South African Red Wines

South Africa was the first New World country we explored when first founded, so as early as 2003 we were running around looking for wine to ship.

The reward of that labour was acknowledged as far back as 2010 when we won the International Wine Challenge Specialist Merchant for South Africa award.

The South African wine industry had to reinvent itself after the apartheid years, when the industry was working in isolation and starved of investment.

For example, the country’s vineyards were previously dominated by white grapes (many of which went off to make Cape brandy). All the changes we have seen since the 1990s are now paying off. It’s no one factor, but a combination of many: huge investment in the cellars; the planting of the right red varieties in the right soils and meso-climates; the increased experience - and greater understanding of international standards and practice - of the young generation of winemakers who have come to the fore; and, perhaps most important, the increasing age of the vines following the wholesale replanting of South African vineyards. (Even now, about 40% of the vineyards are under 10 years old). This is particularly important in the case of some varieties, for example Syrah, which rarely give of their best from young vines.

We used to recommed Bordeaux blends as being perhaps the Cape’s strongest suit when it came to reds, and these remain excellent. However, we have wholly reviewed our opinion of Cape Syrah (or Shiraz, as it is often labelled there). South African Syrah is really taking on an identity of its own, offering robust cherry and blackcurrant fruit; and the addition of small quantities of other Rhône varieties - Carignan, Mourvèdre, Grenache or Cinsault - often delivers attractive seasoning. Then there’s Pinot Noir, successful only in the cooler - higher or coastal - sites such as the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley; and then there’s Pinotage...the marmite grape variously described as a living national treasure or "the only grape variety which is carcinogenic".

Pinotage is the one original South African grape, developed by Abraham Perold in Stellenbosch in 1925 by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault, then known as Hermitage. It has the acidity of the former parent and the warm generosity of the latter. South Africans can’t make up their minds if Pinotage is a unique selling point for the country - in the same way Zinfandel is for California, or Malbec for Argentina - or a confusing obstacle to progress. The problem about Pinotage is that, as Robert Joseph wrote in Wine magazine in August 2001, this ‘mongrel grape…unless very skilfully handled, tastes of bubble gum and burned rubber’; and he isn’t wrong about the worst examples. By 1990 plantings had declined to less than 1% of the country’s vineyards, but there has since been a considerable recovery, helped by a new understanding of how to realise its potential by improved viticulture, and also an increasing use of Pinotage as a blending ingredient. Now there is a move afoot to promote a ‘Cape Blend’ which must include at least 30% Pinotage.

In the past the Cape Winelands were centred on the triangle of Stellenbosch, Franchheoek and Paarl. As to where in the country the action is now, it’s a) the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, above Hermanus; and b) out in Swartland, the big zone north-west of Paarl which includes the districts of Voor-Paardeberg, Wellington and Malmesbury. Swartland is home to many of the most innovative winemakers, and even if not based there, others, such as Pieter Walser of Blankbottle, source grapes there. Finally there’s Robertson, a region focussed on simple, good value varietal wines.

Vriesenhof, Limited Release Red Blend, 2018

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Vriesenhof, Limited Release Red Blend, 2018

Vriesenhof only occasionally releases this wine, made with some components left out of the...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionStellenbosch

ColourRed

ABV13.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeVRI518

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Badenhorst, Raaigras Grenache, 2019

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Badenhorst, Raaigras Grenache, 2019
Badenhorst, Raaigras Grenache, 2019

A fabulous (and all too rare) new world Grenache. Soft and pale (Grenache is not a deeply...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionSwartland

ColourRed

ABV14%

Bottle75cl

CodeBAD719

GrapeGrenache

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Vriesenhof, Conservation Collection Pinotage, NV

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Vriesenhof, Conservation Collection Pinotage, NV

This is an unusual wine - in that it's a cross vintage blend of 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, and...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionStellenbosch

ColourRed

ABV13.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeVRI218

GrapePinotage

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Goedverwacht, J & G Cabernet Sauvignon, Robertson 2020

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Goedverwacht, J & G Cabernet Sauvignon, Robertson 2020

Here's a pure Cape Cabernet, showing a whiff of smokey oak (from eight months in barrel)...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionRobertson

ColourRed

ABV14%

Bottle75cl

CodeGDV320

GrapeCabernet Sauvignon

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Piekenierskloof, Stonedance, Hutton Red, Swartland, 2019

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Piekenierskloof, Stonedance, Hutton Red, Swartland, 2019

A pleasing blend of Shiraz and Grenache. The nose has a pretty, cherry quality. On the palate,...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionSwartland

ColourRed

ABV14%

Bottle75cl

CodeSTO619

GrapeShiraz & Grenache

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Badenhorst, Secateurs Red, Swartland, 2019

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Badenhorst, Secateurs Red, Swartland, 2019

Over the years this has changed from being a chunky blend based on Syrah to a more graceful one...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionSwartland

ColourRed

ABV13%

Bottle75cl

CodeBAD619

GrapeCinsault blend

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False Bay, Pinotage, Western Cape, 2018

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False Bay, Pinotage, Western Cape, 2018

Plum coloured. High-toned scent of berries. Bittersweet raspberry and bilberry fruit, bold and...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionWestern Cape

ColourRed

ABV14.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeFAB818

GrapePinotage

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Chamonix, Troika, Franschhoek, 2017

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Tim Aktin
Chamonix, Troika, Franschhoek, 2017

51% Cabernet Franc, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% each of Merlot and Petit Verdot: 18 months in...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionFranschhoek

ColourRed

ABV14%

Bottle75cl

CodeCHX217

GrapeCabernet Blend

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Chamonix, Pinot Noir Reserve, Franschhoek, 2018

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Chamonix, Pinot Noir Reserve, Franschhoek, 2018

This is always a big framed wine, built to last. Given 16 months in barrel, about 60% new oak,...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionFranschhoek

ColourRed

ABV14.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeCHX318

GrapePinot Noir

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Fryer's Cove, Pinot Noir, Bamboes Bay, 2019

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Fryer's Cove, Pinot Noir, Bamboes Bay, 2019

From this isolated, calcareous vineyard on the cold Atlantic shore. Attractively early-maturing...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionWestern Cape

ColourRed

ABV13.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeFRY619

GrapePinot Noir

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Domaine des Dieux, Josephine Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 2015

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Domaine des Dieux, Josephine Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 2015

From cool vineyards at the top of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. As the vines here age, this wine...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionHemel-en-Aarde

ColourRed

ABV13.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeDDD615

GrapePinot Noir

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Goedverwacht, Great Expectations Shiraz, Robertson, 2018

Pretty raspberry and vanilla scent. Bright berried fruit with a hint of earthiness. Excellent...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionRobertson

ColourRed

ABV14%

Bottle75cl

CodeGDV618

GrapeSyrah/Shiraz

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