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DWWA 2014: South Africa insights

Hear from our South Africa Regional Chair Lynne Sherriff MW on which wines to buy, which wines to leave on the shelf and what to keep an eye on from this year's Decanter World Wine Awards....

There was a strong, diverse entry from South Africa this year, yielding 11 Trophies and 22 Golds. Not as glorious as last year’s haul (14 Trophies, 27 Golds) but nevertheless some superb examples of a number of single grape varietals, exciting blends (both red and white) and outstanding sweet whites. Vineyards planted in the 1990s are maturing and the complexity of the fruit in the wines is reflecting that. Regions such as Elim, Cederberg and Cape Point continue to shine with real linear characteristics, a mark of their cool maritime heritage.

What should we buy from here?

Chenin Blanc is really shining (witness Spier’s Trophy and a brace of Golds), from light, fruity, screwcapped examples to full, rich, lightly oaked wines. The more adventurous winemakers are also blending Chenin with Rhône varieties, making for a very interesting category altogether. Sauvignon Blanc is always reliable and the newer maritime regions of Elim and Cape Point offer herbal, racy wines, while the warmer regions show more exotic and tropical fruit. Chardonnay has come into its own (another Trophy for Jordan!) with a truly broad spectrum from unoaked wines to those with buttery, brioche textures. There is lots of choice in Syrah for those who prefer single-varietals and for those who favour blends with the other Rhône grapes – Mourvèdre, Carignan, Grenache and Viognier – and often Pinotage. The Cabernet blends outshone the varietal wines this year, though there were some superb examples of varietal Cabernet Franc. The best were powerful and layered: food wines with a potential for cellaring.

What should we leave on the shelf?

Moody Merlot often does not shine as a single varietal in South Africa, but is much more amicable in a blend. Particularly with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon they were much more interesting. The sparkling wines did not perform as well as hoped, though the best examples were fresh, complex and interesting.

What should we keep an eye on?

Sauvignon Blanc is always one to look for, but more recently increasing numbers of blends with Semillon have added diversity, as with the Constantia Glen and Paul Cluver Trophies. Chenin will also continue to strengthen, not least due to winemakers and viticulturists searching for pockets of low-yielding old vineyards. White Rhône varietals, like Grenache Blanc and Viognier, also continue to surprise. For wine lovers with a cellar, powerful Pinotages of 10-15 years or more reward those with patience.

Written by Decanter

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