South Africa

You certainly know when you are in an African vineyard - you are told to watch out for puff adders, and you can see the paths left on the surrounding hills by troops of raiding baboons.

I covered fifteen hundred miles around the Cape winelands in April 2009, and it was a hugely stimulating trip. There is no doubt that quality is improving year on year in South Africa, whilst prices remain mercifully stable: there are some cracking values here, at every price level, whether Goedverwacht’s Merlot at £6.25 or the Ataraxia Chardonnay at £13.50.

Why is or printed list subtitled “Ancient and Modern”?  First, because we have to get away from the idea that South Africa is a “New World” wine country. The first grape harvest for wine in the Cape was exactly three hundred and fifty years ago! At Meerlust one tastes the wine in a farm building dating to 1693; at the current site of Vondeling, out on the Paardeberg, the planting of vines is documented to 1720; the Van Niekerks are fifth generation farmers at Knorhoek; and at Rustenberg wine has been bottled continuously since 1892, far longer than at most French estates. South Africa, unlike Chile or New Zealand, has long enjoyed a wine culture.

Along with that history come notions of national style, a concept difficult to pin down, but unquestionably relevant to Cape reds, which so often evince an earthiness which is distinctively South African, and yet very much “Old World” in its correspondence to the French notion of terroir, encompassing not just the soils, the vines and the climate, but also the yeasts in the cellar, wine-making practice and so forth. There is no question that Meerlust’s Rubicon or Solms-Delta’s Hiervandaan are terroir wines in an “Old World” idiom.

As for the “Modern”, while we love history, we seek out the best new wineries too. All three of our growers in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley are picking grapes from vineyards on uplands grazed by sheep not much more than a decade ago. At Creation there’s a dazzling new winery and tasting room, and many others are under construction. The advantage latecomers have is to start with better plant material, resistant to the leaf-roll virus which blights many South African vineyards, better matched to their specific site than hitherto.  

Furthermore Cape wineries need not be bound by any European traditions of grape varieties to be combined in a wine. Some of the most successful wines in this list are, by European standards, unusual blends: the tapestry of varieties that go into Knorhoek’s Two Cubs red, Ataraxia’s Serenity or Vondeling’s Petit Blanc are unconventional, yet make such attractive wines.

In conclusion, what is exciting about the South African wine scene today is that New World energy, creativity and innovation is being successfully grafted on to an Old World wine sensibility. Whilst there are some very fruit-driven styles, nevertheless most South African wines stand confidently between “Old World” and “New”. For example, Cape Sauvignon Blancs tend to show more overt fruit than those from the Loire, yet less so than those from New Zealand or Chile; and Stellenbosch Bordeaux blends may have higher alcohol levels than those from Bordeaux, but their flavour profile is more akin to claret than to the fruit bombs of Western Australia or Napa Valley. Many of estates shipped by us are at the forefront of carving out a distinctive and original Cape identity.

Simon Taylor
June 2009

Robertson and Eilandia

The winemakers in this area - “over the mountains” - used to be patronised by the old boys in Stellenbosch, but whilst Robertson remains one of the best sources of good value Cape wine, the success of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and even sparkling wine here has made the burghers of Stellenbosch sit up and take notice. Though it is very dry (irrigation from the Breede river being vital), and extremely hot in summer, there’s also a marked diurnal change of temperature which gives balance to the wines.

Our estates: Goedverwacht

Stellenbosch and Environs

The proliferation of wineries around Stellenbosch is extraordinary: even locals can’t keep up with the number opening each year. The name still has such a draw, and it is justified: Adie Badenhorst, former winemaker at Rustenberg, pronounced that Stellenbosch was one of the best places in the world for grape production.

Our estates: False Bay, Knorhoek, Le Riche Wines, Meerlust, Rustenberg

Franschhoek

Though technically a sub-district of Paarl, Franschhoek has a character all of its own. Just as the pretty town was first settled in the late 1680s by Huguenots, who brought French wine expertise with them, so the valley is highly cosmopolitan now, attracting overseas investment into real estate and wineries. The better vineyards lie on the slopes of the surrounding mountains rather than on the alluvial valley floor.

Our estates: Cape Chamonix, Solms-Delta

Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, which literally translates as Heaven on Earth, rises prettily from just west of Hermanus. When we first visited in 2003 the wineries were all in the lower part of the valley, but more recently pioneers have begun planting in the Upper Valley - higher, drier, with warmer days but cooler nights - and now we are working with no less than three such estates.  Enjoying naturally low pH soils, and moderate temperatures, this really is a sweet spot in the Cape, excellent for both whites and reds, and with a sense of community and mutual support and respect among the valley’s winemakers.

Our estates: Ataraxia Mountain Vineyards, Spookfontein

Paarl and Swartland

North of Paarl the landscape changes. The towns, densely planted vineyards and concentration of small wine farms gives way to open, sweeping plains, planted more with wheat than vines, divided by jagged mountain ranges. It’s hotter out here, though the vines on the ridges such as the Paardeberg and the Riebeekberg, benefit from south-westerly breezes from the Atlantic bringing cloud and rain. 

