South African Wines

By: Stephanie Madliger
On: August 22, 2012

Hailed as the “Miracle Nation” following its successful transition from apartheid to democracy, South Africa is a magical place. It is breathtakingly beautiful and rich in natural resources, history, and culture. My trip to South Africa in March was the journey of a lifetime!

After a day of sightseeing in Cape Town, including a visit to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was held, and Table Mountain, we began our tour of the wine lands. With extraordinarily diverse soils and topography, a coastal climate, maritime breezes from the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, long, sun-drenched summers and mild, wet winters, it is not surprising that growth of the wine industry has been fast and furious. Moreover, this diversity allows a large number of grape varieties to be grown with great success.

At Hamilton Russell, we sampled the highly rated, estate-grown, Burgundian-style Chardonnay. Their 2011 Chardonnay is due to arrive soon, and exhibits pure pear and lime flavors with chalky minerality.

Next, we tasted with MAN Vintners. Sitting with owners José Conde and Tyrrel Myburgh, we were introduced to a new reserve range of wines called Tormentoso. The line includes the ’09 Bush Vine Pinotage, South Africa’s signature red; the ’10 Old Vine Chenin Blanc; and the ’10 Mourvedre, spicy with great fruit concentration.

We spent the afternoon at Stark-Condé Winery in the stunningly beautiful Jonkershoek Valley. The ’08 Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon, with small additions of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, is a stylish wine with characteristic red berry fruit.

One of the highlights of my trip was dinner at Boekenhoutskloof, Platter’s South African Winery of the Year. Among the featured wines was Wolftrap White ’10,

a blend of mainly Viognier with a splash of Chenin and Grenache Blanc. For reds, don’t miss The Chocolate Block ’09, a Mediterranean-style blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Viognier.

On Wednesday, we met for a late afternoon tasting and dinner at Neil Ellis Winery. This quiet, humble man was the first to produce Sauvignon Blanc from the now trendy Groenekloof area, and the 2010 Neil Ellis Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite South African discoveries.

We spent the end of the week touring and tasting at Charles Back’s properties, Fairview and Spice Route. Back is a brilliant businessman who has turned this small family winery into a global presence and one of the most popular destinations in South Africa. At Spice Route, winemaker Charl du Plessis produces lavishly styled reds and whites from traditional Rhône varietals. Don’t miss the 2009 Spice Route Viognier and the arrival of the 2009 Chakalaka, a unique blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Petit Sirah, Grenache, and Tannat.

Our tour of South Africa came to an end with a day spent driving through Table Mountain National Park spotting ostriches, seals, penguins, baboons, antelope, and a family of zebras along the way to the Cape of Good Hope. Later, we spent a casual evening with our new friends laughing, drinking beer and wine, and eating chicken from the Braai (a traditional South African barbeque).