gold|
|Craft Link Distillery||Ginologist Orient||NA||Double Award|
|Darling Cellars||Darling Cellars Reserve Pyjama Bush Sauvignon blanc/Grenaché||2022||Double Award|
|Darling Cellars||Darling Cellars Methodé Cap Classique Blanc de Blanc Brut||2019||Merit Gold|
|Darling Cellars||Darling Cellars Reserve Six Tonner Merlot||2020||Double Award|
|Darling Cellars||DC Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot||2021||Double Award|
|Die Mas van Kakamas||Vêr In Die Ou Kalahari||NA||Double Award|
|Die Mas van Kakamas||Braai Brandewyn||NA||Double Award|
|Die Mas van Kakamas||Kalahari Naartjie Infused Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Dieu Donné Vineyards||Dieu Donné Blanc de Noir||2022||Merit Gold|
|Druk My Niet Wine Estate||C68||2022||Double Award|
|Druk My Niet Wine Estate||T3 Rosé||2022||Merit Gold|
|Earthbound Distillery (PTY) LTD||Earthbound Amber Rum||NA||Double Award|
|Earthbound Distillery (PTY) LTD||Earthbound Phambili Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Earthbound Distillery (PTY) LTD||Earthbound Angel Breath Gin Strawberry infused Gin||NA||Merit Value|
|Frater Family Wines||Frater Family Wines Sangiovese||2021||Double Award|
|Gember Distillery||Two Gingers Spice Route||NA||Merit Gold|
|Gember Distillery||Two Gingers Soul Flame||NA||Merit Gold|
|Gravel Junction Wine & Spirits||Three Peaks Cantata||NA||Merit Value|
|Gravel Junction Wine & Spirits||Three Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon||2020||Merit Value|
|Gravel Junction Wine & Spirits||Three Peaks Unwooded Chardonnay||2021||Double Award|
|Groote Post vineyards||Groote Post Shiraz||2019||Merit Gold|
|Jorgensens Distillery||Kaapse Blou Maan Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Kindred Spirits||Sugarbird Juniper Unfiltered Gin||NA||Merit Gold|
|Kindred Spirits||Sugarbird Pino & Pelargonium Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Kindred Spirits||Sugarbird XO Brandy||14 Year||Merit Gold|
|Klein Roosboom Boutique Winery||Klein Roosboom Johan Cabernet Sauvignon||2020||Merit Gold|
|La Ricmal||Lerato Sweet Red||NA||Double Award|
|La Vierge Wines||Nymphomane||2020||Merit Gold|
|Le Roux & Fourie Vignerons||Mélodie||2015||Double Award|
|Leipzig Winery||Chenin Blanc||2020||Double Award|
|Meerhof Wines||Meerhof Chenin blanc, Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Verdelho, Roussanne, Viognier||2021||Double Award|
|Meerhof Wines||Arbeidsgenot Grenache Blanc||2021||Merit Gold|
|Meerhof Wines||Arbeidsgenot Verdelho||2021||Double Award|
|Meerhof Wines||Arbeidsgenot Grenache Noir||2020||Merit Gold|
|Meerhof Wines||Meerhof Premium Shiraz/Grenache Noir||2020||Merit Gold|
|Mischa Wines (Pty) Ltd||Mischa Chenin Blanc Heritage Collection||2022||Merit Gold|
|Montagu Winery||Montagu Winery Chenin blanc||2022||Merit Value|
|Montagu Winery||Lady Mary Montagu Sauvignon blanc||2022||Merit Value|
|Montagu Winery||Montagu Winery Red Muscadel||2021||Merit Value|
|Nicholson Smith Agencies||Pandora's Box - The Professor's Pinotage||NV||Merit Value|
|Nicholson Smith Agencies||Bob's Your Uncle - The Fat Cat Chenin||NV||Double Award|
|Nicholson Smith Agencies||Pandora's Box - The Italian Job Dry Red Blend||NV||Merit Value|
|Nicholson Smith Agencies||Bob's Your Uncle - Head Over Heels Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot||NV||Double Award|
|Nicholson Smith Agencies||Aden's Star - The Golden Fleece Red Blend||2018||Merit Value|
|Nicholson Smith Agencies||Pandora's Box - Lock 1855 Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon||NV||Merit Value|
