There has never been a better time to search out and buy South African wines, says Roger Jones of the Harrow at Little Bedwyn
It may surprise some people, but in the past year South African wines have been building up a fantastic following in the UK with some premium varieties at exceptional value.
Of course, South Africa has had wine issues in the past, but it is difficult not to jump on the new wave of optimism created by the young winemakers now involved.
There are some top names already being listed on the UK's most prestigious wine lists. Much has been written about the Swartland Revolution, and these wines reach top prices, with names like Eben Sadie and Mullineux getting superstar status. Other great names, such as Hamilton Russell and Meerlust Estate, have been around for decades and offer world-renowned quality.
With the rand at an all-time low and South African producers keen to be in the UK market, there are prime opportunities if you're looking to add to your wine list.
The Swartland Revolution has highlighted the new modern styles being produced in South Africa, but there are still bargains to be sourced
here, especially from Adi Badenhorst with his Secateurs range - probably the best-value wines coming out of the area. And for quality, refinement
and texture, his white Family Wines blend is sublime.
However, for something different, try his Funky White wine. It really is funky: halfway between Montilla and Vin Jaune, it's a wonderful, ultra-dry, nutty and salty wine. Try it with sushi.
Here we have a new style to the traditional New World offering, with the very best reminiscent of the Loire's finest. Some come with oak age, some with small additions of other varieties. Above all, these wines are made to be enjoyed with food. From Jordan's controlled Outlier Sauvignon Blanc, very much in the white Bordeaux style, to Duncan Savage, who not only makes classy wines at Cape Point Vineyards, but under his own name also makes an excellent wine called Savage White. It includes Semillion, which gives it a tropical and stone fruit body with a clean,
vibrant citrus feel.
This is a grape that has been elevated from a 'weed' to one of South Africa's jewels. The evolution was started by Ken Forrester Wines in Stellenbosch and is now gaining speed with a whole range of styles and winemakers.
One high-flyer is 2012 Botanica Chenin Blanc. It is an impressive wine, tantalising on the palate, delivering a precision not often found in Chenin - especially old vine. It's a beautiful creation. Now renamed the 2013 Mary Delany Collection Chenin Blanc due to a legal dispute, it is tropical with pink grapefruit and full-flavoured, but again with a very clean after-taste on the palate.
Another wine worth searching out is Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc. It is an intense but delicate wine, with beeswax, floral flavours and a touch of steeliness to it giving a clean finish with delicate wild herbaceous notes. These wines age well and excel with a few years' cellaring.
Restrained, controlled, precise, elegance: these words crop up all the time. There are too many wines to list all the best, but some of my favourites include Jordan Nine Yards, Newton Johnson, Chamonix Reserve, Hamilton Russell, DeMorgenzon Reserve and Crystallum Clay Shales.
In terms of red wines, South Africa offers some remarkable blending plus some delicate Syrah, Pinots and Cabernets. 'Restrained' is the most
common word used these days to describe the new wave of South African wines.
South Africa is certainly now delivering a high number of quality Pinots, similar in style to Martinborough in New Zealand or Mornington
Peninsula in Australia. Names to look out for are Crystallum, Newton Johnson, Sumaridge, Botanica and Chamonix.
Cabernet and blends
Few wines are more special than the Cabernets from Restless River in the 'Burgundy Colony' of Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. They are stunning
wines to sink into. They offer ripe, small-berried fruit with soft espresso aromas; light and delicate with a clean, lingering after-palate.
Over in the Golden Triangle area of Stellenbosch, among the amazing Chardonnay and Syrah blends available, I was impressed with the Haskell IV 2009, a blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet.
Alex Starey runs the Keermont Estate and his Keermont Estate Blend 2012, made from the classic Bordeaux quintet, also has a splash of Syrah. Beautifully balanced, the Syrah adds a silky after-taste to the wine - it is made to age and worth investing a few years in the cellar.
Syrah and Syrah blends
Here are a few highlights: Fable Mountain in Tulbagh, some three hours' drive from Cape Town, is run by Australian Rebecca Tanner and South African Paul Nicholls. Night Sky 2011 has a beautiful liquorice nose, with all three grapes (Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre) coming out to play - a lingering, juicy fragrance with soft milk chocolate, spices and pure elegance.
Keermont Syrah 2013 has a tiny amount of Mourvèdre; the wine is made from many single vineyards, and has a dark, spicy, lingering palate, making a wonderful, easy-drinking wine.
Eagles' Nest names it Shiraz as opposed to Syrah, but this wine is very much more Rhône style, with a long-lingering, berry-spiced mouthful of pleasure.
To see how some of these wines would fare against Australia's finest, I set up a dinner for 80 guests in the five-star Vineyard hotel in Cape Town in January. I produced a six-course dinner with each course matched to two wines (same grape variety), served blind. The result was an astonishing 5:1 win to South Africa.
From Australia came Penfolds Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2012, a fantastic, elegant wine, despite being the new kid on the block; however, Stuart
Botha with his Eagles' Nest Shiraz 2011 stole the show with a score of 45 against Penfolds' 35. This was matched to a dish of duck bon bon, parsnip purée and duck tea.
With English sparkling wine dominating prestigious wine lists in the UK, it will be interesting to see whether sparkling wine from South Africa will catch on. Also slightly confusing is that 'sparkling wine' in South Africa is a label given to wines where CO2 is added (the same process as with fizzy soft drinks), as opposed to the traditional Méthode Champenoise, which is labelled under the Méthode Cap Classique category.
Méthode Cap Classique was first produced in South Africa by Frans Malan at the Simonsig Estate in 1964, and it continues to produce some of the
Cape's finest under the guidance of his three sons.
One of the biggest and most famous MCC producers is the Graham Beck Estate, run by Pieter 'Bubbles' Ferreira. It produces an impressive range of MCC wines, not least its Graham Beck Cuvée Clive 2009.
This is a real beauty, full of bright fruit, citrus peel and creamy, light bubbles; clearly a wine that needs to be tried to see the quality South Africa can produce and the best I tried during my visit to the Cape.In recent years, Ferreira has beenthe driving force behind Méthode Cap Classique, and is instrumental in making this brand so popular in South Africa.
He has also brought it to the world stage, notably with the Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2009 at the 2014 International Wine & Spirit Competition
(IWSC), clinching the trophy for the Best Bottle Fermented Sparkling Wine in the World, as well as a Gold Medal, and crowned World Champion Cap Classique.
Looking outside the standard grape varieties, I was hugely impressed with an MCC made from Chenin Blanc from DeMorgenzon, which has a defined biscuity texture and depth.
The final dosage is made with a late harvest Chenin, which is fermented and aged in French oak casks. Winemaker Carl van der Merwe clearly knows how to deal with Chenin, and this is an impressive wine which naturally goes with food, especially seafood.
Dreyfus Ashby, dreyfus-ashby.co.uk 01636 858774
Handford Wines, www.handford.net 7589 6113
Lea & Sandeman, www.leaandsandeman.co.uk - 020 7244 0522
Swig, www.swig.co.uk - 08600 272272
Seckford Agencies, www.seckfordagencies.co.uk - 01206 231188