South African Wines: Where Old Meets New

There are a few countries in the world where multiple cultures have met and mingled to shape a nation. I believe that South Africa is definitely one of them. It is where the cultures of Africa, Europe, and Asia have crossed for centuries, shaping a country both traditional and modern, conservative and progressive. Today, South Africa has reinvented itself as a democracy by looking to the past as well as to the future.

The country’s wine industry is doing the same. The long winemaking history is a classic example of the Old World. Yet, the wines’ contemporary, fruity styles and diversities reflect the classicism of the New World. This rare combination of Old and New is the powerful drive for the South African wine industry. South Africa is making better wines than ever, thanks to innovation, market trends, and global competition. But much of its potential is rooted in its past, hidden in old-vine vineyards, the complex terroir, and unique winemaking history.

Here are my picks, which showcase the best of the future of South African winemaking, without abandoning what has come before.

Raats, Chenin Blanc 2012

In pursuit of only the very best Chenin Blanc, Bruwer Raats seeks out specific soil combinations planted with older vines in Stellenbosch. He works closely with growers with whom he has long-term contracts. This is an unwooded Chenin Blanc with fresh yellow peaches and citrus. A great everyday sipper with bright acidity and fruit-focused character.

de Trafford, Chenin Blanc 2011

The Trafford family farm is located high in the saddle between the Stellenbosch and Heldergerg Mountains. The history of wine-growing on this mountain farm started with the purchase of the property in 1976 by the Trafford Family. With only five hectares under vine, the de Trafford farm is the ultimate in boutique wineries, with a small annual production. Chenin Blanc is their flagship wine, with richly textured pear and apple flavors. It is a serious wine, with a creamy, long, mineral finish, but it offers a refreshing pleasure.

“DMZ” De Morgenzon, Chardonnay 2012

An extraordinary winery that dates back 400 years. The fruit for this DMZ Chardonnay is sourced from high elevation vineyards in the Western Cape. Close proximity to the ocean and granite/sandstone soils contribute to the elegance and minerality in the wine. A barrel-fermented Chardonnay with creamy texture and yellow apple, honeysuckle, and white kitchen spices.

Noble Hill “Bloem” Suider Bloem Red

Noble Hill Winery is located at the foot of the majestic Simonsberg Mountains in the Coastal Region. It is a small, American, family-owned estate, with 30 hectares of vineyards. In addition to their basic cuvées, they have launched the “Bloem” (flower in English) brand to show their pride in the Western Cape’s floral diversity. The wine is primarily from Syrah and a touch of Mourvèdre. It is full with rich and dense dark fruits, tobacco, and chocolate. It offers typical South African rich and big red wine character.

The Three Foxes “The Vixen” 2004

Outside of his day job of making wines for Mullineux Family Wines, Chris Mullineux collaborates with brothers Pascal and Olivier Schildt on this small winery project founded in 2004. Great attention to detail is evident from top to finish. The idea is to keep the wines dynamic and interesting and not to get caught up in the wine world stuff. It is exciting to taste great South African wine with age. It is a blend of 80% Syrah, 12% Cinsaut, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, with multilayered fruits and species. It still shows great freshness and lingers long.

Click here for our full list of South African wines.