South African Wines are turning a corner

Thursday, 24 August, 2017, Jack Suckling
While nobody can deny South Africa’s staggering breadth of widely varying topographies, diverse microclimates, geologically ancient terroirs and breath-taking landscapes, the country has always played second fiddle to the likes of Australia and South America, particularly in Asia.

So it was with real enthusiasm that set up a one-day, private tasting of more than 150 recent releases during the annual Wines of South Africa (WOSA) trade event in Hong Kong this April.

Africa’s only serious wine-producing nation occupies a unique position as the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and arguably the birthplace of New World winemaking. However, the explosive interest in South African wine following the end of apartheid in 1994 largely failed to convert into exceptional results. Production and viticultural methods have lagged behind with supply being pumped up to meet demand and the latest vogue without an insistence on quality.

But our recent tasting proves that the country is approaching new horizons. We rated more than 100 wines 90 points or more, and these included everything from riesling to barbera. “There is a huge push to identify and express the uniqueness of different appellations by focusing on varietals that work in certain areas rather than just making what is trending at that point in time,” explains Hans Astrom, managing director and partner of Klein Constantia. “We are moving away from an old South African style and mentality by moving towards an ‘out of the box’ thinking group of wineries and winemakers.”

Of course, chenin blanc remains king in South Africa, and as it was in the case of many varieties, it was those made in Stellenbosch that really impressed us. The likes of Ken Forrester and Mulderbosch are able to draw on often granitic sites closer to the sea in the south of Stellenbosch, where maritime breezes from False Bay cool the vines during the Mediterranean summers.

Indeed, it could be said in many ways that chenin production in South Africa is a microcosm of the state of winemaking elsewhere in the Cape. We favorably rated a myriad of styles, including later-harvest, but usually still dry whites, fuller-oaked chenins reminiscent of chardonnay, and more Loire-like, edgy chenins with plenty of flint and tension. Yet all the best examples found common ground in freshness and drinkability.

To read more online, click here.

Thomas Davidson

Thomas joined in May 2019 after graduating from Stellenbosch University with a BA in History & Ancient Cultures and completing a certificate in Business Management and Entrepreneurship at the Graduate School in Stellenbosch. He moonlights as a radio presenter at MFM - and has an incredible passion for wine. 
We are delighted to have him on the team.
South African drinking wine
South African drinking wine

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