Over the past five years South Africa has received a fair amount of fame in the wine world. Most notable South African grape varieties are pinotage, a cross between cinsault and pinot noir, and chenin blanc, known simply as “steen,” in South African wine circles. In many ways talk of South African wines stops with these two grapes, and it needn’t. There are a number of wines grown in South Africa from a number of grapes, many of which are both delicious and affordable. Take for instance HAMILTON RUSSELL, a winery based in Walker Bay. Here pinot noir and chardonnay are celebrated. The cool, maritime climate of the southern Walker Bay lends itself to wines that are far more delicate and nuanced than you might expect. At $28 per bottle these wines reward your off-the-beaten path choice.
Another lesser-known but high quality find is South Africa’s traditional method sparkling wine, “Cap Classique.” GRAHAM BECK is one that you have a shot at finding at your local wine shop. At $14 per bottle these sparkling wines are stupid good deals. If you were to taste it blind you might wonder about its provenance. It’s a fair stand in for champagne, and, at that price, a notch above other sparklers.
Other grapes that are fast on the rise in South Africa are: sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, and syrah. Be on the lookout for these wines at your local wine shop. They are all high quality juice at affordable prices.
A.A. BADENHORST “Secateurs” chenin blanc 2012 (Swartland) $13: Fruit comes from low-yield, non-irrigated bush vines dating back to the 1960s. The grapes are handpicked, which is surprising considering the low price.
REYNEKE sauvignon blanc 2012 (Stellenbosch) $25: A trailblazer in biodynamic and organic farming, along with vines dating back more than 40 years, it is no wonder that the Reyneke wines receive the fame they do. Press aside the wines are exactly what they should be—clean, precise, focused. The price is middle tier but the difference between these wines and those that cost $10 less is huge.
VINS D’ORRANCE “Cuvée Anaïs,” chardonnay 2010 (Elgin, Western Cape) $25: Mid-price but fabulous: the oak is perfectly integrated, supporting (not overpowering) the rich fruit. The young winery is headed by Christopher Durand, who moved to South Africa from Normandy, having grown up in a Calvados family. He makes two wines; a chardonnay and syrah. Both show that South Africa is a force to be reckoned with.
WATERKLOOF “Circumstance,” cabernet sauvignon 2010 (Stellanbosch) $25: A biodynamic winery in Stellanbosch, producing wines from a number of grapes. Most surprising are the “Circumstance” series, including a syrah and cabernet sauvignon both of which come from low-yielding, high altitude slopes only a few kilometers from the sea.
NEIL ELLIS pinotage 2009 (Stellenbosch) $17: If you’ve never had a pinotage before, brace yourself. This is one of the most polarizing grapes out there. People either love it or hate it, and, more interestingly, they make their decision instantly. Since you only have one chance to decide where your stand on this grape is, you should try one of the best versions of it.
SADIE FAMILY OLD VINE SERIES “Soldaat,” grenache noir 2012 (Swartland) $55: These wines are some of the more expensive ones out of South African but also they are some of the most unique. Vines are more than 60 years old, which is something that is celebrated in the Old Vine Series. The old vine grenache is a serious wine, and it elevates South Africa from “affordable and good enough” to “noteworthy and not to be missed.”