Monday, March 19, 2018

25 South African Wines to Try Now

Vineyards in Constantia, overlooking Cape Town. Credit: WOSA.
I am a devoted preacher of the good news that is South African wine. I’ve been drinking them since I could legally purchase alcohol, mostly because I was able to find fun wines at cheap prices.

Sure, most of these wines were branded, widely-available, mass-produced bottles, but year after year I saw more and more South African wines popping up. New (to me) wine regions, exciting blends, diverse styles, delicious and unique flavors. And even the $12 wines tasted “real” in a way I struggled to find in similar wines from Australia or California.

I knew there was much more out there to be discovered though, so I was thrilled when I took a bucket list trip to South Africa a few years ago. In addition to surfing my ass off and exploring the insane natural beauty of the Western Cape, Southern Coast and safari preserves in the Northeast of the country, I visited a bunch of wineries and tasted a ton of really, really good wine. As the story usually goes with South African wines, their prices were very reasonable.

I brought a lot of wine back with me, but I also set out to locate some more South African wines in the States. It wasn’t easy, though, and I found myself constantly hoping importers would bring in more wines like the ones I found in South Africa — exciting, delicious, site-specific, inexpensive wines.

Fast-forward to 2018, and here on the East Coast, I’m coming across more and more South African wines that fit the bill. Wines of South Africa (a trade group), recently teamed up with the South African Embassy and a handful of producers and importers of South African wine for a master class and walk-around tasting. Of course, I was excited to see what was on offer, so I attended and tasted through a few dozen wines from a half-dozen producers and importers. I was not disappointed.

I’ve included details on 25 wines that I think represent what I’m trying to say about the quality of South African wines in recent years. Each wine is linked to Wine-Searcher, which will allow you to find where in the States the wine may be available. Most of these wines fall in the $10-$20 range, but prices sometimes vary from state-to-state, of course, and the price points listed come from Wine-Searcher averages or importer data.

Feel free to peruse these suggestions and explore what South Africa has to offer. You have more (and better) options now than I’ve ever seen.



2016 Indaba Sauvignon Blanc - South Africa, Western Cape
Aromas of white pepper and peach. Fresh and creamy, bright acidity, tangy citrus fruit, fun spicy elements. (86 points)

2017 Eagles' Nest Sauvignon Blanc - South Africa, Coastal Region, Cape Peninsula, Constantia
Bright and spicy aromas of green apple, jalapeno, sea salt. On the palate this is a brisk and fresh Sauvignon Blanc with green apple, lime, along with chalk dust and cut flower stems. Spicy and fresh and fun. (87 points)

2016 Rickety Bridge The Foundation Stone - South Africa, Coastal Region, Franschhoek Valley
White pepper, flowers, sea salt and apricot aromas. Juicy and tropical but tangy, too. Honey, sea salt, cut flower stems and melon rind combine nicely. Grenache Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, and Nouvelle. (88 points)

2015 Ayama Chenin Blanc - South Africa
Super tropical aromatics with pineapples and lots of flowers. Crisp but creamy, impressive depth on the palate, with flavors of peach, nectarine and apricot, with some floral perfume notes. Fresh, fruity, fun, delicious. (88 points)

2017 Lubanzi Chenin Blanc - South Africa, Coastal Region, Swartland
This wine is so good for the money (a common thread in this tasting). Aromas of flowers, sea salt, chalk and yellow pears. Zesty and bright on the palate but plenty of texture. I like the salted almond, quince, apricot and floral combo, with some underlying minerals. Yum. (89 points) 

2017 Raats Chenin Blanc Original - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Love the floral aromas, fresh and bright. Creamy texture on the palate with bright acidity, peaches and nectarines topped on sea salt and honeysuckle. The texture and depth at this price is really impressive. (89 points)

2017 Rustenberg Chenin Blanc - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Aromas of apricot, nectarine and lots of flowers. Peachy and plump on the palate but crisp, too. Honey and sea breeze mix with white tea, minerals, chalk dust. Wow, there is a lot going on here, especially considering the price point. (90 points)

2015 Rustenberg Chardonnay - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Nose shows almonds, lemon crème, baked apple. Rich and plush texturally but vibrant acidity. Yellow apples, peaches and apricots topped in honey and raw almond. Lovely stuff! (89 points)

2014 Capensis Chardonnay - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Nose shows butterscotch, almond, yellow apple. Palate is rich, creamy, almost waxy but balanced by precise acidity. Yellow apples and pears doused in toasted almond, butterscotch, honeysuckle, notes of sea salt and chalk dust. Complex but also rich and plush. Unlike last vintage (100% new oak), they’ve dialed this back to 50% new oak. (92 points)

Sparkling & Rosé

2015 Twee Jonge Gezellen Krone Methode Cap Classique Cuvée Brut - South Africa, Coastal Region, Tulbagh
Biscuity aromas with yellow apples and sea salt. Crisp ad bright, salty and tangy, apples and ginger, along with buttered biscuits. For the price, this is a seriously good Champagne method sparkling wine. I’d take this over pretty much any similarly-priced Cava. (88 points)