Our estates: Kloovenberg and Vondeling

The north-west and the far south: cooler climes of the Cape

It would be logical to assume that as one heads 200 kilometres north of Cape Town that the vineyards would be hotter - but not in the case of Fryer's Cove at Bamboes Bay and Cederberg, our two estates in the north-west of the Cape winelands: the former is on the frigid Atlantic, the latter cooled by over 1,000 metres of altitude.

Our estates: Fryer's Cove and Cederberg

Our South African Wines…

False Bay, Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, 2019

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False Bay, Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, 2019

From dry-farmed, bush vines, mainly in the Paardeberg and Riebeek Valley, slowly fermented,...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionWestern Cape

ColourWhite

ABV13%

Bottle75cl

CodeFAB119

GrapeChenin Blanc

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Cederberg, Chenin Blanc, Cederberg, 2019

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Cederberg, Chenin Blanc, Cederberg, 2019

Always our benchmark wine at this estate - this is the 17th continuous vintage we have shipped....

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionCederberg

ColourWhite

ABV13%

Bottle75cl

CodeCED119

GrapeChenin Blanc

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Fryer's Cove, Pinot Noir, Bamboes Bay, 2017

Attractive, soft ruby tone; pretty cherry and lightly floral aromas. Supple, pleasingly fleshy...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionWestern Cape

ColourRed

ABV12.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeFRY617

GrapePinot Noir

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Badenhorst, Secateurs White, Chenin Blanc, Swartland, 2019

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Badenhorst, Secateurs White, Chenin Blanc, Swartland, 2019

10% goes into old oak barrels, giving volume rather than oak flavour, and the wine gains weight...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionSwartland

ColourWhite

ABV13.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeBAD119

GrapeChenin Blanc

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Badenhorst Family White, Kalmoesfontein White Blend, Coastal Region, 2017

The target is consistent, a densely textured, complex wine, based on fruit from the family...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionCoastal

ColourWhite

ABV14%

Bottle75cl

CodeBAD317

GrapeChenin Blanc Blend

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Badenhorst Family Red, Swartland, 2017

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Badenhorst Family Red, Swartland, 2017

Lovely old-fashioned methods: early picked grapes for freshness, whole bunches foot-trodden for...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionCoastal

ColourRed

ABV13.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeBAD817

GrapeSyrah/Shiraz Blend

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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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Fryer's Cove, Sauvignon Blanc, Bamboes Bay, 2017

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Fryer's Cove, Sauvignon Blanc, Bamboes Bay, 2017

A Cape Pouilly-Fumé - an intense mouthful of gooseberry and passion-fruit, checked by crisp...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionBamboes Bay

ColourWhite

ABV14%

Bottle75cl

CodeFRY117

GrapeSauvignon Blanc

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Badenhorst Family Wines, Papegaai, Palomino / Semillon, Western Cape, 2019

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Badenhorst Family Wines, Papegaai, Palomino / Semillon, Western Cape, 2019

By European standards this is a strange blend: the Spanish Palomino grape, known for sherry;...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionWestern Cape

ColourWhite

ABV12.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeBAD219

GrapePalomino & Semillon

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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

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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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Domaine des Dieux, Syrah-Mourvèdre, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 2014

Made by Syrah specialist Niels Verburg of nearby Luddite, about 95% Syrah in this vintage,...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionHemel-en-Aarde Ridge

ColourRed

ABV15%

Bottle75cl

CodeDDD814

GrapeSyrah Mouvedre

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Domaine des Dieux, Methode Cap Classique, Rosé, Rose of Sharon,  Walker Bay, 2011

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Jancis Robinson
Domaine des Dieux, Methode Cap Classique, Rosé, Rose of Sharon, Walker Bay, 2011

One of the newer MCC producers. 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay. Have a 28-ha farm of which...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionWalker Bay

ColourRosé

ABV11.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeDDD411

GrapeChardonnay

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HALF Rustenberg, Straw Wine, Coastal Region, 2019

From 81.5% Chenin Blanc and 18.5% Viognier dried on straw in the Italian passito manner to...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionCoastal Region

ColourWhite

ABV9.5%

Bottle37.5cl

CodeRUS919

GrapeChenin Blanc & Viognier

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Cederberg, V Generations Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017

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Cederberg, V Generations Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017

There's usually only around 500 dozen released of David Nieuwoudt's top red, based on...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionCederberg

ColourRed

ABV14.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeCED917

GrapeCabernet Sauvignon

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Doring Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, 2019

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Doring Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, 2019

Doring Bay is the second line of Fryer's Cove. An intense, green-fruited and zippy...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionWestern Cape

ColourWhite

ABV13.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeFRY319

GrapeSauvignon Blanc

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Domaine des Dieux, Methode Cap Classique, Brut, Claudia, South Africa, 2013

