South African wine producers are taking wine competitions far more seriously in recent times and responding with a greater degree of self-curation when presenting premium wines for inclusion at the annual Nederburg Auction.

According to auction manager Dalene Steyn, the judges at this year’s auction selection tasting concurred that the slightly lower number of wines presented for tasting – 401 compared to the record 460 in 2016 – is an indication that the industry is increasingly acknowledging that wine tasters and judges know what they’re looking for, and are therefore presenting fewer but higher quality wines.

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The industry is responding positively to the call for better quality wines: better fruit quality, better balance, greater length and complexity. As such, there has been a year-on-year leap in quality in the wines received at the auction selection.

Judges had high praise for a strong Cabernet Sauvignon flight, as for Chenin and Bordeaux blends – and to their surprise, for a small but very successful flight of Pinot Noir, of which over 50% of presented wines were accepted.

“Producers are clearly thinking more about what they are presenting for inclusion,” says panellist Tim Atkin, Master of Wine (MW).

“Regular wine tasters such as myself have noticed an incredible increase in quality over the past 10 years – an increase that is reflected in the wines on offer.” Atkin says judges noted a big difference between older and younger wines. There seems to be much more variability in older wines and evidence of virus character.

In younger wines, growers clearly have a much better handle on their fruit. Steyn says the slightly lower number of entries is good news for the 2017 Nederburg Auction.

“We’re looking for quality, not quantity,” he says. “We’d prefer the producers to enter one or two rare wines of which they have limited stock and benefit from the rarity factor than enter wines of which they have plenty of stock.”

Wine journalist Michael Fridjhon, who has been reporting on the auction from the side-lines for the past few years, this year, donned the hat of wine judge on the selection panel.

“I have seen every wine treated on its merits. In the case of older wines, we asked ourselves whether they were credible representatives of a particular era, and in the case of the newer wines, do they have the fruit, the intensity, the nuance and detail to live up to the amount of oak that tends to be thrown at premium wines in South Africa.”

Steyn says the auction is currently in a good place.

“We have made really good progress over the past few years with the quality selection of wine, as well as the selected judges. Due to the exceptional quality of the wines this year, it is even more challenging to decide which should be accepted for auction.”

The auction will depart from its 41 years of tradition this year with a changed format – one day of tasting and one day only of auction bidding. Steyn says this is part of the drive to reduce inventory in favour of exceptionally rare wines.

She urges premium wine buyers to register for the auction and potentially secure some ancient South African historical icon wines as well as a few future historical icons.

“The event gives a fascinating glimpse into South Africa’s past, considering the low alcohols and the wines’ freshness and balance, albeit with acidification,” Steyn concludes.