The National Wine Challenge, incorporating Top 100 SA Wines, the premier fine-wine-only wine competition in SA, launches the industry’s first set of key results for 2021.
Given the nature of Covid risks and protocols it was again not possible to host the annual celebratory awards fixture.  A strong line up of over six hundred fine wine entries made for a very competitive challenge this year. Not a record number, but given the lockdowns, bans on sales, and associated industry issues, we were well pleased with this result.  The wine quality this year was again excellent albeit generally perhaps not quite at the level of the past couple of years.  The results speak for themselves. Winning wines in all categories punched hard, making for a compelling case for wine lovers to seek these out.  Critically, vineyards can now use their fine awarded results, to assist and embellish their own promotion and sales programmes, positioning their fine wines ahead of the majority for the rest of 2021.


The following vineyards were major winners in the 2021 National Wine Challenge /Top 100:

Flagstone Winery (5)Jordan (5)Van Loveren Wines (5)
Alvi’s Drift Private Cellar (4)Paul Cluver Wines (4)Ridgeback Wines (4)
Rietvallei Wine Estate (4)Saronsberg (4)Babylonstoren (3)
Boplaas Landgoed (3)Du Toitskloof Wines (3)Graham Beck Enterprises (3)
Koelenhof Winery (3)Oak Valley Estate (3)RAKA Wine (3)
Stellenbosch Vineyards (3)Vrede en Lust  (3)

Gerhard Swart, head winemaker (Pictured above): “The Flagstone team are ecstatic to have been awarded five wines in the Top 100/Double Platinum Awards. This is a great testimony of the quality of our wines and especially because it covers a broad spectrum of our range of wines. This is a great honour, and we are very proud to have achieved this amazing result.”

Flagstone Winery is the winery with the Most Category Wins with 3 Grand Cru Awards, Most Wines in the Top 100 with 5 Double Platinum Awards as well as achieving 3 Double Gold Wine Awards, making Flagstone the best performing winery at this year’s competition.

Flagstone Wines Grand Cru Awards for ‘best in category’

Flagstone Wines 2021 Double Platinum Wines (most wines listed in the Top 100)

Flagstone Wines 2021 Double Gold Wines


Overall, white wines gained a total of 30 wins.  This slightly reduced number takes us back to the 2019 and 2017 years. Within this broad category, Chardonnay led the charge gaining 9 Top 100 positions ahead of Chenin Blanc with 7 victories.  Next came Sauvignon Blanc in third spot with 5 winning wines.  Riesling gained 3 nods from judges.  This was matched by ‘Other’ blends and ‘Unusual’ cultivars each gaining 3 podium spots too. The Bordeaux Blend category managed a single victory. 

The ‘Top 10’ highest-scoring white wines overall (in fact ‘top 14’, as there were 6 equal-scoring wines, that needed inclusion) include 4 Chardonnay, 3 Chenin Blanc, 3 MCC, then one wine each for ‘Other’ white blend, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and a natural sweet wine.

Regionally for the ‘Top 14’ winning white wines, Stellenbosch led the charge with 6 winning wines. Elgin followed with a total of 5 winners.  Then Franschhoek managed 2 winning wines and Robertson gained 1 wine.  


The red wine category again did particularly well in 2021.  A total of 63 winning wines found favour with judges and gained Top 100 podium positions.  Shiraz pushed out Cabernet this year, dominating with 13 winning wines.  Bordeaux Blends followed with a strong lineup that totalled 9 gongs.  Cabernet performed well cracking 8 nods collectively. Pinotage managed a stellar result with 7 positions.  This was followed by Rhone Blends coming home with 6 fine awards.  Merlot, ever on the up, gained recognition for 4 strong wins.  Then 3 awards each went to the 3 categories of Pinot Noir, Cape Blends and Other Red Blends.  Other Red Cultivars gained a total of 7 victories.  Of these, Cabernet Franc gained 2 wins as did Malbec.  Grenache, Nebbiolo and Touriga Nacional each gained a single, solid win.

The ‘Top 10’ (or 11 in this case due to tied scores) red wines included a strong showing of 2 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2 Bordeaux Blends and 2 Pinotage wins.  Single wins each went to Cape Blends, Merlot, Other Red Blends, Port and Rhone Blends.  

Regionally for the Top 11 red wine, Stellenbosch also dominated with 4 winning wines. Coastal District gained 2 victories with Breede River, Calitzdorp , Paarl, Helderberg and Tulbagh each gaining one awarded wine.


For the fifth year running, a single rosé wine convinced the panel of its merits and achieved a Top 100 award. 


This was another excellent year for MCC.  Matching last year’s 2020 results, a joint record of 7 top slots were awarded in this category. Robertson gained a record-breaking 5 wins, while Stellenbosch gained 2 fine awards.


This category struggled somewhat this year with I very fine example from Elgin gaining a podium entry 


A total of 2 delicious wines marched to the podium.  Both being excellent Muscadel wines, from the same Robertson producer.


