Drinks writer Peter Ranscombe picks a dozen bottles to demonstrate how exciting winemakers are creating great-value vino in the Cape.
Visiting the Cape Wine trade fair with Wines of South Africa this autumn opened my eyes to a whole new world.
The country has long had a reputation for producing great-value wines that occupy the shelves of supermarkets up-and-down the UK, but what’s not so well-known is the premium end of the market.
South Africa’s winemakers are producing bottles that can sit shoulder-to-shoulder with the most exciting wines from cutting-edge regions in Australia, California or New Zealand.
Here, I’ve picked a dozen bottles that show South Africa at its best.
It’s a very personal selection and includes producers that create consistently high-quality wines, so if you can’t find these specific bottles in your local independent wine merchant then look out for the names of the companies and try some of their other wines.
Whites with freshness and character
Blankbottle Moment of Silence 2017 (£18.50, Swig Wines)
Winemaker Pieter Walser wanted to challenge drinkers’ preconceptions by removing the names of grapes from his labels. Not knowing what’s in the blend adds to the enjoyment for me, with peach, pear and lemon aromas joined by a touch of butter. The crisp acidity is balanced by the peach, apricot and pear fruit, alongside a lick of butter and vanilla.
Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2018 (£15.25 for the 2016, Berry Bros & Rudd)
Californian winemaker Andrea Mullineux and her South African husband, Chris, are among the champions of old vines growing in the Swartland region. The red apple and peach flavours are really well-defined on the nose and are joined by fresh lemon on the palate, with a healthy kick of fresh acidity too.
Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse Cape White Blend 2017 (£24.70 for the 2016, Hedonism Wines)
Made from an interesting blend of roussanne, chenin blanc, semillon, clairette blanche and chardonnay from both old and younger vines, this is the flagship wine from John and Tasha Seccomb. There are light lemon and pear aromas on the nose but then the wine really begins to sing on the palate, with pear, green apple and lime balancing its acidity.
Lismore The Age of Grace Viognier 2017 (£18.05, Exel Wines)
This wine just keeps getting better and better. Viognier is a really aromatic grape and can make quite flabby wines, but in the hands of Californian winemaker Samantha O’Keefe it truly comes to life, with peach, lemon and lemon sherbet aromas leading into a mix of lemon rind and lemon curd flavours on the palate, all wrapped in fresh but well-balanced acidity and a textured mouthfeel.
Reds with fruitiness and stature
Creation Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 (£34.95, Slurp)
One of my favourite pinot noirs, not just from South Africa but full stop. Packed full of rich red cherry, raspberry, wood smoke and spun sugar aromas, the red fruit flavours all follow through onto the palate, with plenty of fresh acidity and well-integrated tannins to handle food. Forged by Swiss winemaker JC Martin and his South African wife, Carolyn, who has created a beautiful tasting room at their winery, serving delicious food.
Storm Vrede Pinot Noir 2016 (£40, The Good Wine Shop)
Working just down the road from Creation in the sensationally-beautiful Hemel-en-Aarde valley, winemaker Hannes Storm produces three pinot noirs, one from each of the trio of soil types found in the area. My pick of the bunch was the “vrede”, which translates as “peace” from Afrikaans, and which has a lovely rose aroma alongside its ripe raspberry, red cherry and red plum flavours.
Trizanne Signature Wines Reserve Syrah (£24.99 for the 2016, Davis Bell McCraith Wines)
Sweet and smoky smells of roast meat, barbecue coals and tomato sauce mingle with blackcurrant. A mix of black and red cherries are joined by blackberry on the palate, with the tannins, acidity and fruit combining to produce a delicious syrah with a rounded mouthfeel.
Momento Grenache 2016 (£26, Lay & Wheeler)
A deliciously-savoury style of grenache, with redcurrant, cranberry and raspberry flavours, plus the grip from the tannins – the part of the wine that makes you suck in your cheeks, like with a cup of tea – that will make it an excellent match with food.
Whites for wine geeks
Reyneke Natural Chenin Blanc (£59.99, Hanford Wines)
Made in one of only two biodynamic wineries in South Africa, this was one of the very best chenin blancs I tried on my recent trip. The concentration of the fruit flavours is sensational, with lemon curd and apple puree balanced by the acidity. The nose is much sweeter, with lemon sherbet and green apple bon-bons.
Elgin Ridge Chaos White (£25, Woodwinters Wines & Whiskies)
It may be made from the same familiar blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon as Bordeaux Blanc, but that’s where the similarities end. A complex nose of apricot, melon, honeysuckle and mandarin leads into an equally enticing palate of apricot, lemon and a touch of cream, before ending in a savoury finish. Elgin Ridge is South Africa’s other biodynamic winery.
Raised by Wolves La Colline Semillon, 2017 (£25 for the 2016, Woodwinters Wines & Whiskies)
Don’t be worried if this wine looks orange in your glass – it’s made using semillon gris, a grey-skinned version of the noble white grape. On the nose, it’s full of peach and mandarin notes, with a touch of smoke, while the flavours on the palate centre more around lemon. It’s textured, but not in the waxy way shown by most semillon.
Craven Pinot Gris 2018 (£19.95 for the 2017, Philglas & Swiggot)
The juice from these grapes spends a week in contact with the skins to produce a beautiful rose-coloured wine. It has a delicious texture too, with crisp acidity in harmony with flavours of melon, lemon and raspberry. Pinot gris may be pinot grigio wearing another hat, but it’s a world away in terms of style.
Our BQ Bulletin emails will land in your inbox at 7.30am, Monday to Friday, with a mix of the latest local business news, national news, and features to inspire you. Sign up here!
Click here to read our privacy statement