South Africa

The winds of political change in South Africa may bring a renaissance of interest in South African wines, helped by one of the most favourable exchange rates in the business. The recipe for success is there climatically – two oceans, two weather systems and two deep-sea currents meet at the Cape, leading to a diversity of weather between regions, and even on a given day!

This means that areas such as Stellenbosch, Paarl,Elgin and Constantia are really not far apart, but they all have a propensity to succeed with different types of grapes. The wine culture is almost the oldest in the New World, being brought by French Huguenots in the years after 1685 and with them cuttings of vines including Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc. Franschhoek even means ‘French Corner’!A second, rather different form of migration has helped immeasurably; that is the wave of Europeans who go to South Africa in our winter months sustaining an industry of wine tourism, and then seeking out favourite wines back home in Europe.

The Coastal Region is the most important region for quality wine, encompassing the districts of: Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl, Wellington, Swartland and Cape Town, Constantia being a ‘ward’ thereof. The ridges dividing these areas can be viewed from the top of Table Mountain. Chenin, Sauvignon, Pinotage, Syrah and Cabernet grapes all thrive. Stellenbosch starts around the bay from Cape Town with Journey’s End. Here the Gabb family’s sloping vineyards are cooled by strong sea breezes. Nearby the name of one of the oldest estates, Meerlust even refers to the sea; a producer of fine reds, it has been in the Myburgh family since 1756. Occupying the country between Stellenbosch town and Cape Town are the rolling Bottelary Hills where Danie and Yngvild Steytler of Kaapzicht make generous reds in a proper country winery.

Over the pass between savage escarpments, the pretty valley of Franschhoek is overlooked by La Petite Ferme restaurant which also has vines and a boutique winery. We have imported their wines for many years. Down in the town, Franschhoek Cellars is the source of our ever-reliable Freedom Cross wines. In the northern part of Paarl, on the way to Swartland, affable Irishman Edwin Doran and his business partner André Badenhorst, a South African wine icon, make a super range at Doran Vineyards. On the eastern flanks of Table Mountain is Constantia where the historic style of sweet wine – Vin de Constance – was revived at Klein Constantia.

The Cape South Coast region stretches from the popular holiday resort of Hermanus on Walker Bay right round to Cape Agulhas, the most southerly point of Africa. It’s the Cape’s most maritime region so makes great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and aromatic wines. In its inland section, Elgin is a centre for apple growing which wasn’t enough for the Cluver family so they started Paul Cluver Wines specialising in cooler climate varieties. Also in Elgin, Mark Dendy-Young, formerly of La Petite Ferme, is working with Pinot specialist Cathy Marshall to produce some special wines from high lying, cool vineyards for his Cape Elevation Vineyards label. If you follow the pretty Hemel-in-Aarde (Heaven on Earth) valley down towards the coast, you come to Bouchard Finlayson where Peter Finlayson does a very good job of making truly Burgundy style wines.

Due north and behind the Riviersonderend mountains is Robertson in the Breede River Valley region. Not only is Robertson a great source of flavoursome wines in serious quantities, it is a well-known for breeding racehorses. The River Grandeur wines come from vineyards on the banks of the Breede River owned by Fred and Manie Viljoen of Viljoensdrift, not the easiest of our suppliers to pronounce! The Wide River wines from the excellent Robertson Winery represent super value for money. ‘Western Cape’ is a widely used designation which allows blending from all the well-known areas of the Cape.

Dry White

Chenin Blanc & Blends
Chenin Blanc is the Cape’s most important white grape producing some of the best values whites on the market today, and some deliciously concentrated versions from older vines.

Various Grape Varieties
The inland areas of the Cape can be quite Rhône-like in climate so Viognier does well with lighter aromatic varieties excelling in the higher or more maritime sites.

Sauvignon Blanc
Brought over by the Huguenots in the 18th century, Sauvignon has a long history here. Stylistically they tend to sit somewhere between Sancerre and Marlborough Sauvignons.

There are some great Chardonnays from the Cape and those from the cooler sites have flavour profiles to match decent white burgundies. We avoid over-oaked examples!


Some fascinating sweet wines come out of South Africa despite it being generally too dry for Noble Rot. There is also a long history of making ‘Port’ and ‘Sherry’ style wines.


Various Grape Varieties
Pinot Noir does surprisingly well in the cooler spots of South Africa; it can be blazing hot in Stellenbosch whilst blowing a gale in Hermanus on the same day!

The Shiraz (Syrah) from South Africa is very exciting due to its fine peppery character and juiciness. It enjoys the warmer inland sites best.

The Pinotage grape, a 1925 crossing between Cinsault and Pinot Noir, is unique to South Africa. In the right hands it makes lovely soft reds whilst avoiding the somewhat ‘tarry’ character it can have.

Merlot & Cabernet
Most South African estates aspire to making great Cabernet, Merlot or Bordeaux blends, and a good number succeed in making truly world class wines. These grapes are reliable performers.