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stirring the lees with james molesworth

Another Year, Another 360 South African Wines

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Dec 28, 2006 4:01pm ET

I've just finished off the last of my South African tastings for my upcoming report (scheduled for the April 30 issue). Running the numbers, it turns out I've reviewed over 360 South African wines since my last report—the most I've ever reviewed in a single year since I began covering the region six years ago. The category is really growing and, thankfully, there's a lot of good wine too.

While I still haven't found a classic wine (95 points or better) from the Cape, I am finding tons of good stuff in the 88- to 92-point range, and often at $25 or less a bottle--Syrah and Cabernet for the reds; Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for the whites.

There are lots of promising new faces too, including small wineries such as Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards, Scali and Cape Point, that are making wines in the several-hundred case lot size, meaning they'll be hard to find, but they're worth the search. