Get thirsty: Innovation is sweeping South Africa!

The stunningly beautiful Cape winelands.

The status of South African wine in the USA is lamentable, says Christy Canterbury MW. Even in New York City, where the most diverse selection of wine styles and origins in the world spoils imbibers, South Africa barely appears on the radar screen.

The US has no heritage links to the Cape, and much of what has come ashore here in the 20 odd years since the end of apartheid has either hardly inspired thirst or been near-impossible to source thanks to tiny allocations.

Granted, the best often isn’t cheap. It’s time to get over a willingness to pay $60 for a Russian River Pinot Noir then wonder if in most other wine regions if paying more than a Jackson is “worth it”. I’m not saying there aren’t terrific South African wines under $20 but rather suggesting that those requiring more coin are very often worth it. Slightly annoyed by the jubilations of UK wine pals over the South African wines they regularly drink, I began seeking out what I couldn’t find stateside. I spend about six weeks a year in London, so I made it my mission to drink “new wave” South African wines there.

In quenching my thirst, what I found is that the typical approach to delve into either appellations or varieties to establish frames of reference isn’t necessarily the best approach. On the Cape, I suggest investing in individuals, wherever they produce wines and with whatever varieties. Though not a comprehensive list, here are the names I urge you to taste:

Winery – Winemaker

AA Badenhorst – Adi Badenhorst

Alheit Vineyards – Chris & Suzaane Alheit

Avondale – Jonathan Grieve

Boekenhoutskloof – Marc Kent

Cape Point Vineyards and Savage Wines – Duncan Savage

Creation Wines – Jean-Claude Martin

DeMorgenzon – Carl van der Merwe

De Toren Private Cellar – Albie Koch

Keermont – Alex Strey

Mullineux Family – Chris Mullineux

Paul Cluver – Andries Burger

Raats Family – Bruwer Raats and Gavin Bruwer Slabbert

Sadie Family – Eben Sadie

Not to categorically exclude, well, categories, I admit two merit special notice. The first is white blends. These are highly atypical blends that often include old vine Chenin Blanc as well as a wide and entirely unpredictable range of other white varieties like chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, semillon, viognier and a smattering of other grapes. Though at least a portion of these wines often sees vinification in oak, they are nonetheless impressively aromatic. They are also broad on the palate with good weight, yet their acidity is so crisp as to make them very sippable.

The second phenomenon falls in the category of red Rhône blends. I confess that I avoid Rhône-style wines from many New World countries. They often suffer from too much extract, alcohol and new wood. Not so in South Africa. These reds generally show precision, freshness and complexity that make them not just drinkable, but gulpable.

What’s new in South Africa? Loads. Don’t waste time getting to know what is out there and open your wallet just a bit wider from time to time to enjoy a full exploration of the new guard.

(Source: SNOOTH)