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Jancis Robinson
Domaine des Dieux, Methode Cap Classique, Brut, Claudia, South Africa, 2013

"This South African wine may taste slightly more like a sparkling Chardonnay than...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionElgin

ColourWhite

ABV12%

Bottle75cl

CodeDDD413

GrapeChardonnay & Pinot Noir

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Cederberg, Shiraz, 2017

Cederberg, Shiraz, 2017

Medium Bodied

David's Shiraz is unfailingly spectacular: given plenty of extraction and 60% new oak,...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionCederberg

ColourRed

ABV14.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeCED817

GrapeShiraz

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Six Hats, Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, 2019

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Six Hats, Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, 2019

Six hats is the Piekenierskloof estate's second, Fairtrade label, including fruit not just...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionWestern Cape

ColourWhite

ABV12.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeSIX119

GrapeChenin Blanc

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Piekenierskloof, Cinsault, 2019

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Piekenierskloof, Cinsault, 2019

Please note this is NOT the wine recommended by Jancis Robinson in the FT on the 12th of...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionPiekenierskloof

ColourRed

ABV14.5%

Bottle75cl

CodePIK619

GrapeCinsault

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Piekenierskloof, Grenache Noir, 2019

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Piekenierskloof, Grenache Noir, 2019

Piekenierskloof has more Grenache planted than any other estate in the Cape - that's why...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionPiekenierskloof

ColourRed

ABV13.5%

Bottle75cl

CodePIK819

GrapeGrenache

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Koelfontein Chardonnay, Ceres, 2017

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Koelfontein Chardonnay, Ceres, 2017

From a block planted in 1987, and about 1/3 matured in new barrels, 2/3 second fill. Opulent,...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionCeres

ColourWhite

ABV14.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeKOE117

GrapeChardonnay

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Koelfontein, Shiraz, Ceres, 2018

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Koelfontein, Shiraz, Ceres, 2018

This terrific Shiraz, given 20 months in new French barrels, is spectacular and has garnered a...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionCeres

ColourRed

ABV14.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeKOE618

GrapeShiraz

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MAGNUM Cederberg, Shiraz, Cederberg, 2016

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MAGNUM Cederberg, Shiraz, Cederberg, 2016

David Nieuwoudt's's 2016 Shiraz won a slew of awards: SAwi (South African Wine index)...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionCederberg

ColourRed

ABV14.5%

Magnum150cl

CodeCED416

GrapeShiraz

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Vriesenhof, Pinotage, Stellenbosch, 2017

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Vriesenhof, Pinotage, Stellenbosch, 2017

Pinotage, a grape created in the Cape in 1925 as a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault, is a...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionStellenbosch

ColourRed

ABV14%

Bottle75cl

CodeVRI317

GrapePinotage

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Vriesenhof, Kallista, Stellenbosch, 2016

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Vriesenhof, Kallista, Stellenbosch, 2016

A beautiful Bordeaux blend given ageing in plenty of new barrels, 40% Cabernet Franc, 35%...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionCeres

ColourRed

ABV13.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeVRI416

GrapeCabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot

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Goedverwacht, Great Expectations Crane Red, Merlot, Robertson, 2019 (Screwcap)

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Goedverwacht, Great Expectations Crane Red, Merlot, Robertson, 2019 (Screwcap)

From a vineyard with a high clay content which suits Merlot. It’s always made in a slightly...

Our Rating

Light > Full

OriginSouth Africa

RegionRobertson

ColourRed

ABV13%

Bottle75cl

CodeGDV419

GrapeMerlot

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Goedverwacht, J & G Chardonnay, Robertson, 2018

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Goedverwacht, J & G Chardonnay, Robertson, 2018

Goedverwacht translates from Afrikaans as "good hope".This Chardonnay is made by father Jan Du...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionRobertson

ColourWhite

ABV13.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeGDV318

GrapeChardonnay

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Stonedance, Granite White, Swartland, 2020

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Stonedance, Granite White, Swartland, 2020

Look at this – a Swartland Chenin blend for less than 10 pounds a bottle!  Stonedance is a...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionSwartland

ColourWhite

ABV12.5%

Bottle75cl

CodeSTO120

GrapeChenin Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay

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Cape Atlantic Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, 2020

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Cape Atlantic Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, 2020

 Although there is no mention on the label, this is about two thirds from the young Sauvignon...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionWestern Cape

ColourWhite

ABV13.5%

Bottle75

CodeCED620

GrapeSauvignon Blanc

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Piekenierskloof, Grenache Blanc, Piekenierskloof, 2019

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Piekenierskloof, Grenache Blanc, Piekenierskloof, 2019

Piekenierskloof, formerly a co-operative but now privately owned, owns outstanding vineyards...

Our Rating

Dry > Sweet

OriginSouth Africa

RegionPiekenierskloof

ColourWhite

ABV13.5%

Bottle75

CodePIK119

GrapeGrenache Blanc

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