The Independent


Siobhan Grogan sips some of the top South African wines


Wine has been made in South Africa since the 17th century and it’s now one of the top 10 wine-producing countries in the world, ahead of Portugal, Greece and New Zealand. Despite its long history, however, it’s still considered a New World region with many wine drinkers only just beginning to realise all it offers.

The country grows a range of grapes but is best known for chenin blanc, cabernet sauvignon and the popular pinotage, which is South Africa’s national grape and a cross between pinot noir and cinsault. These are grown in areas such as Stellenbos­ch, Paarl, Swartland and Constantia, just south of Cape Town and best known for its sauvignon blanc. Wine blends are also popular, with notable versions including bordeaux-style blends of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and more.

We’ve rounded up some of the country’s best wines to get you started, including show-stopping chenin blancs, robust fruity reds and even South Africa’s little-known version of champagne. There are fail-safe swaps for your weekly go-to vinos, supermarke­t steals and excellent Fairtrade buys, so you can make sure your money supports local workers.

How we tested

We tested a range of wines from South Africa, including white, red, rosé and the country’s answer to champagne: cap classique. For each, we served the wine at the temperatur­e recommende­d, then sniffed and sipped to appreciate all the aromas and flavours. We noted each wine’s body, acidity and length when drunk on its own, then tried every one with various foods, including steak, chicken dishes and cheeses, to see which bottles stood out.

Raats bush vine chenin blanc limited release 2021: £13.99, Naked Wines

It’s not too pricey but this is a very special white wine. It’s made by Bruwer Raats, who is known as South Africa’s king of chenin and even won Winery of the Year in the country’s Platter Guide awards, when an unpreceden­ted eight wines were given five stars.

Unusually, this one is made from 45-year-old vines, meaning they’re free-standing and not trellised, so look more like a bush. Such vines are more labour-intensive to care for, as they cannot be worked with machines, yet produce grapes with more concentrat­ed flavours. They make this chenin blanc an elegant but unexpected­ly complex white, full of pear, orange blossom and spice, a touch of honey and plenty of oak. It’s full-bodied but with a fruity delicacy that keeps it light enough to drink with fish dishes but rich enough to work alongside a creamy curry. Give yourself a real treat and get a bottle in your fridge pronto.

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Ditch overpriced champagne and try this dupe from South Africa instead, where sparklers made by the traditiona­l method (like champagne) are known as cap classique. This type of wine celebrated its 50th anniversar­y last year, and this particular one from Journey’s End is the first sparkling released by the Stellenbos­ch-based winery to celebrate its own 25th anniversar­y.

It’s a corker – pardon the pun – too. Produced using only the best quality cuvée, and fermented for a second time in the bottle to produce the bubbles, the fizz has spent at least 18 months on lees to give it distinctiv­e brioche notes similar to champers. Fullbodied but fresh, it’s full of fruity pizzazz, with a crisp acidity that would make a shellfish dish sing. However, we’d enjoy it as an aperitif and toast our excellent choice in fizz.

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De Wetshof Estate bon vallon ‘sur lie’ chardonnay 2022, Robertson: £15.50, Wickham Wine

If you’ve avoided chardonnay since the days of Bridget Jones, it’s time to give this much-maligned grape another try. This bottle is made by one of South Africa’s most awarded wine estates, owned by the De Wet family, whose ancestors were one of the earliest settlers in the Cape in 1694. They went on to shape

viticultur­e in the Robertson Valley region and their whites are now internatio­nally renowned.

This one has already received a double gold medal in the 2019 Veritas Awards and is a sophistica­ted, unwooded version that should convert anyone who dreads the oaky, buttery chardonnay of old. It has a lovely citrus tang on the palate with notes of honey and nut that really make this a wondrous white worth splashing out on.

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Billy Bosch Paarl cabernet sauvignon: £10.99, Virgin Wines

The Paarl region is known for its knock-out reds, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Cabernet sauvignon grapes are the most popular in the area but are usually blended with other varieties in locally produced wine, yet this one lets the cabernet sauvignon do its thing alone.

A full-bodied, vibrant drop that makes a serious impact, it’s a jammy, spicy red that explodes with blackcurra­nt flavours. It’s a meat-eater’s wine of dreams and would be a match made in heaven with a rich beef stew or even a Sunday roast with all the trimmings. If you prefer white, the Billy Bosch semillon 2021 (£9.99, Virgin Wines) is a true tropical delight too.

Tesco Finest South African chenin blanc: £7.50, Tesco

If you always reach for the same old bottle of white in the supermarke­t, grab this one instead and thank us later. A fresh, aromatic chenin blanc that tastes like a breezy summer’s day, it’s made at the family-run Stellenrus­t winery, where wine has been made since 1928. It also gets a big thumbs up from us for being a Fairtrade producer, with 70 employees so far taking ownership of the land they farm.

The wine itself benefits from the sea breezes and cool climate of the Bottelary Hills, which are known to have some of the best chenin vines in South Africa. Dry and zingy on the palate, it’s ripe with pear flavours, a twist of citrus and some underlying oak that makes it stand up well to food, including creamy curries and spicy stir-fries. Definitely worth giving it space in your trolley.

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Mount Rozier reserve frog chorus Fairtrade rosé: £6.50, Co-op

South Africa might not be the first place you think of when choosing a rosé, but this fruity, floral pink wine could well change that. Named after local 19th-century flower merchant Annie Rozier, this wine is made from 100 per cent pinotage grapes handpicked from cooler coastal vineyards, 350m above sea level.

It’s more than a match for your go-to Provençal too, with an appealing light pink colour, juicy strawberry and raspberry flavours and delicate floral notes. Though we’d be happy sipping this on its own on a sunny day, a good acidity makes it a winner with food too, especially salads, fruity desserts and even a nofuss pesto pasta.

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We’re suckers for a good sauvignon blanc but South Africa’s best chenin blancs have turned our head. This one is made by De Morgenzon in Stellenbos­ch, where vines are cooled by the sea breeze and treated to baroque music 24 hours a day, which the winemaker swears improves the quality of the wine.

The tunes certainly seem to be doing the trick, as this deliciousl­y complex white is a real stunner. It’s luscious with green apple and stone-fruit flavours with a hit of honey and a long finish that would pair like a dream with a plate of oysters or even a seafood risotto.

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Journey’s End methode cap classique brut reserve: £22.50, Noble Green Wines
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