A Cabernet Sauvignon crowned as the country’s best 2023 young wine

July 27, 2023
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October 23, 2023
July 27, 2023
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October 23, 2023

A Cabernet Sauvignon crowned as the country’s best 2023 young wine

A wooded Cabernet Sauvignon from Wellington Wines took the crown by clinching the prestigious General Smuts Trophy as overall SA Champion Wine of 2023 after also being named as the country’s best Cabernet Sauvignon (wooded) at the SA Young Wine Show.

Wellington Wines also won the General Smuts Trophy in 2018 for a wooded Pinotage and this year reached a double achievement by also clinching the Pietman Hugo Trophy.

This annual show for wines of the current vintage year is presented by the SA National Wine Show Association (SANWSA) in collaboration with Agri-Expo.

The General Smuts Trophy was last awarded to a Cabernet Sauvignon 27 years ago in 1996 and it is the sixth time in the history of the 191 year-old competition – the oldest of its kind in the world – that a Cabernet Sauvignon bags this major award as its 72nd winner. Wildekrans Estate did this last in 1996 with a “cab”, after Muratie Estate in 1995, JP Bredell Wines in 1993, Saxenburg Estate in 1991 and Klein Constantia Estate in 1988.

The competition’s impressive array of trophies was announced today (25 August) at a prestigious dinner hosted by the Paarl Young Wine Show at the Dawn Mountains function venue near Paarl. Altogether 44 wines achieved Class Winner status and 79 received Gold Medals.

Wellington Wines received the Pietman Hugo Trophy for the winery achieving the highest total score for its five best wines; this being the first time that Wellington walks away with this accolade after sharing it with Robertson Cellar in 2020.

Thereby, Wellington become only the fourth cellar to win these trophies simultaneously since the inception of the Pietman Hugo Trophy in 1994. The General Smuts Trophy has been awarded since 1952 and the other cellars to achieve this double award are Badsberg in 2009 and 2016, KWV in 2015 and Namaqua Wines in 2017.

The fact that this year’s entries are up on last year, shows that the oldest wine show in the country is gaining new momentum. The judges were particularly impressed by the quality of the 2023 wines, despite a vintage year that posed many challenges to winemakers as a result of rainy weather during the latter part of harvest time.

This year’s 1 250 entries were evaluated by 65 specialist judges on 14 panels. The judging took place in the Johann Graue Hall at Nederburg in Paarl over a period of five days at the end of June. Following this, the champions in 16 classes were named, as well as the two trophies for the Best Wine and Best Producer.

A special bottle sticker was introduced in 2013 to feature on the bottles of the

General Smuts Trophy winner and thereby show-off the overall best wine in the marketplace. This has led to more trophy winners being bottled as such in recent years instead of ‘losing their identity’ through further blending.

With regard to overall results, Wellington Wines reached a further remarkable achievement by also entering four Champion Red Wines in addition to the General Smuts and Pietman Hugo Trophies – namely the SA Champion Cabernet Sauvignon (wooded), Pinotage (wooded), Shiraz (unwooded) and Merlot (unwooded).

Van Loveren Family Vineyards is the only cellar winning two champion wines:

  • Other White Cultivar: Van Loveren Colombar, and
  • White Blend: Van Loveren Sauvignon Blanc/Colombar

Die rest of the SA Champions are:

  • Sauvignon Blanc – Nabygelegen Private Cellar Sauvignon Blanc
  • Chardonnay – Robertson Cellar Chardonnay (wooded)
  • Chenin Blanc – Badsberg Cellar Chenin Blanc (wooded)
  • Sémillon – La Motte Wine Estate Sémillon
  • Natural Sweet – OWK Keimoes Natural Sweet White Wine
  • Other Red Cultivar – Perdeberg Wines Grenache Noir
  • Red Blend – Spier Wines Shiraz/Pinotage (wooded)
  • Dessert Wine – Clairvaux Cellar Hanepoot Jerepigo
  • Muscadel – Montagu Wine Cellar Red Muscadel Jerepigo
  • Cape Style – De Krans Wines Any Other Cape Style/Blend

Paarl put up the best show as wine region with seven National Trophies, followed by Robertson with four, Klein Karoo and Stellenbosch with two each and Breedekloof and Orange River one each.

The chairperson of the SA Young Wine Show, Christo Pienaar, said that the quality of the young wines this year had impressed him despite the challenges facing winemakers. Consumers can look forward to quality wines when bottled. “It is noticeable that the national winners originate from right across the country’s wine- producing areas, as well as a variety of winery types. I would like to thank those cellars that participated for their ongoing support.”

The organisers have announced that the SA Young Wine Show has welcomed a further five financial partners to the show – which are all well-known suppliers to the industry, namely Anchor Oenology, Enartis, Laffort, Nexus and Standard Bank. Their contributions are highly welcomed to ensure a bright future for the Young Wine Show – which is known as ‘the jewel’ of the industry.


Two of Wellington Wines’ winemakers can as winners of the General Smuts and Pietman Hugo Trophies look forward to a sponsored six-day trip overseas – thanks to a partnership since 2019 between SANWSA and Porex – a prominent Paarl-based supplier of machinery and winemaking equipment to the industry. These winemakers will visit amongst others a well-known fermentation company and filtration plant in Germany, as well as several local wine cellars.


