Posted on 20th June 2017 by JN Wine
South Africa is one of the world’s great wine producing countries. For a New World region, it has a surprisingly long history of grape growing and wine making, with the first vines being planted in the Constantia vineyard, near Cape Town, in 1655; that’s almost 100 years before the production of wine started in Australia! The vineyard at Constantia is famous for its production of dessert wine, a personal favourite of Napoleon Bonaparte, who had it shipped to help him deal with the hardships of exile, but South Africa has a lot more to offer the palate than sweet wine.
Stellenbosch is the second oldest, and arguably, the most recognisable region for consumers in our part of the world. Being only slightly warmer than Bordeaux, it is hardly surprising that Stellenbosch produces some of the best Bordeaux-style blends that the New World has to offer. Syrah also grows well in this part of the world. South Africa is one of the few countries that labels some wine as “Shiraz” and others as “Syrah” when they want to acknowledge a more traditional, French-style wine compared to the New World style associated with the Shiraz label.
If Syrah/Shiraz is to your taste, try Reyneke Syrah 2014 (£13.25). Uplifting bright sweet red plum fruit with layers of perfumed violets and red berry notes, followed by subtle notes of white pepper, cinnamon, liquorice and aniseed spice. This Organic & Biodynamic wine received an outstanding 94 point score from Tim Atkin. For the ultimate insight into how the terroir of South Africa is perfect for the cultivation and production of Syrah, Porseleinberg 2014 (£50.95) is justifiable in its extravagance, with a massive 96 point score from The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin.
For Bordeaux fans, look to Rustenberg and their John X Merriman Red Blend (£12.49): Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Plum and cigar-box aromatics and a multi-layered palate with an elegant tannin structure, this wine is one of the most convincing new world Bordeaux blends. For those who can afford to stretch the budget, the 2009 Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon (£23.62), also from Rustenberg, is a real treat. The oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard on the estate is named the Peter Barlow block and consistently produces powerful, long-lived Cabernet Sauvignon that is given the best possible treatment in the cellar.
South Africa is famous for its production of Chenin Blanc, known locally as “Steen”. A native grape of the Loire Valley, how it ended up becoming South Africa’s most planted vine is a bit of a mystery, although it may have arrived with French refugees who had fled France to South Africa during the Huguenot Wars. Initially, Steen was used to make neutral, off-dry wines to satisfy local and export demand for white wine, but some producers made the decision to focus on the potential of Chenin Blanc to create wines of texture and complexity.
If you’re a fan of Chenin Blanc, Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2016 (£8.93) from Adi Badenhorst is, as described by Jancis Robinson, an ever popular “crowd-pleaser.” The wine has aromas of flint, honey and orange blossom, with white stone fruit notes on the palate. For the more adventurous drinker, Adi produces a unique white Blend, with Chenin playing the lead. Cinnamon, honey and Citrus Peel on the nose follow through on the palate, with an intriguing nutty, saline character. Unique, interesting and extremely good value for a fan of rich full-bodied whites. AA Badenhorst Family White 2014, £17.85.