2016 Ridgeback Viognier Methode Cap Classique - South Africa, Coastal Region
Interesting nose of yellow apples, pineapple, nettle and bread dough. Fresh acidity but plump and waxy with apricot, nectarine, pineapple and peach. Lots of fruit but some fun biscuit and almond notes. Really interesting to see a sparkling Viognier (hard to find), and this one is a lot of fun. (87 points)

2017 Rustenberg Rosé of Petit Verdot - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Loving this rosé — what a surprise! Spicy pepper and herbs on the nose along with white cherries and juicy strawberries. Plump and fruit on the palate (peaches and strawberries) but its fresh and tangy. I love the spicy, herbal, floral complexity here. (90 points)

2017 Zorgvliet Cabernet Franc Rosé Silver Myn - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Pale copper color. Red apple, spiced white tea and peach pits on the nose. Crisp and clean but punchy with red apple, apricot, mixed with bright rose petals and nettle notes. Really fun rose. (87 points)


2016 Indaba Merlot - South Africa, Western Cape
Aromas of plums and juicy raspberries. Easy-going tannins, medium acidity. Plummy and juicy, a bit simple, but fun and well-balanced for a wine at this price point. (85 points)

2017 Indaba Mosaic - South Africa, Western Cape
Juicy, dark fruit and spice aromas. Plush, juicy on the palate, crowd-friendly appeal with black cherries and raspberry jam. Notes of spiced tea. Not too complex, but very good for the money. (86 points)

2015 Kanonkop Cape Blend Kadette - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Nose shows leather, spiced tea, clove, on top of black currants and tart black cherries. Palate is smooth and tangy but structured with currant fruit laced in spiced tea, leather, iodine and animal hide. Fruity and fun but structured and complex with a few years of aging potential. (89 points)

2016 Lubanzi Red Blend - South Africa, Coastal Region
Lots of bright and juicy red fruits on the noose with some peppery spice. Soft tannins, medium acidity and plump red fruits on the palate. Notes of pepper, anise and loamy earth add some complexity. Pleasant and crowd-pleasing stuff. (87 points)

2016 Beyerskloof Pinotage - South Africa, Western Cape
Dark and saucy aromas with black cherries and violets. Smooth, plush, juicy with black fruits topped in pepper, leather, earth. Notes of cocoa and earthy add complexity, and while this is a dark and concentrated wine it stays vibrant. Lovely. (90 points)

2014 Zorgvliet Cabernet Sauvignon - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Such spicy aromatics! Leather, pepper, scorched earth and funky herbs on top of black currants. Suave and balanced, medium tannins and acidity, juicy black cherries and dark plum fruit. Complexity comes in the form of cocoa, pepper, anise and iodine notes, along with some spicy herbal elements. This is delicious now but could easily age for 3-5. (90 points)

2013 Rustenberg John X Merriman - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Super spicy! Currants, pepper and leather. Dry tannins on the palate with a suave feel, plush and juicy. Cherries and currants laced with pepper, leather and black tea. Could age nicely. A Merlot-based blend with all five Bordeaux grapes. (89 points)

2014 Spice Route Chakalaka - South Africa, Coastal Region, Swartland
Super leathery on the nose with funky earth and lots of black cherries. Smooth but structured on the palate, fresh acidity, juicy cherry and currant fruit. Complex elements of charcoal, black pepper, leather, coffee and clove. Impressive depth and complexity here. A kitchen sink blend of Syrah, Carignan, Mourvedre, Grenache, Petite Sirah and Tannat. (90 points)

2017 Luddite Wines Saboteur - South Africa, Western Cape
Big and bold on the nose (blueberry and blackberry jam) along with earthy, spicy notes. Dark and plummy on the palate, approachable structure but built well. Pepper and charcoal accents. Yum. (88 points)

2015 Kaapzicht Estate Pinotage - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
Nose reminds me of plum caked and currant compote, with some anise and pepper. Plush texture but solid tannic structure. Plummy, fig paste, prune, along with pepper and animal hide and anise. Fruity but earthy/savory with lots of complexity. Could benefit from a few years of cellaring. (89 points)

2015 Ataraxia Pinot Noir - South Africa, Cape South Coast, Walker Bay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Wow, an impressive display here. Lovely aromas of red cherries, wild strawberries, tobacco, wet earth, Portobello mushroom. Fresh and zesty on the palate with dusty tannins, lots of tangy cherries and wild strawberries. Lots of black tea, tobacco, mushroom, rose hips. Complex and elegant but plenty of time ahead. (91 points)

2013 Eagles' Nest Shiraz - South Africa, Coastal Region, Cape Peninsula, Constantia
I love the burst of pepper on the nose, along with black cherries, black currant, leather and clove. Tangy acidity, dusty tannins frame it nicely, while the tangy black cherry and currant fruit mixes with clove, coffee, eucalyptus and earth. A Syrah with all sorts of complexity. (90 points)

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