|Nicholson Smith Agencies||Pandora's Box - The Gooseberry Sauvignon Blanc||NV||Double Award|
|Nicholson Smith Agencies||Bella Vino - Sublime White||NV||Merit Value|
|Nicholson Smith Agencies||Pandora's Box - The Persian Shiraz||NV||Merit Gold|
|Nicholson Smith Agencies||Pandora's Box - The Honeysuckle Sweet Red||NV||Double Award|
|Nicholson Smith Agencies||Bella Vino - Perky Pink Rosé||NV||Merit Value|
|Poetic License Distillery||Poetic License Old Tom||NA||Merit Gold|
|Poetic License Distillery||Poetic License Strawberry & Cream||NA||Double Award|
|Poetic License Distillery||Poetic License Fireside||NA||Double Award|
|Premium Spirits||Dragon's Keeper Gin||NA||Merit Gold|
|Rivertown Spirits||Rivertown RUmgIN Spirit Aperitif||NA||Merit Gold|
|Rivertown Spirits||Rivertown African Sky Blue Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Rivertown Spirits||Rivertown Dark Rum||NA||Double Award|
|Rosendal Wines||Rosendal Sauvignon Blanc||2021||Merit Value|
|Rostberg||Lafitte's Goelette French Rum||NA||Merit Gold|
|Select Beverage Company||Benedict's London Dry Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Select Beverage Company||African Craft Honeybush Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Select Beverage Company||African Craft Baobab Gin||NA||Merit Gold|
|Select Beverage Company||African Craft Naartjie Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Select Beverage Company||Elderflower Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Select Beverage Company||African Craft Hoodoo Rum||NA||Merit Value|
|Slanghoek Wynkelder||Slanghoek Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc||2022||Double Award|
|Slanghoek Wynkelder||Slanghoek Private Selection Chenin Blanc||2022||Merit Value|
|Slanghoek Wynkelder||Slanghoek Legends Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc||2019||Merit Gold|
|Slanghoek Wynkelder||Slanghoek Crème de Chenin||2020||Double Award|
|Slanghoek Wynkelder||Slanghoek Noble Late Harvest||2018||Merit Gold|
|Slanghoek Wynkelder||Slanghoek Hanepoot Jeripigo||2022||Merit Value|
|Slanghoek Wynkelder||Zonneweelde AAA Private Selection||2019||Merit Gold|
|Slanghoek Wynkelder||Zonneweelde Pino2 Private Selection||2021||Double Award|
|Slanghoek Wynkelder||Zonneweelde Chardonnay Private Selection||2020||Double Award|
|Sugar Baron Craft Distillery Pty Ltd||Sugar Baron Single Estate Barrel-Aged Rum||NA||Merit Gold|
|The Dynamite Distilling Company||Drysdales Select Reserve Vodka - Triple Distilled||NA||Merit Gold|
|The Dynamite Distilling Company||Drysdales Honey Melon Liqueur||NA||Merit Gold|
|Time Anchor Distillery||Mirari African Botanics Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Time Anchor Distillery||Mirari Damask Rose Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Time Anchor Distillery||Mirari Celebration Gin||NA||Double Award|
|Time Anchor Distillery||Mirari Orient Spiced Gin||NA||Merit Gold|
|Upland Organic Estate||Earthsong||2021||Merit Gold|
|Van Loveren Family Vineyards||Van Loveren Sauvignon blanc||2022||Double Award|
|Van Loveren Family Vineyards||Van Loveren Daydream Chardonnay Pinot Noir||2022||Double Award|
|Van Loveren Family Vineyards||Van Loveren Neil's Pick Colombar||2022||Double Award|
|Van Loveren Family Vineyards||Van Loveren Cabernet Sauvignon||2021||Double Award|
|West Coast Distillers||SeeKat Gin||NA||Double Award|
|West Coast Distillers||Tronk Voël Naartjie Vodka||NA||Merit Gold|
We are thankful to our partners who helped to make this event possible:
For all enquiries, visit https://themeritchallenge.com, or email email@example.com