Home > Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, South African wines, Syrah > Re-post: Best Hidden Secrets of The Wine World: Wines of South Africa

Re-post: Best Hidden Secrets of The Wine World: Wines of South Africa

January 24, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed, but I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Hamilton_Russell_Pinot_Noir_2008Continuing the subject of “secrets” of the wine world (you might remember our past conversations about Rioja, Second Labels, Georgian Wines and more), let’s talk about wines of South Africa. If you are asking why South African wines should be considered a “hidden secrets”, please read below.

As one would rightfully expect, history of South African wines is tightly intertwined with history of South Africa as a country. Winemaking in South Africa started in 17th century, and for the long time, South Africa was making dessert wines, some of them still famous, like Constantia. Most of the wines were exported into United Kingdom. Similar to the most of the winemaking world, South Africa experienced Phylloxera epidemic in the 19th century, and lots of vines had to be replanted. The 20th century was marked by the political issues – as apartheid was a bad problem for the South Africa, the institute of wine regulations by KWV also became a limitation for the wine industry. Combination of the KWV restrictions with boycott of the South African goods, including wines, as a means to fight apartheid regime, lead to South African wines staying largely non-existent for the wine lovers around the world. With collapse of apartheid the situation changed, and then KWV monopoly was also broken, which lead to the great advances in the South African wine making. If you want to read more about the history of

A number of different grapes are used in winemaking in South Africa. First we need to mention Chenin Blanc, which is still one the major white grapes used in wine production (it is also known locally under the name of Steen). Similar to the Loire valley, where Chenin Blanc is shining, it makes whole range of wines in South Africa, starting from very dry and acidic, and going all the way up to the dessert wines. Next we need to mentioned Pinotage, which is unique grape, produced and cultivated only in South Africa. Pinotage is a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir grapes, and has a number of strange characteristics, such as being reminiscent of liquefied rusty nails in the glass. Then whole bunch of international varietals are also planted (amount of those plantings is increasing), and it includes Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and many others.

Thelema_Chardonnay_2007So why are we placing South African wines into the “secrets” category? Once you will try [good] wines from South Africa, chances are you will be blown away. It is important to note that South African wines are new world wines masquerading as an old world – which makes blind tasting with South African wines very challenging.

As our tradition goes, let’s open a bottle or two, and let’s talk about the wines. First, 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir. This wine is simply amazing – very restrained and polished, with beautiful restrained fruit, lots of smokiness and earthiness on the palate. This wine shows off as a classic Burgundy, and only when you look at the label you experience almost a shock – this wine is from South Africa, last place one would expect to produce classy Burgundy (you can read about our blind tasting experience here).

Then comes 2007 Thelema Chardonnay, again, very reminiscent of beloved White Burgundy – restrained, with balanced fruit, hint of butter and vanilla on the palate and good tannins – very elegant.

Cirrus_Syrah_2003Last I would like to mention 2003 Cirrus wine – a predominantly Shiraz ( 96%) with addition of small amount of Viognier (4%). On the palate, this wine mostly represents liquid smoke, but it really comes alive in a glass, with excellent tannins, toned down fruit and perfect acidity, well balanced.

I don’t know if I manage to convince you in the “secrets” status of South African wines. But if you will think about it, either way you have to find a bottle of South African wine – to either agree or disagree with me. Look for the one we talked about here – and judge it for yourself. Cheers!

  1. January 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    I like your best hidden secrets series a lot. Not too heavy too read but still informative. I’m not sure though if I would place South African wines in the secrets category. They are all right in my opinion. I haven’t had many good red wines from SA. Just a few great Chardonnays.

    Could it be that the link to that magazine is broken? I wanted to take a look at it but it didn’t work.

    • talkavino
      January 24, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      Glad you like the series – I think I have a few more “secrets” to share : )
      I do believe that wines of South Africa are under-appreciated – there are a lot of great wines made there, from Chenin Blanc to Chardonnay to Cabernet, Syrah, Pinot Noir and even Pinotage, to the desert wines.
      Are you talking about the link to download “by the bottle” magazine? I just tried that – it seems to be working fine here – note that it will lead you to the apple itunes store, may be the content is not available for some reason? But to read the magazine you actually need an iPad – you can’t read it on the regular computer…

      • January 24, 2013 at 5:13 pm

        No I mean the link to the art of life magazine. The link is in the introduction to the series.

        • talkavino
          January 24, 2013 at 5:22 pm

          Ahh, I see. I guess then that the web site was taken down… So I’m glad I re-posting all the content here 🙂 I will have to remove the link then,,,

  2. January 24, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Thanks for resharing. As I mentioned sometime earlier on my blog, I think it can sometimes still be daunting to find the truly good South African wines outside of Southern Africa. I tried a lot while in Botswana and there were a lot of good reds there. Lots of alcohol in them? Yes, but still good. I am not a big fan of the South African whites (again, I prefer a bit lower alcohol levels in my whites).

    • talkavino
      January 25, 2013 at 7:25 am

      Every one region in the world has some bad, good and great wines – in a places like France or California, the gems are much easier to find – however, you will have to pay appropriately for those gems. In places like South Africa, finding good and great may be harder, but the pay off is higher as you get the wines you can afford to drink.
      if you can find the wines I mentioned in the post, try them and let me know what you will think.

      • January 25, 2013 at 9:43 am

        You are absolutely right with that, Anatoli. Although I did notice that prices for the better South African wines have been going up (just like everywhere else). I’ll see if I can find the wines you tried.

  3. January 27, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Very nice article as usual, Anatoli.
    Out of curiosity, have you ever come across any good Vin de Constance that you may recommend? I have been on the lookout for one to try out, but have unable to find any good leads as yet.
    Thank you

    • talkavino
      January 27, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      Thank you, Stefano.
      I actually never come across Vin de Constance until you mentioned it – so the only thing I found was a good article: http://www.wineanorak.com/southafrica/southafrica_14_kleinconstantia.htm
      I actually had only one desert wine from SA – De Trafford Vin de Paille 2002, so called straw wine ( Chenin Blanc dried on the straw mats for 3 weeks) – it was outstanding.

      • January 28, 2013 at 12:05 am

        Thank you very much, Anatoli, both for the link to the excellent article re VdC and the pointer to the South African vin de paille: I thought it was a French thing only!

  1. January 27, 2013 at 9:06 am
  2. February 7, 2013 at 5:34 pm

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