If you haven’t been drinking South African wines over the past five years, you’ve been missing out big time. Where have you been? South Africa, in my opinion, is making the most exciting wines of any New World country at the moment, with several wineries producing reds and whites that are more dynamic than many equivalent offerings from the masters in France, Italy and Spain. Yes, call me biased, but read – and taste – on. South Africa’s time is most definitely now.
With such high quality and growing fame comes increased demand and, inevitably, increased prices. The weak rand has helped to mitigate the pace of this somewhat, but many of South Africa’s best wines are now sitting comfortably between £25/$35 and £50/$70 a bottle. So when Decanter asked me to seek out 30 South African wines under £20/$30 that I would be happy to recommend, it was an exciting challenge that I couldn’t refuse.
‘South Africa, in my opinion, is making the most exciting wines of any New World country at the moment’
Over 20 years of buying fine wine, I’ve increasingly noticed the South African category develop the ‘doughnut effect’: plenty of mass-market, branded offerings at entry- level prices under £10/$15, and then noticeably slim pickings until you pass the £20/$30 price point. However, this is by no means a unique phenomenon. It was also a challenge for Californian producers in the mid-to-late 2000s; with no middle ground of wines in which to trade up to, wine lovers were unable to expand their interest in the state’s wines.
South African producers are now more aware of this ‘hole’ between £10/$15 and £20/$30, and have identified the opportunity to offer high-quality products that not only have classical styling but also moderate ageability should consumers wish to cellar them further at home.
After four drought-affected vintages and reduced yields, 2019 has seen a welcome return of healthy harvests and improved quality, so now is perhaps the perfect time to reacquaint yourself with some of the better-value offerings available from this vibrant and dynamic wine-producing country.
In selecting some of my favourite sub-£20$30 wines, I didn’t try to allocate a certain quantity to any individual variety or specific region. However, looking at my final selection, it has a naturally balanced feel of diversity and classicism, highlighting the exceptional value and quality still to be found with wines made from premium varieties such as Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, as well as up-and-coming grapes in the Cape like Cinsault and Grenache, plus superb classics such as Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah-based red blends from Swartland.
Consumers have finally started to look beyond the European continent for their quality fizz fix, and one of the indirect beneficiaries of this more open thinking (in addition to the growth of English sparkling wine) has been Methode Cap Classique – South Africa’s traditional-method, bottle-fermented sparkling wine. Quality has never been better, and with South African producers focusing primarily on the three Champagne varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for the majority of production, you’d be missing a trick if you ignore some of these exceptional wines, which are now being exported in ever-increasing quantities.
Whether your preference is for white, red, bubbles or the Cape’s stunning dessert wines, there’s a broad range of grapes and styles among my 30 suggestions that follow to suit every palate – and every pocket. No one does quality and value like South Africa.