South Africa is one of the most intriguing wine regions in the world. The oldest 'New World' wine region, it began producing wine in the mid 1600's following the Dutch invasion in 1652. Jan van Riebeeck, a Dutch surgeon, was placed in charge of planting and growing vineyards, and in 1659 the first harvest for wine took place, beginning a tradition of viticulture that now has 60 distinct appellations.
South African wine has always been considered an affordable alternative to its old world counterparts, and indeed it is famous for creating “Rhône and Bordeaux Blends”, making the most of their warm climate to grow grapes in larger quantities. However, over the last 30 years South Africa has become one of the most innovative areas in wine production, bringing back to life old techniques and even creating new ones. Experimentation is what makes this area so interesting to explore, and in order to demonstrate this, here are six examples of how South African wine is ideal when it comes to trying something new & different.
Olifantsberg, Breedekloof, Chenin Blanc, 2014
Olifantsberg is a sustainable winery that prides itself on the lack of human intervention in their winemaking, resulting in wines that are full of complexity and exact expressions of their terroir. Their Chenin Blanc is a blend of young vines and old bush vines, as well as a variety of soils (granite, clay, schist), resulting in a layered style of wine through the diversity of the grapes. The Chenin Blanc is then fermented in a variety of vessels: a 5,000 litre French oak cask, some 2,000 litre French oak foudres, seasoned barrels and stainless steel tanks. From each vessel a unique expression of Chenin Blanc is produced and then blended, after which it is aged on the lees for 9 months to add a yeasty, savoury quality to the wine balancing out the intense bouquet of tropical and stone fruits. This wine demonstrates the attention to detail that comes with outstanding South African wines, and how the details are precisely done in order to create a unique flavour, acting as ambassador for the terroir.
Babylon's Peak, Swartland, Viognier/Roussanne, 2015
The blend of these two Rhône valley varietals is a sumptuous example of integrating the Old and New World’s of wine together. The vines underwent a pruning and green harvest to produce low yields, but grapes of better quality. Using only the free run juice from the grapes, fermentation for this wine started in temperature controlled steel tanks at low temperatures, but then was transferred to oak vessels for the last 20% of the fermentation, and finally left on the lees for 4 months before being bottled. Passion and care has been put into this wine, for respect of the Rhône valley tradition, but additionally a new expression of this blend is created, one full of apricot, floral, and musky qualities.
The Three Foxes, Gnarly White, Swartland, 2014
Set up by three friends in 2004, this artisan winery selects its grapes from the best plots of land in Swartland, practicing minimal intervention to produce on 2,000 bottles of each of their wines a year. Clariette and Semillion, traditional Mediterranean varieties, are used for this wine, originating from “gnarled” old bush vines, and harvested at maximum maturity. Vinified seperately in temperature controlled egg shaped tanks, these wines used their natural yeast for fermentation. Th egg shaped containers also allowed for a natural stirring effect, allowing the lees to incorporate their flavours into the wine, adding texture and complexity. The wine is then bottled unfixed and unfiltered in order to present the intensity of the varieties in their purest form. This showcases how the grape varieties rather than the place is often star of the show in South African wines, and they take pride not in their Post Code, but in what they are able to offer in the glass.
Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection, Pinotage, 2014
Pinotage is the grape born in South Africa. Created at the University of Stellenbosch by Professor Abraham Perold in 1924 by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault to create a grape that would produce a red fruit forward wine. Nowadays, it can be found in a variety of different styles, and can be oaked to add a smooth, smokey quality to the wine. This particular Pinotage is a select release, demonstrating the specificity dedicated to only showcasing the best of the best. The wine was fermented in steel tanks in order to maintain the subtle qualities of the grapes, and pumping over was repeatedly done in order to maximise the release of the flavours and tannins in the wine. The wine was then aged in French oak, softening the body of the wine, allowing for a richness to ensue.
Kanu, Costal Region, Shiraz Basket Pressed, 2014
This wine brings back a technique used by the Monks in the Middle Ages for making wine: basket pressing. Wine is pressed through a basket post maceration and a slight pre-fermentation, with the juice flowing through the slats in between the weavings, creating pre fermentation a much softer juice, which eventually will aid in creating a velvety wine. The wine then underwent malolactic fermentation (MLF) in French oak barrels and was then matured for a further 2 years in oak. The wine was finally filtered twice before being bottled. An elegant example of Shiraz, bring back the old but offering a new palate to showcase the delicacy of this grape.
Buitenverwachting, Christine, Constantia, 2011
Hailing from the first wine region in South Africa, this Bordeaux blend made up of Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot, Cabernet Franc. Established in 1798, the Buitenverwachting estate (buitenverwachting translates to “beyond expectation”) has upheld a longstanding tradition of excellence when it comes to their wine. Maceration for this wine last 28 days, then it is fermented using pure cultured yeasts. The result is a sumptuously rich and soft wine with well integrated nuances of oak, and juicy red and black fruit flavours coating the mouth, delivering a wine that lives up to our expectations of what South Africa is able to offer.
South Africa is an entirely unique region; "New World" depsite having a rich history of wine-making and distinctive wine culture, a place of passionate growers; well educated winemakers, and innovative producers. These factors, with a varied and intrinsically matched climate for wine make it an incredibly nuanced region.
Pairings hosted 'A Taste of South Africa' on the 23rd of November 2017, tasting these varied wines with paired food stuff. If you're curious about our future events, they can be found here