South Africa riding high

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South Africa riding high

I spent yesterday afternoon tasting my way through a frankly impressive line-up of wines at the New Wave South Africa tasting, organised by a group of UK importers. The tasting aimed to convey some of the vibrancy and excitement that has been building in the country for some time now. It brought memories of my trip down there earlier this year. South Africa has only really been on my map for the recent few years; I have to admit that the ‘classic’ South African style of wines had never really appealed to me and to some extend I still don’t much care for Stellies Bordeaux blends or banana-chocolate Pinotage.

This new wave of producers, mostly from the cool (temperature-wise very hot in fact!) Swartland region, is really reinvigorating the industry with their take on what is fast becoming the ‘new’ South African style: think texture, acidity, whole bunch, lower alcohols, old vines and atypical varieties. Drinkable wines as well as wines that challenge.

There are so many ‘young guns’ doing interesting things, it’s impossible to talk about them all. Aside from the great wines they’re producing, it is their camaraderie and unpretentious demeanours that really draw you in and make you want to be part of the revolution.

I think overall the white wines have the most potential as they are wonderfully textured and full of life whilst the two red varieties showing the best potential are undoubtedly Syrah and Cinsault.

Here’s my pick of the bunch:

Craven, Stellenbosch

Aussie dude Mick and South African belle Jeanine are causing a bit of a stir different in good old Stellenbosch. Their skin contact Clairette Blanche is honeyed and fragrant, the 10.7% Pinot Noir is fresh and vibrant but their best wine is a vivid, peppery Syrah from the Faure vineyard, oh so drinkable and red fruited.

Kershaw, Elgin

Chardonnay and Syrah made by English Master of Wine Richard Kershaw in cool Elgin. The Chardonnay is in a different league and I’m confident in saying it is one of the best currently made in South Africa.

Eben Sadie, Swartland

Eben needs no introduction. The man who put the Swartland on the map is not sleeping on his laurels though. His wines are constantly improving, the 2013 Palladius is quite possibly his best to date. I can’t wait to taste his Mencia at some point in the future and see how the Assyrtiko, Fiano and Greco he’s planted turn out!

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Porseleinberg, Swartland

Callie Louw makes just one wine from the schist soils of the Porseleinberg, a 100% whole bunch Syrah. In 2013 it’s fermented in a mix of concrete egg and foudre and is all structure, finely balanced sandy tannins, fresh acidity and concentrated black fruit scented with wild herbs.

Mullineux, Swartland

The single terroir wines are truly special, the 2013 Schist Syrah was, for me, the best wine at yesterday’s tasting. Such varietal purity and structure is not often seen outside of the Northern Rhone. Real class. Very hard to get, alas.

Crystallum, Hemel-en-Aarde

Sublime classy Chardonnays, ‘The Agnes’ draws comparison with the modern Aussie styles, showing a subtle struck match and grapefruit pith character. The ‘Clay Shales’ is supercharged with terroir and soil expression. The ‘Peter Max’ Pinot Noir shows soft, elegant hedgerow fruit and lovely balance, too.

Alheit Vineyards, Western Cape

Alheit’s white blend, Cartology, is considered one of the finest whites currently made in South Africa and it’s easy to see why. This wine is all about finesse and texture. It has richness and spice but also balance and floral elements.


And i am also very much looking forward to seeing Ryan Mostert’s Silwervis wines in the UK! Only tried the whites so far but have been very impressed. The NV Smiley is already on pour in Kensington Wine Rooms.


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