Tim Atkin on South Africa

Tim Atkin on South Africa Specials Specials

He's been accused of having it in for South Africa, and being overly critical of its reds (especially those 'rubbery' ones). So we asked Tim Atkin MW to tell us what's great about the Cape.

(Stockist codes)

ATKIN'S TOP WHITES

Cape Point, Isliedh, Noordhoek 2007 ***** (18.5/20)

Duncan Savage thinks he hasn’t hit his

full potential yet. Heaven help his rivals

when he does. This ageworthy, barrelfermented

Sauvignon-Semillon is the Cape’s Domaine de Chevalier. £22; HvN; SVi

Ken Forrester, The FMC Chenin Blanc,

Stellenbosch 2008 ***** (18.5)

Ken Forrester’s turbo-charged, barrelfermented,

bush vine-sourced FMC is rich,

honeyed and toasty, with lashings of new

oak and ripe tropical fruit. £17.99; Wai

Hamilton Russell, Chardonnay, Hemel

and Aarde Valley 2008 ***** (18.5)

The competition to make the Cape’s best

Chardonnay gets more ferocious by the

vintage, but Hamilton Russell is still (just)

out in front. This is a superb Burgundianstyle

white, with oak, minerality and

citrus fruit in near perfect harmony.

£17–£23.50; Ave, Evi, GGr, Hai, Han, Har,

Jer, MiL, N&P, SLp, SWO, Teg, WDi, WnS

Tokara, White, Stellenbosch 2007 ***** (18.5)

As at Vergelegen, the top white wine here

just pips the red for complexity and broad

appeal. This blend of Sauvignon with 15%

Semillon is leesy and rich, with elegant

oak, toast and remarkable freshness for

such a big wine. £19; Hic, SLp, SWO

Vergelegen, Flagship White,

Stellenbosch 2008 ***** (18.5)

André van Rensburg would argue that all

the wines he makes are brilliant, but a few

stand out from a excellent range. This

equal blend of Sauvignon and Semillon is

his best white yet: grapefruit, honeysuckle,

toast and a fine, herbal finish. £22; Jer, Lay

Ataraxia, Chardonnay,

Western Cape 2008 **** (18)

Kevin Grant used to make the wines at

Hamilton Russell until 2004 and clearly

learned a few things about Chardonnay

there. This creamy, elegant, beautifully

focused Chardonnay from Elgin and

Hemel en Aarde fruit is a star.

£14.50; SVS

Cape Chamonix, Chardonnay Reserve,

Franschhoek 2008 **** (18)

Gottfried Mocke makes some of the Cape’s

most refined wines; this dry-farmed,

barrel-fermented, Puligny-like Chardonnay

is at the top of the pile: fresh, toasty and

superb balance. £12.99–£15; Ben, BoC, Han

Groot Constantia, Sauvignon Blanc,

Constantia 2009 **** (18)

An excellent follow up to 2008 from an

historic property no longer overshadowed

by other local producers. Citrus fruit,

green fig and green pepper intermingle

in this sappy, zesty white. £9.99; Maj

Neil Ellis, Sauvignon Blanc,

Groenekloof 2008 **** (18)

Neil Ellis makes great red and Chardonnay,

but I think this Sauvignon is his best

wine. Depth of gooseberry and a hint of

tropical fruit with taut minerality and

impressive concentration. £9.36– £14.95;

Maj, Pip, Rai, Rbs, SWO, VLL

Steenberg, Semillon,

Constantia 2008 **** (18)

Why isn’t there more Semillon in the

Cape? Many out there are delicious like

this barrel-fermented, low-yielding one:

rich, textured and herbal with crunchy

green bean and buttered toast notes.

£21.55; Arm

Raats, Chenin Blanc,

Stellenbosch 2008 **** (17.5)

Bruwer Raats makes the Cape’s best

Cabernet Franc and one of its outstanding

Chenins. It’s tighter and more focused

than many, with subtle oak, intense apple,

quince and vanilla flavours and bright,

palate-cleansing acidity. £12.99; ExW,

Han, Har, MgW, SVF, TVD, Vgy, You

The Foundry, Grenache Blanc,

Swartland 2009 **** (17.5)

As well as making the wines at Meerlust,

Chris Williams has his own brand. His

Syrah and Viognier are both top notch,

but this minerally, lightly oaked example

could outdo them both. £8.99; WSo

ATKIN'S TOP REDS

Sadie Family, Columella,

Swartland 2007 ***** (19/20)

When I tasted the eight components of

this wine from barrel, I thought it was

one of the greatest Cape reds I’d ever

tried. Now it’s in bottle, I’m not changing

my mind: violets, plums, liquorice and

very fine, savoury tannins. £45; Swg, WSo

De Toren, Fusion V,

Stellenbosch 2007 ***** (18.5)

