Innovation Sweeping South Africa: Get Thirsty!


The status of South African wine in the USA is lamentable. Even in New York City, where the most diverse selection of wine styles and origins in the world spoils imbibers, South Africa barely appears on the radar screen. 

The US has no heritage links to the Cape, and much of what has come ashore here in the 20 years since the end of apartheid has either hardly inspired thirst or been near-impossible to source thanks to tiny allocations. 

Granted, the best often isn’t cheap. It’s time to get over a willingness to pay $60 for a Russian River Pinot Noir then wonder if in most other wine regions if paying more than a Jackson is “worth it”. I’m not saying there aren’t terrific South African wines under $20 but rather suggesting that those requiring more coin are very often worth it.
Slightly annoyed by the jubilations of UK wine pals over the South African wines they regularly drink, I began seeking out what I couldn’t find stateside. I spend about six weeks a year in London, so I made it my mission to drink “new wave” South African wines there.
In quenching my thirst, what I found is that the typical approach to delve into either appellations or varieties to establish frames of reference isn’t necessarily the best approach. On the Cape, I suggest investing in individuals, wherever they produce wines and with whatever varieties. Though not a comprehensive list, here are the names I urge you to taste:

Winery – Winemaker
AA Badenhorst – Adi Badenhorst
Alheit Vineyards – Chris & Suzaane Alheit
Avondale – Jonathan Grieve 
Boekenhoutskloof – Marc Kent
Cape Point Vineyards and Savage Wines – Duncan Savage
Creation Wines – Jean-Claude Martin
DeMorgenzon – Carl van der Merwe
De Toren Private Cellar – Albie Koch
Keermont – Alex Strey
Mullineux Family – Chris Mullineux
Paul Cluver – Andries Burger 
Raats Family – Bruwer Raats and Gavin Bruwer Slabbert
Sadie Family – Eben Sadie
Not to categorically exclude, well, categories, I admit two merit special notice. The first is white blends. These are highly atypical blends that often include old vine Chenin Blanc as well as a wide and entirely unpredictable range of other white varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier and a smattering of other grapes. Though at least a portion of these wines often sees vinification in oak, they are nonetheless impressively aromatic. They are also broad on the palate with good weight, yet their acidity is so crisp as to make them very sippable.
The second phenomenon falls in the category of red Rhône blends. I confess that I avoid Rhône-style wines from many New World countries. They often suffer from too much extract, alcohol and new wood. Not so in South Africa. These reds generally show precision, freshness and complexity that make them not just drinkable, but gulpable. 
What’s new in South Africa? Loads. Don’t waste time getting to know what is out there and open your wallet just a bit wider from time to time to enjoy a full exploration of the new guard.

Mentioned in this article


  • There are some excellent wines coming from Glenelly in Stellenbosch, Western Cape, in the $20 to $25 range. The Grand Vin de Glenelly is a Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot blend with a touch of Petit Verdot (4%). The 2008 vintage was excellent. I could go on and on but it is definitely worth a try. I haven't tried the latest release, (2009) but I have confidence that the winemaker, Luke O'Cuinneagain, in consultation with Adi Badenhorst have made the best of the fruit. Of course, if you want to spend $50 and up, you can try their flagship estate wine, Lady May Cabernet Sauvignon, named after the estate owner, May de Lencquesaing, of Bordeaux fame. I only found them a few months ago, but I am a big fan.

    Oct 28, 2014 at 10:35 AM

  • Snooth User: louisxvi
    862523 13

    If you do visit S.A., take time to visit Creation Wines. A beautiful view from high atop the hills and a wonderful restaurant. The wines aren't too shabby, either :) I also suggest visiting Catherine Marshall's winery. It is appointment only, but well worth the effort. As for the wines not mentioned, I'd more than heartily suggest the FMC Chenin. It is a bit pricy (about $60/bottle) but well worth the investment. A wine that drinks splendidly now, or after 2-3 years of cellaring. I'd also recommend the Hamilton-Russell wines.

    Oct 28, 2014 at 1:18 PM

  • Snooth User: Takret
    1374479 39

    Where is Rustenberg in your list? These are wonderful wines from gorgeous vineyards in Stellenbosch. The "John Merriman" blend (mainly Cab. sauv./ Merlot) is for good everyday drinking but the Peter Barlow single vineyard 100% Cab. Sauv.will blow you away. Such a powerful nose of black fruits, soft oaking from French barrels and a beautifully balanced wine with a long, long finish. My experience is that vintages generally need a few years for the tannins to soften. Currently I'm on the 2007. Sublime.

    Oct 28, 2014 at 3:06 PM

  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,085

    I know from my wine tasting this month that the Raats Cabernet Franc was exceptional. Everyone loved it.
    Check out 2013 Mulderbosch Rose from South Africa. They are well made.

    Oct 28, 2014 at 3:14 PM

  • Snooth User: Jshapl
    1546180 20

    Yea, missing the point abit. South African wines are well stocked across the entire US market. Some of the wines mentioned in this article are even in every store i visit in Arkansas. So then wording of distribution lacking is some what amiss. As South Africa is only the 8th or 9th biggest wine producing nation and their ties are very strong with the EU it can be expected to not see as much SA wines as Auzzy wines in the US. AS volume increases so will shelf placement. How about the Stellar Organics brand that is in nation wide distribution and one of the top selling organic wines in the US. Indaba, Jam Jar, Man Vintners and many others. Why do critics always write about the BIG well funded producers. Does that happen after a free trip to the wineries or a fancy dinner at a $$$ NYC restaurant....uhm... smells like politicians...

    Oct 28, 2014 at 3:26 PM

  • Snooth User: louisxvi
    862523 13

    To Jshapl's point, yes many S.A.wines are available here in the U.S. and they tend to be the more well known ones. The problem is that there are so many wonderful wines that aren't available here. Some make it to the U.K. as well as Europe, but most don't. I've talked to several wine makers in S.A. who would like to get their wines into the U.S. market, but have a hard time making inroads with importers. If you scour the internet, you can find importers who you can buy directly from, provided you live in a state that allows you to do so.

    Oct 29, 2014 at 12:16 PM

  • I'm sorry. I lost interest in your newsletter when you limited your knowledge of California wines to the coast. Once they discover the Sierra Foothills and some of the valleys inland, none of my win appreciating friends go to Napa any more. That's for tourists. The foothills are full of vineyards well over a hundred years old planted by gold-seeking Europeans. Fewer grapes per vine, but maximum flavor. I hope you get a chance to check it out. I did appreciate your knowledge of Primitivo. It's not my favorite wine, but a nice switch once in a while.

    Nov 09, 2014 at 11:43 AM

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