To view low res images of the event click the link to our Facebook album: https://tinyurl.com/56854w2r

If you need higher res images please contact us.

Please see the judges’ feedback below.


In general, the panel was satisfied with the quality of the 2023 vintage wines. The Gold medal winners all stood out and are absolutely of top quality!

There were also very good Muscat wines and the Muscat blends were very aromatic. Especially interesting was the large number of entries in the Rosé Class that showed well.

The unwooded Sémillon and Nouvelle wines were particularly fruit-driven with most attractive, typical cultivar character. Blends with cultivars like Chardonnay and Viognier this year definitely came to the fore stronger, with characteristic cultivar traits and showed specific wine styles. The wooded blends performed better against the unwooded ones this year. Good integration of wood was found and there were definitely more barrel-fermented ones, while alternative wood-use decreased. 


Looking back at a very challenging harvest, the winemakers did exceptional work to achieve the quality seen in the glass.

The unwooded Chardonnay was the highlight, with fruit-purity and concentration. The wines were in balance, with fresh acidity that complemented the upfront fruit.

In the wooded Chardonnay class, the wines showed beautiful integration of oak and concentration on the palate.


The general quality of Chenin Blanc entries reflected the challenging 2023 season.

The unwooded class produced a variety of wines, from elegant light styles and fruity tropical ones to more complex, full and rich wines. The unwooded wines receiving gold awards were of outstanding quality. They stood out way above the rest in terms of fruit complexity, palate weight and balance – representing a variety of styles.

The wooded wines which received gold awards were few and far between, but of outstanding quality. These wines displayed strong tropical fruit with good wood-integration on nose. These wines also had attractive fruit-intensity on the palate and excellent balance.

The top 2023 Chenin Blanc wines were excellent examples of what Chenin Blanc can offer as a cultivar.


The 2023 crop’s challenges are reflected in the young Sauvignon Blanc wines. They had nice, clean flavours, but in some instances the acidity was out of balance. The panel agreed that most of the wines would take some time to open up.


The Red Blend class showed good results and the panel is excited to be able to follow the wines as they develop in the bottle, hopefully to be seen at Veritas.  Particularly noticeable were the many Pinotage blends that showed up very well. In general, the wines had good fruit and colour, from a year that will be remembered for prolific rain at the time when many red cultivars were harvested. 


After a very challenging and wet 2023 harvest, the negative prospects of the quality this year were removed once the tasting started. The Cabernets showed beautiful red fruit and balance and fewer overripe, cooked and stressed characters dominated this year’s tasting. This could have been thanks to producers picking before the heavy rains predicted. 


In the unwooded class the wines generally showed good colour and pure fruit. The approachability of these wines at an early age once again proved that Pinotage in a slightly lighter style is very attractive.

The wooded Pinotage wines showed particularly well this year and 2023 will be remembered as a very good one for this cultivar. Big wines with intense colour, abundant clean fruit, showing ripe integrated tannins with good length on palate. The wines had good, full body and complexity, yet well-balanced. What a good year for Pinotage!


Merlot can be velvety and plummy, or rich and oaky. There’s something for everyone, which is why Merlot is adored.

The panel was pleased to have found some exceptionally good quality Merlots – which is very promising for the South African wine industry. These wines portrayed the true Merlot profile which included succulent red and purple fruit, elegance, structure and fantastic balance.

The class winners and gold medallists are excellent examples of why Merlot in South Africa and internationally does matter!


This year’s Shiraz wines were all well-made, healthy and bold. They showed good fruit throughout, which carried through on the palate. This class as a whole was strong, with more than 10% of the entries receiving gold, while a large proportion was placed between silver and strong silver. Both the unwooded and wooded Shiraz class winners were well-balanced. What a privilege to taste such beautiful wines in a very strong class.


The overall quality of the “Other Red Cultivars” as a category was good and favourable. Although not every wine could be awarded a gold medal, most of the wines received silver, with some bronze.

Across the board, more than 90% of the wines had intense deep dark (purple to ruby) colour, which is a sign of quality. Quite surprising was that although these wines were all of the 2023 vintage, the general feeling was that the tannin structure on these wines was ripe and soft, not obviously coarse, yet fine-grained.

Outstanding cultivars were Cabernet Franc – that bowled the judges over! – Malbec, Petit Verdot, Grenache Noir and Durif/Petit Syrah.

NLH / CAPE Style Wines

It was an average year for special late harvest and noble late harvest wines.

A few classic examples in the Cape Vintage class, with some wines lacking depth and structure. The Any Other Cape Style blends was a very solid class, with most wines showing good balance and structure and potential to become age-worthy port types.

The tawny style wines are stunning and have all the characteristics of big port wines.


The Hanepoot Jerepigo wines had beautiful, delicate fruit, with good balance. The White Muscadel wines showed well, with abundant fruit, delicious muscat flavours and delicate balance. The Red Muscadel class also had fruity and delicate wines. A few beautiful full-ripe wines were excellent. Generally, the impression was of attractive, clean and mostly delicious, full wines. 

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Contact Bennie Howard, Vice-chairperson or Elsabé Ferreira, General Manager.