A deceptively forward yet classic blend of

55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet

Franc, 15% Malbec, 10% Merlot and 5%

Petit Verdot. I love its freshness allied to

subtle oak and cassis and chocolate

notes. £24–£27; BBR, Han, Swg, SWO, WSo

Engelbrecht Els, Proprietor’s Blend,

Stellenbosch 2006 ***** (18.5)

Ernie Els’ reds are as smooth as his

legendary golf swing. This blend of five

Bordeaux varieties plus 20% Shiraz is

huge, but its alcohol is balanced by rich

fruit and fine tannins. £20.99–£23.99;

DLL, Gen, GGr, Hed, L&S, SWO, WHo

Waterford, The Jem,

Stellenbosch 2005 ***** (18.5)

Since the first Jem in 2004, Waterford has

shifted into another gear. This Cabernetbased

blend of seven French and Italian

varieties is powerful, perfumed and

complete. £38.95; BBR, Odd

Boekenhoutskloof, The Chocolate Block,

Western Cape 2008 **** (18)

Marc Kent’s straight Syrah and Cabernet

are more classic but this wacky blend of

Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet, Cinsault and

Viognier is perfumed, smooth, spicy,

complex and packed with blackberry and

apricot fruit. £20; BoA, Bon, CeD, F&F,

F&M, Han, HgD, Hgt, Hig, Hnt, Imb, MBW,

Odd, P&S, PLG, Rbs, SWO, TVS, Vik, WaD,

WCc, WDi, Wmb, WWi, You

Kanonkop, Pinotage, Stellenbosch 2008 **** (18)

I chose the straight Pinotage over the

Paul Sauer and Bush Vine Pinotage, as

it’s a great example of what the variety

can do: silky tannins, voluptuous red fruit,

spicy oak and harmonious balancing

acidity. £17–£19.95; Har, Maj, Pip, SWO,

VLL, WSo

Hartenberg, The Stork Shiraz,

Stellenbosch 2005 **** (18)

One of a handful of thrilling Syrahs made

in the Cape, Carl Schultz’s has a New

World style, with a nod to the Barossa

Valley rather than Hermitage. Bramble,

blackberry and liquorice, with lashings of

oak. £33.50; DLL, Har, HBa, SWO, Vik, WLi

Meerlust, Rubicon,

Stellenbosch 2004 **** (18)

Chris William’s first vintage at this

historic Cape winery brought about

substantial improvements. This blend

of 60% Cabernet, 27% Merlot and 13%

Franc is ripe, yet extremely elegant,

in a Cape-meets-Margaux style.

£21.99; BcW, Evy, F&M, F&R, Han, Hds,

Hgt, HvN, L&S, MHL, P&S, Par, PLG, PWA,

Rbs, SeL, Smp, Swg, SWO, Vik, WSo, WFM,

Wmb, WnW, WUH

Rustenberg, Peter Barlow,

Stellenbosch 2005 **** (18)

Unusually for a top Cape wine, this is

entirely Cabernet Sauvignon. Super-ripe,

bold and expressive, with masses of

oak and cassis fruit, yet with dense

tannins that need time to unfurl.

£25.50–£28; DLL, F&M, Hed, L&S, OWC,

SWO, Swg, Vir

Vilafonté, Series C, Paarl 2005 **** (18)

Mike Ratcliffe’s venture with Californians

Zelma Long and Phil Freese has yielded

two excellent wines, M and C. I just

prefer the latter, based on Cabernets

Sauvignon and Franc. Serious, dense,

Bordeaux-like with great ageing potential.

£25; Han, SWO

Thelema, Merlot,

Stellenbosch 2007 **** (17.5)

Thelema has been around for so long

it often gets overlooked, despite its

brilliance. Its Limited Release Reserve

Merlot is the best example of the grape

in South Africa, but this isn’t far behind.

Mint, chocolate and grainy tannins.

£14; AGW, WDi

ATKIN'S SWEETS

De Trafford, Straw Wine,

Stellenbosch 2006 ***** (18.5)

South African critics get very excited

about David Trafford’s reds, but I prefer

his Chenins, especially this remarkable

straw wine made from air-dried grapes,

with its notes of vanilla oak, honey, dried

fruits and tarte tatin.

£17.50 (375ml); Bib

Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards,

Vin Pi Two, Tulbagh NV***** (18.5)

TMV makes some of my favourite Cape

Rhône-style reds but this solera-produced

Chenin is exotic, floral, yet smoky with

flavours of crême caramel, dried fruits

and 300 grams per litre of sugar.

£25.99 (375ml); CeD, CPe, VLL, WCt