South Africa’s “winelands,” as they’re known, are among the most beautiful wine-producing regions in the world. Dramatic landscapes marked by mountains that jut up seemingly out of nowhere, rugged coastlines, and world-class hospitality have made this country a must-visit destination for wine lovers.
And while it’s often categorized as a New World wine country, South Africa’s vineyards have been thriving for centuries—all those ships sailing around the Cape of Good Hope needed to replenish their rations! In that sense, South Africa’s wine is both Old and New World.
Regardless of how you classify its wines, South Africa is home to some of the most noteworthy producers on the planet, with a new generation of vintners and growers injecting a deep sense of excitement into the nation’s wine industry. It’s impossible to cover all of the young winemakers who are reshaping the scene here, but this baker’s dozen of standouts is a great place to start.
2017 AA Badenhorst “Ramnasgras” Cinsault Swartland ($32)
Sourced from a less-than-four-acre plot of vines planted in the early 1960’s, just 5,200 bottles of this stunningly energetic wine were produced. Grab one (or a case) if you find it: With flavors of red berries and cherries complicated by dried wild herbs, this red wine impossible to stop sipping.
2016 B Vintners “Black Bream” Pinot Noir Walker Bay ($33)
Part of the line of “terroir specific” wines produced by winemakers Gavin Bruwer Slabbert and Bruwer Raats, this is a distinctly Burgundian expression of Pinot Noir, with aromas of fresh-tilled earth and mushrooms setting the stage for a vibrant palate with flavors of cranberries and pomegranates.
NV Boschendal Method Cap Classique Brut Rosé Western Cape ($28)
The venerable estate recently decided to appoint separate winemakers for their white wines and their sparklers. For the latter, the versatile Method Cap Classique, it’s Danielle Jacobs. With this bottling, she’s shown exactly why she earned the title: It’s delicious, a creamy, lively sparkling wine overflowing with strawberries, blood oranges, and a bass-note of multigrain toast spread with apricot preserves.
2016 Beeslaar Pinotage Stellenbosch ($54)
Forget the trauma of all the bad Pinotage you’ve had in the past: This gem is proof that great examples of the variety are possible—now more than ever. It’s juicy and complex, with plenty of blackberries, black cherries, and minerality—not to mention a lovely sense of perfume—to keep you coming back for more.
2015 Klein Constantia “Vin de Constance” Constantia ($100 for 500ml)
This magnificent sweet wine is produced from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, aged in French and Hungarian oak as well as French acacia, and leaves a memory that lingers long after the wine is swallowed. Notes of honey, jasmine, and an unexpected hint of melon roll into a finish kissed with lemon-blossom honey.
2018 Mother Rock White Wine Swartland ($25)
This food-friendly blend is featured on the excellent list at Philadelphia’s Good King Tavern. The combination of Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Semillon, and Grenache Blanc is almost cider-like, with notes of Granny Smith apples, hard pears, funky spice, walnuts, and freshly dug mushrooms.
2014 Momento Chenin Blanc Verdelho Western Cape ($35)
Age has only improved this wine: Bracing and concentrated, with hard stone fruit and pears that are now joined by a mashed almond note that lingers through the mineral finish. 2015 is the current release, and it’s fantastic, too.
2016 Savage White Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Chenin Blanc Western Cape ($42)
This blend is proudly driven by Sauvignon Blanc, but not solely defined by it, as whiffs of white licorice and lemon pith join the party. It’s all lively and concentrated on the palate; a bracing blend in which all the moving parts come together brilliantly.
2016 Storm “Ignis” Pinot Noir Hemel-En-Aarde ($55)
Gently perfumed with notes of wild strawberries and iris, this wine is cut through with impeccably balanced acidity and a long, earthy finish. It’s a savory wine that works just as well on its own as it does with food. The “Vrede” and “Ridge” Pinots are also well worth looking for, too.
2016 Hogan “Divergent” Carignan Cabernet Sauvignon Cinsault Coastal Region ($55)
Unexpectedly appealing aromas of roasted green bell peppers and green peppercorns precede a palate in which the three varieties each play a distinct role, with currants lending weight to spice and floral notes, all of it tinged with gamey hints and a nice acidity throughout.
2017 Terre Brûlée “Le Rouge” Shiraz Cinsault Swartland ($16)
Northern Rhône meets Barossa meet Swartland, in the best possible sense. Made by the highly regarded Loire producers Tania and Vincent Carême, this bottling is generous and ripe, with earthy, vaguely meaty aromas of black cherries and brambly berries right off the bat, along with flavors of floral fresh-cracked peppercorns and just a hint of sandalwood in the background.
2016 The Foundry Roussanne Cape of Good Hope ($25)
Aromas of fallen leaves and apricot pits precede a beautiful palate that glides across the tongue with hazelnuts, honey, pineapples, and apple fritters, all of it vibrating with fresh-squeezed lemon and slate-like minerality.
2016 Sadie Family Wines “Palladius” Swartland ($150)
This unexpected blend of a slew of grapes—Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Colombard, Palomino, Semillon, Roussanne, Verdelho, Clairette Blanche, and Viognier—might be considered a Southern Rhône white wine by way of South Africa. However you classify this one, it’s delicious, bursting with nectarines, yellow apples, and fennel bulb.