First published in The Irish Times Saturday 28th May, 2016
Over the last decade, South African wine has gone through something of a revolution. There is a new generation of younger winemakers. These men and women are now producing some of the most exciting wines in the New World (we think of South Africa as “New World” yet the wine industry here goes back 350 years).
The quality of reds has improved greatly, but it is the white wines that has everybody in the wine world talking. South Africa now makes world-beating Chardonnay. It can also offer excellent Sauvignon Blanc, especially from cooler areas such as Elgin, Overberg and Darling. Others are experimenting with Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier.
Often it is blends of these and other varieties that provide the most excitement. An article on South African white wines cannot leave out Chenin Blanc, so long the workhorse grape variety of wine production here. There are now seriously good and uniquely South African wines made from this variety.
Many will be familiar with Stellenbosch, Paarl, Constantia and Franschhoek, but often these days it is areas such as Swartland, Elgin, Cape Point and Malgas that are producing the greatest excitement. Swartland, and the Swartland Independent Growers in particular, deserve an article all to themselves. The most influential figures in the South African wine scene are probably Charles Back, producer of good value Rhône-style wines and Spice Route, as well as Eben Sadie of Sadie Family wines, and viticulturist Rosa Kruger.
Lismore sounds Irish, as does the proprietor Samantha O’Keefe, and there is a distant connection, but O’Keefe is actually from California. In a short time she has made herself one of the most respected wine producers in South Africa. I tasted her Chardonnay (below) alongside an excellent Viognier.
Recently founded Keermont is an example of how good South African blends can be, and chef and Master of Wine Richard Kershaw is another rising star. Sadly all are expensive.
We haven’t always had a great range of South African wines in this country, but recently I tasted some of South Africa’s finest white wines courtesy of two importers.
Dr Éilís Cryan of Kinnegar Wines has a mouth-watering list. Wine Masons also has a smaller well-chosen range, including the Keermont below, Ghost Corner, Cederberg and DeMorgenzon. Look out too for wines from Mullineux, De Trafford, Alheit, Chamonix, Morgenster, alongside familiar names such as Paul Cluver, Kanonkop, Neil Ellis and Rust en Vrede.
Cape Peninsula Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Cape Point
Made by rising star Duncan Savage, a lovely clean precise aromatic dry Sauvignon that compares very favourably with many from Marlborough.
Stockist: Marks & Spencer
Kershaw Clonal Selection Chardonnay 201, Elgin
A very good imitation of a top Burgundy at a similar price. Racy green fruit and subtle toasted hazelnuts. Delicious.
Stockists: Kinnegar.com; Mitchell& Son; Redmond’s; 64wine.
Keermont Terrasse 2013, Stellenbosch
Complex and textured blend with layers of flavour; honey, peaches, grilled nuts and spice.
Stockists: Corkscrew.; Redmond’s.
Lismore Chardonnay 2013, Greyton
A superb Chardonnay, subtly spiced and fresh with luscious fruits. But most of all impeccably balanced.
Stockists: Kinnegar.com; Mitchell & Son; Redmond’s; 64wine.