Take the road of lesser-known single varietals
Follow any of the well-known local or international wine critics, and the message you’ll get is that the future of South African wine lies in chenin blanc and pinotage.
No doubt they have a point. We do these two varietals really well, in enough volume and showcasing of different terroir and styles, that they are likely the much-needed backbone for a clear South African wine identity in the highly competitive global market.
But, our national selling point is all about diversity too – the “world in one country” marketing slogan – and we’ve certainly got that going in the wine department.
The second annual “Alternative Varieties Report” released by winemag.co.za in April highlights semillon and cabernet franc as two of the varietals doing particularly well among single-variety wines “out of the mainstream”.
The mainstream being the top-10 varieties – in order, chenin blanc, colombar, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, sauvignon blanc, pinotage, chardonnay, merlot, ruby cabernet, cinsault – that make up 86% of the national vineyard, the remaining 14% consisting of another 93 different grape varietals.
For those with a sense of adventure, says winemag.co.za editor Christian Eedes, “there is some smart drinking to be had from the lesser-known varieties” – and the rankings provide a good pointer of where to start exploring.
The top-rated white was Babylonstoren Wine Club Semillon 2017 (R150) with a stand-out 95 points, and another eight semillons scored 90 or more.
All, says Eedes, had that richness on the palate that characterises semillon.
Top scoring semillons from Highlands Road, Rickety Bridge, Vrede en Lust, Dornier and Nitida would make a good place to start for those wanting to widen their horizons and venture into Semillon.
It’s interesting to see Portuguese variety verdelho starting to feature more in local wines – the grape is used for fortified Madeira wines, but also makes a dry white wine with floral notes and vibrant acidity.
Verdelho from Cavalli, Org de Rac and Stellenbosch Vineyards all scored over 90 points and Eedes reckons it’s a variety well worth keeping an eye on.
In the reds, cabernet franc was the stand-out performer, with seven rating 90-plus.
Bruwer Raats is known for his passion for cabernet franc, which he focuses on exclusively (along with chenin as his white focus) and so it’s probably unsurprising that the Raats Family Cabernet Franc 2016 was top scorer in the red wines, with 94 points for its “reined-in power” as the judges describe it.
Raats had another three of his various iterations of cabernet franc in the top rankings, along with Warwick and Morgenster.
The judges were less excited about lighter reds cinsaut and grenache – finding them good for everyday drinking but lacking in greatness – and reckoned that while there was “nothing terribly wrong” with single-varietal malbec and petit verdot entries, both were better in their traditional role of blending components.
Nonetheless, for ventures in that direction, check out the 90-plus pointers of grenache from Creation or Olifantsberg, Bosman Twyfeling Cinsault, or Malbec from La Couronne.