There were 3 compelling wines in this category from Calitzdorp region, to gain Top 100 status.


For the broader white wine category, thus including MCC, sweet and rosé wines, vintages 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 each had a single winning MCC wine.  Then 2018 vintage gained 8 positions, vintage 2019 gained 10 positions and vintage 2020 gained 15 victories.  Cultivars per vintage were evenly spread.   It was not as if vintage 2020 for example was all Sauvignon Blanc. There were also 2 fine NV bubblies that scooped an award each


For the broader red wine category including Fortified and Port Wines, vintage 2016 gained 3 awards, 2017 gained 15 awards, 2018 gained 27 awards and vintage 2019 won 22 podium positions.  There was one NV Port winning wine in the mix too.  Much as for the white wines, cultivars for red wines were spread evenly throughout the vintages above.


Winning wines that achieved Double Platinum/Top 100 status awards, gained scores of between 91/100 and 95/100.  This is similar, but ever so slightly lower, to the score bands in the 2020 NWC event.  The majority of winners gained scores spread fairly evenly between the bands of  91/100, 92/100 and 93/100.   A smaller number of wines gained 94/100 and 95/100, much as one would expect.   SA fine wine remains strong, yielding an array of very fine examples across most cultivars and blends.  The 2021 sets of results reinforce the international views that have given kudos to the incremental improvements found consistently across wine styles, cultivars and regions throughout the Western Cape.


Red wines accounted for 55% of total entries. White wines representing 32% of total entries. Rosé wines accounted for just over 1% of entries.  MCC increased marginally to 6% of total entries, an identical figure to total entries submitted for Natural Sweets wines, Fortified wines, Muscadel, Jerepigo and Ports style wines.

18% of the high quality red wine entries gained Top 100 status this year.  This is marginally down on the 2020 figure. White wines enjoyed a winning ratio of approximately 15% for a similar winning status. This was also slightly down on a 2020 results comparison. 17% of MCC’s entered gained Top 100 status.  Just 15% of Sweet, Fortified and Port wines were awarded Top 100 status while rosé achieved 12%.

The largest category of red wines entered was Shiraz.  These gained a winning ratio of 18% of wines entered, scoring Top 100 awards.  Coincidently, this statistic matched perfectly the overall red category ratio.

For white wines the category of Chardonnay gained the most entries.  These gained a winning ratio of 14.5% of wines entered scoring Top 100 status.   Another close match in this case, to the overall entry of white wines and their winning ratio.

ROBIN VON HOLDT reviews the 2021 NATIONAL WINE CHALLENGE (NWC), now in its 11th successful year:

“We areagain for 2021 absolutely delightedwith this year’s successful NWC Challenge!This premier fine-wine competition is now inits11thsuccessfulyear. Our gratitude runs deep forthe strongand verypositive levels of commitmentandsupportgivento us by many of SA’s leading vineyards. It is so exciting and rewardingto work withthe talented group of people making decisions for and managing these tremendously talentedwineries.

The manner and approach applied by our professional team as it goes about its business to support and promote SA fine-wine through the National Wine Challenge, continues to receive positive acknowledgement, recognition and support. Wineries continue to seeadvantageouscommercialgainsand brand enhancement opportunities,competing for the acclaimed array oflong-standingawards. Industry and public recognition ofthe top-levelperformancesachieved by winnersprovides independent credibility, linking directly to enhanced shelf space, listings and sales.

SA fine-wine quality continues to improve and many international critics continue their vociferous support.  Strong competition worldwide remains on the attack, but it is obvious for now that ascendancy for SA fine wine remains the current trajectory.   Stringent viticulture applications and regimes remain in force, which help to produce better fruit qualities.  Cellar practices continue fine-tuning improvements.  The consequence of these material approaches is greater harmony, elegance, balance and structure in fine wine generally.  
Covid 19 and the knock on implications both financially and with regards to trade have been hugely damaging in many ways.  Suffice to say that the industry has been dealt a number of blows.  Certain  of these blows that emanated in SA were totally unnecessary, in essence being below the belt.  Fortunately the wine industry culture is resilient and is one of hard, enthusiastic work together with a life-long commitment.  Because of these characteristics, the future is secure.  The path to achieve this however remains difficult for many.
Thus, we too continue our justified and committed praise of SA’s fine wines at all opportunities and in all situations. Especially so of course for the current, now- awarded Top 100 SA wines.  They deserve full support from every quarter!
The results in 2021 are very strong and once again considering the Covid influenced environment, this is particularly so.  They showcase a diverse portfolio of remarkable wines.  It is always a tough nut to crack this award.  We say this every year because it is true. Additional fine wine entries simply makes it that much harder to achieve this special win.   New vineyards again entered the 2021 NWC for the first time. Pleasingly a number managed to crack a win or indeed more than one! The judging protocols, quality of judging panels and rigorous audit, sets the standard that others follow. Our definitive and warm thanks once again go to all of our many supporters. Special congratulations of course go to all 2021 winners.”