Diverse soils, mountain ranges, ocean influence and cooling sea breezes, and a famous wind called “the Cape doctor”, all contribute to the diverse terroir of South Africa. With extremely old vines and new world winemaking, South Africa is a hot spot for unique, complex wines of excellent quality.
Their most widely planted grape, chenin blanc, or steen as it’s known in South Africa, and their native varietal pinotage, have made their way into the hearts and glasses of Canadians, as Canada is now South Africa’s seventh largest export market. Although there are certainly plenty of delicious examples of these two flagship varietals, there’s more to great South Africa wine than just these two grapes.
Most of South Africa’s wine is made within the Western Cape’s five geographical regions and 29 distinct districts that all have unique growing conditions that can be identified on labels as Wines of Origin. However, a common thread of charismatic charm is integrated within and can be discovered in all South African wine.
Stellenbosch is the most important wine producing district of the Western Cape. The landscape is mountainous, and the diverse soils and terroir allow for efficient drainage and plenty of rainfall, providing optimal growing conditions. The winemaking in Stellenbosch boasts an outstanding history that dates back to the 17th century, and most of South Africa’s top producers make their wine here.
One of Canada’s top wine importers, Nicholas Pearce, of Nicholas Pearce Wines, partnered with sommelier Will Predhomme to create the Pearce Predhomme label that showcases some of their favourite wine regions, with one being Stellenbosch. Their chenin blanc has become an industry and consumer hype wine for its quality at such a reasonable price of $19.95CA.
The Pearce Predhomme Chenin Blanc 2020, made in the southwest of Stellenbosch, displays lush fruit elements of ripe pineapple and yellow plum, with a nip of white pepper spice on the finish. It also includes interesting undertones of earthy flavours such as mushroom and sweet spice, and complex textures that tend to be a badge of South African chenin blanc.
The Pearce Predhomme Cinsualt/Syrah from Koffieklip – also the southwestern region of Stellenbosch – reveals bright red fruit, paralleled with black earth and meaty notes, and also attractively retails for $19.95CA.
Another, from the Nicholas Pearce Wines portfolio, Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2020 by the acclaimed Mullineux estate, comes from the Swartland district. Owners Chris and Andrea Mullineaux saw this district’s potential and have quickly become a South African mogul, with a reputation boosted even more so by winemaker Andrea Mullineux’s award in 2016 as Wine Enthusiasts Winemaker of the Year.
Aligning with the foresight of Chris and Andrea, Swartland has been gaining more and more recognition in recent years for their old vine chenin and production of high-quality wine. The Kloof Street chenin blanc is a prime example of the terroir of Swartland as it showcases an elegant, silky mouthfeel with complex and balanced notes of tropical and ripe stone fruit. The 2020 vintage will be released through LCBO Vintages on October 30 at $19.95.
Ken Forrester is another prime example of a top producer in Stellenbosch. Ken Forrester is known as the King of chenin in South Africa for his prolific work with South Africa’s number one planted grape. His Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc is medium-bodied, with notes of mulberry, honeydew melon, white flowers, with a signature South African sea-salty finish.
The back of his wine label starts off by stating, “In a perfect world, we would all be happily, gainfully employed. All agriculture would be naturally sustainable and processes environmentally friendly. This is our goal, follow our journey as we strive to achieve this balance in our community.” A goal certainly worth striving for now that the effects of lockdown in South Africa are leading to 20,000 people at risk of losing their jobs in the wine industry.
While South African wine in recent years has been growing internationally due to their impressive quality to price ratio, and esteemed sustainability practices, the effects of lockdown since the Covid-19 outbreak has left some South African wineries with a blow so hard they might not be able to come back from. Alcohol bans prevented local sales, and in turn, local revenues decreased by 20 percent. A daunting estimate of 80 wineries will be forced to shut down within the next 18 months.
Supporting the wines of South Africa (WOSA) seems to be a simple task here. Fantastic examples of this expressive region, with incredible value are easily available. Boschendal, for example, a winery founded in 1685, produces affordable wines that are available year-round in Ontario. Two of them, that each retail at $11.95CA, are The Pavillion Chenin Blanc and The Pavillion Shiraz Cabernet. (Red blends from South Africa can truly be hidden gems and are worth seeking out!).
Boschendal is an example of a producer that sometimes adopts a common viticulture practice within South Africa by sourcing grapes from separate regions across the Cape to ensure balanced, quality wine. Another wine of theirs, The Boschendal Chardonnay is made with sourced grapes from vineyards on their estate, as well as others in Stellenbosch, and an up-and-coming district, Elgin Valley. The result is a wine showcasing balance, that’s creamy, yet refreshing, and has notes of pineapple, gala apple and butter.
Another noteworthy wine to keep an eye out for is the Bruce Jack Fair Trade Sauvignon Blanc, from the Breedekloof district that will be coming to LCBO Vintages on September 4. This district shines for their soils that produce grapes with optimal flavour concentration. This sauvignon blanc has wonderful depth and balance between an old world and new world sauvignon blanc and is a fine attribute to South Africa’s wine diversity.
South Africa is heavily relying on international support to maintain their foothold within the global wine market. On the same note, we don’t want to see such a historic, impressionable wine region fade to the background of our wine shops either. So, while we can’t travel, grab a bottle of South African wine that will surely transport you through the glass, and discover for yourself what wine industry professionals have wanted to keep a secret… until now.