South Africa Wines: An Underdog Story
As sommelier Anthony Mueller who reviews South African wines for Robert Parker’s newsletter, The Wine Advocate, recently said, “Right now, we can witness the rebuilding of a nation’s wine culture. It had a solid run of being at the top, producing legendary wines which many of the elite would consume. They fell out of popularity more than 100 years ago and are slowly gaining momentum.”
Parker achieved acclaim for his love-it-or-hate-it 100-point wine-ranking scale. He’s not the only one. A poll has been conducted by a group of wine professionals eight times since 2001 to name the top five wineries in South Africa. They give five points to their number-one choice down to one for their number-five. As reported by Tim James, a leading wine commentator in the country, the 2018 results are in: Sadie Family Wines (102), Kanonkop (70), Alheit Vineyards (66), Mullineux (55), Boekenhoutskloof (18).
With South Africa’s wine country encompassing six officially demarcated regions, 27 districts and 78 smaller wards, planning a tasting trip around the regions where four of the top five wineries are based—Alheit does not have a tasting room—is a good way to sort the grapes, so to speak.
Franschhoek Wine Valley
This town on the Western Cape features centuries-old vineyards and some of the country’s best restaurants, hotels and inns.
Boekenhoutskloof Winery >> Tucked into the Franschhoek Valley, this winery dates to 1776. The new vineyard plantings of 1993 include Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Semillon and Viognier. Known for its Porcupine Ridge range. boekenhoutskloof.co.za
In this region of more than 200 wine and grape producers, you’ll find historical wine farms, Cape Dutch manor houses with beautiful gardens, and upscale hotels and restaurants.
Kanonkop Wine Estate >> Set amid the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountains, Kanonkop is renowned for its red wines (Pinotage makes up 50% of all plantings). Paul Sauer 2015 is the first South African wine to receive 100 points in respected British wine critic Tim Atkin’s South African report. kanonkop.co.za
In this wine region north of Cape Town (also known for its olives), you can rent guesthouses set among rolling hills and rocky outcrops.
Sadie Family Wines >> Eben Sadie is considered one of the great new winemakers of South Africa. Among the wine stars are the ’T Voetpad 2017, which was awarded White Wine of the Year in Atkin’s South African report. thesadiefamily.com
Mullineux >> This family-run boutique winery has been named South Africa Winery of the Year numerous times. Its growers farm the old vines sustainably. The granite and schist terroir, combined with the growers’ unadulterated approach to winemaking, has produced some of the best Chenin and Syrah wines in South Africa. mlfwines.com/mullineux/