March 9th, 2018/ BY Michael Pinkus

It’s time to start talking about South Africa’s white wines

As one of the top ten wine-producing countries in the world, it’s surprising how little we talk about South Africa. Is it because we are so far away? Probably not; we Canadians drink wine from places much farther away. Is it because we only think of South Africa as making coffee-flavoured, Pinotage-based wines? That is a possibility as that seems to be the majority of what makes headlines on our shores. Or is it because we think of it as strictly a hot climate region that does not fit in with our shifting tastes from winter (red) to summer (white)? Well, today we’re going to rectify that situation as we take a look at some of the wines you probably think about least if and when you think about South African wines: white wines.

I’m sure we all occasionally think about South Africa, but not as much as we do other countries that export wine to our shores. But would you believe that South Africa ranks seventh out of all wine-producing countries, and that it contributes 3.9 percent of the world’s wine? That said, I am sure we think more about the wines from Chile, Argentina and Germany (who rank eight, ninth and tenth worldwide). So, it’s amazing to me that we don’t a) see much more wine from South Africa, and B) talk about South Africa more often.

I think there’s a much different South Africa than you and I have seen. In 2016 alone, South Africa exported 428.5 million litres. The country also grows more white varieties than red varieties. In fact, whites outpace reds, 55 percent to 45 percent. And while Cabernet Sauvignon makes up 11 percent of the red production, and is the highest-ranking red grape in the ground, there are two white grapes that come ahead: Chenin Blanc (also known as Steen) and Colombard, followed closely by Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

While many red grapes are showing decline year-after-year in production acreage, a fair number of white grapes are actually increasing — proving that South Africa believes in its white wines. Would you believe that four of the six most important and most planted grapes in the country are white varietals?

So, maybe it’s time to rethink the way we perceive South African wine — instead of a red-driven country, for the moment anyway, white wines are king. And if you’re looking for something to fill your glass of the paler persuasion from this land, allow me to give you a few choice selections of South Africa’s white wine.



South Africa’s White Wine

Graham Beck Brut Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Sparkling ($19.95)

It’s great to kick things off with bubbles, and while this is not all Chardonnay, it is all “white wine,” with lots of toasty, biscuity and lemon curd notes.

Cathedral Cellar Brut Sparkling 2010 ($16.95)

Another gorgeous traditional method bubbly. Plenty of apple and leesy notes along with fresh citrus and some punch on the finish with expressive acidity that helps balance it out.

De Wetshof Limestone Hill Unwooded Chardonnay 2016 ($16.95)

Unoaked Chardonnay can be so boring, but not here. This surprising unoaked wine must have had lees contact involved in its making as it possesses nice weight in the mouth along with yellow plum, peach, sweet apple and floral.

Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($21.95)

A pretty righteous Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa with lots of nice gooseberry and chalky mineral. It also has a good mid-weight on the palate. Impressive.

Jardin Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015 ($21.95)

Lots of toasty-smoky butterscotch, almond praline and hazelnut. There’s fruit here; it’s subtle but it’s there.

Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc 2016 ($17.95)

A great example of Chenin with all the fixin’s most people think of when tasting this grape: lanolin, lime, peach pit and grapefruit zest. Ageable for 5-plus years.

Man Free-Run Steen Chenin Blanc 2015 ($13.95)

Simple but satisfying with lanolin, pineapple and melon rind accompanied by nice, balancing acidity and a medium-length finish.

Cathedral Cellar Chenin Blanc 2014 ($16.95)

A lighter than expected version of Chenin that sides more on the fresh fruit vein with citrus and tropical nuances while ending with a subtle/soft finish.

De Grendel Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($19.95)

With a hint of Semillon (~9%) on board and some extended lees contact, both to give texture and added mouthfeel, this Sauv Blanc comes across more creamy than zingy. There’s still plenty of citrus surrounded by tropical fruit but it also shows some interesting complexity.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2016 ($43.95)

This is South Africa trying to beat California at its own game: a big, brash oaky Chardonnay that saw plenty of new oak, but less malolactic in an attempt to keep the balance of buttery, vanilla, and caramel in check with acidity.

Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2016 ($15.95)

Here’s your chance to get Chenin-light from old-vine fruit. Instead of being a really fruity wine, this one kicks off with lanolin and citrus pith. Over time, it should develop a few more recognizable white fruits on the palate.

Rustenberg Chardonnay 2015 ($19.95)

A funky Chardonnay that shows real complexity once you get past the oaky, smoky, buttery notes, after which you’ll find some melon, lemon/lime and even hints of minerality.

Nederburg Manor House Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($15.95)

Clean, crisp and perfectly ready for summer – or thinking about summer – depending on the time of year when you drink it. Lots of grassy and citrus flavours with a hint of guava on the finish.

Raats Original Chenin Blanc 2016 ($21.95)

Floral, lanolin, waxy and honey aromas all make an appearance on the nose, while the palate adds some really beautiful peach and apple flavours into the mix.

Bellingham Homestead Series The Old Orchards Chenin Blanc 2015 ($15.95)

A different kind of Chenin that focuses more on secondary flavours and aromas than primary. Look for baked apple, liquorice and pear skin.

Ghost Corner Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($21.95)

If you like your Savvy B on the herbal and green side, this is your baby. It’s got grass, asparagus, peas, leafy greens and more, but there is also some citrus zing on the finish to reign it all in.




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