South Africa – not yet

Being from sunny California, I never really understood the Beatles’ song, “Here comes the sun” until I moved to England. Now I get it. The sun came out today and it definitely put a spring in my step. Out on the golf course today, I thought, life’s not so bad now, is it?

I can’t say the same for S. African wine. I really try hard to like them but they still have a long way to go as far as I’m concerned. I was reading a review in a magazine the other day and I couldn’t agree more: rubbery, green, and with a certain “pong” (whatever that means). What it means to me is green, stalky and extremely aggressive.
We featured 4 wines for a tasting in my shop on Saturday and here are my thoughts. Sticking your nose in a glass of S. African red is like being punched in the face with a plastic glove and not one of those thin surgical gloves but one of those big honking yellow ones you use to do the dishes. The merlot tasted like overcooked prunes and the pinotage, while marginally more palatable still tasted like overcooked berry jam. Too much oak, too much jammy fruit, not enough balance. I sampled the pinotage throughout the day and by closing time, I pronounced, “It’s growing on me.” My colleague replied, “Stop trying to make yourself like it, you don’t.” He was right.
The whites didn’t fare much better. The chardonnay- overoaked to the nth degree, desperately searching for fruit, again out of balance. Dry chenin blanc is one variety that seems to be finding a place in S.Africa but it still has a way to go. The chenin blanc started out with a lovely banana and guava nose which carried onto the palate but then it just evaporated. One customer observed that there wasn’t much there and I’d have to agree with her. These wines were mid-priced but even on the high end, you’d be hard pressed to find a wine that you’d want to take home.
The South African wine industy is still struggling to find it’s feet. They have a great climate, warm and sunny, but they’ve planted willy-nilly with barely a thought for how the grapes will do in said location. No one has yet found the magic combination of grape and terroir. Until they do, I think that S. Africa will be stuck with those rubbery, aggressive wines for a long time.


  1. OK, I’m probably biased (!), but I think you are tarring an awful lot of wines with the same brush… I don’t think these descriptions can fairly be applied to an estate like for e.g. Springfield, where they DO put a lot of thought into the magic combination of grapes and terroir, and don’t over-oak their Chardonnays. In fact, there are plenty of subtly oaked Chardonnays available in SA these days (granted, there was a period in the 90s when you could chew our Chardonnays!). I think it would be more productive to name & shame the particular wines you tried – this piece makes it sound like all our pinotages/chenins/etc are the same and that’s patently not true!! Just my 10 cents’ worth… 🙂

    • Well do be fair, that was my first experience with S. African wines waaaayyyy back last year! Since then I have had some tasty S. African wines but I have to say, they are few and far between. I have had Springfields Chards and they are lovely and at the LIWF, I had a Boenskloof Pinotage which was probably the first pinotage I’ve actually enjoyed. But in general, despite Andrew’s best efforts to convinve me otherwise, I’m still sceptical but always open to new wines! Thanks for your 10 cents worth. 🙂

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