South Africa

South Africa - Quality on the up and up...

The view from the terrace at Delaire
The view from the terrace at Delaire

The South African wine industry has come a long way since the end of Apartheid. The surge started with high-volume commercial brands dominating the market – a trend that to some extent still continues today. South Africa’s ability to produce white wine from the ubiquitous Chenin Blanc at a price barely achievable anywhere else in the world has made it one of the top value for money choices in the big grocers. However South Africa has been a victim of its own commercial success, pigeon-holed merely as a producer of low-priced wine. Whilst it does this well, there is far more to it than that. This breath-taking country is world-renowned for its bio-diversity, home to a myriad of flora and fauna species, and at last we are starting to see this diversity in its winemaking too. In recent years it has started to build a great reputation for its white wines, and slowly but surely, we are starting to see the great potential of its reds. Seen as the halfway house between the ‘new’ and ‘old’ worlds South Africa is capable of producing wines that balance generous, ripe fruit flavours with fresh, invigorating acidities – a combination that is starting to prove a hit. Stellenbosch is perhaps at the forefront of this quality surge. Now synonymous with top quality South African wine, this cape region boasts all that is required to make great wine,- good climate, slopes and poor soils. Whilst some of it is, perhaps, too hot to make really great wine, there are pockets capable of making some very serious propositions. These are in the cooler zones, either close to the sea or high up in the mountains. One man who recognised the region’s great potential was Laurence Graff of Graff Diamonds. He purchased a fabulously placed but rather ailing estate called Delaire, meaning “from the sky.” Once owned by South African wine guru, John Platter, the estate passed through various hands, none of whom were able to give it the full attention it deserved. Now, though, the estate is being restored by Mr Graff to its rightful glory. High up in the mountainous Banhoek Valley, it is situated in one of the premier zones in Stellenbosch, counting Tokara and Thelema as its neighbours. The wines are intense, precise and show a distinct leaning towards French wine in style, albeit with a bit more flesh and ripeness. Another producer blazing a trail is the talented Rudi Schultz, co-winemaker at Thelema. Thelema allow Rudi to make up to 1000 cases of his own wine. At the moment he makes two wines, a Syrah and a Sauvignon Blanc. The Syrah, from Stellenbosch that is intense peppery and warm but not un-Rhône like. It this is one of the most interesting and complex attempts at a new-world ‘Syrah’ style we know, and at a fraction of the price of its other new world competitors. Rudi is one of the country’s great rising stars. There is still plenty of untapped potential here, South Africa will no doubt gain great international acclaim for its wines in the years to come as it starts to discover and understand the quality of some of its other wine regions, particularly interesting ones to watch would be the Walker Bay, Hemel-en-Aaarde and Elgin areas south of Stellenbosch near Hermanus.