Why You Should be Drinking South African Wines (Pinotage Not Included!)
South Africa has over 400 years of wine making history, currently with dynamic winemakers in the region producing wines of quality and tremendous value. Yet, it’s been an uphill battle for South African wines, and we believe they’re now hitting their stride.
With the exception of a sweet wine called Constantia, around the 1700-1800s wine was pretty abysmal in South Africa due to poor farming, over production and unhygienic winemaking. And the South African wine market took a turn for the worst after phylloxera (a microscopic louse or aphid that eats at the root of grape vines) completely obliterated the vineyards. Eventually by the 20th century farmers were growing new grapes, and taking great care of their vineyards. However, much of the world was not privy to the new wines being produced in South Africa due to apartheid-induced sanctions. This hit exports hard and prevented the exchange of viticultural and winemaking expertise with other wine countries.
Though with the end of apartheid the South African wine industry was finally able to grow, innovate and share it’s wines with the rest of the world — lucky us! And with a new focus on biodiversity, attentive viticulture, and sustainable farming, now more than ever, you are able to find some of the most exceptional wines at the best value coming from South Africa.
Some of you may know that Pinotage has been synonymous with South Africa; however, the most planted grapes are actually Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon — two varietals that are indisputably far superior than Pinotage. Sure it is an indigenous grape to the region (who’s parent varietals are Pinot Noir and Cinsault), but it lacks the capability of producing wines of any complexity or finesse. South African Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, produce some of the most profound and quaffable wines.
We’re featuring 3 South African wines from 2 winemakers who are certainly dynamic, as well as among the top winemakers in the entire region. All three wines are uniquely their own, and uniquely South African.
2012 Stony Brook Vineyards, “The Max” — Franschhoek, South Africa
This wine is a “Bordeaux blend” of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot with a equal parts Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The idea behind “The Max” was to create a wine that had aging potential as well as round, rich flavors that allows the wine to be enjoyed in its youth. Winemaker, Craig McNaught, achieves this by picking the grapes at full ripeness to ensure that the tannins, while firm and grippy, are also soft and round. The five varietals are matured in a combination of 60% new and 40% second fill French oak barriques for twenty-nine months before blending and bottling.
The resulting wine has a nose that offers wonderful cigar box and caramelized blackberry aromas with a little red pepper, showcasing new-world fruit paired with old-world winemaking techniques. There is sweet, concentrated ripe red fruit on the palate, matched with rich, well-integrated tannins and a bright, elegant finish.
2016 BLANKbottle, “Little William” — Western, South Africa
This is 100% Syrah that tastes like it’s straight from the Northern Rhone! The reason for this is much better explained by the winemaker himself, Pieter Walser:
“I have a bunch of epic vineyards I pick grapes from but this site is surely one of my favorites. I mean…Ceres Plateau… What I love about South Africa is the luxury of the availability of massive mountains, which does not only separate areas and create valleys, but adds a dimension in wine that has been neglected for many years: height above sea level - something that expresses itself in a very unique way in wine.”
This Ceres Plateau is a tiny vineyard that sits 1200m above sea level and grows pre-phylloxera vines, this means they survived the epic phylloxera plague which is extremely rare! Once Pieter hand-harvests all the grapes, they are fermented 100% whole bunch — that is to say that they chucked whole clusters of grapes into the fermentation tank, not removing any stems, and retaining as much of the terroir/vineyard as possible — and even stomped by foot! They are then pressed into old French oak barrels and aged for 1 year.
This wine is elegant, fresh and has a delicateness of Pinot Noir. Notes of black pepper, cherries, sweet hay and cloves are the hallmarks of this intriguing wine and would pair well with grilled meats and roasted vegetables.
2016 BLANKbottle, “Offspring” — Western Cape, South Africa
This is a white wine blend comprised of Elgin Sémillon, Swartland Maria Gomez, Elgin Weisser Riesling, Elgin Sauvignon blanc and Paarl Marsanne. I know you’re probably wondering how Pieter came up with that exact blend (as it’s seemingly quite random), well…
Pieter makes a ton of different wines, using a million different varietals! He actually goes through and tastes each single vineyard and varietal and ends up blending some to create the desired wine. This means tasting wines morning to night, and playing around with blends adding alittle bit of this, a little bit of that, less of this, more of that. Then in the end, they bottle up to 17 different white wines.
When this process is complete, Pieter always has components left over. Components that have unique characteristics, but due to a clash in personalities did not make it into a certain blend. With these components he makes one last white blend and that ends up being the offspring of the winery that year! Like kids, each offspring contributes in its own way to the family - a blend made up with no preconceived ideas or goals in mind.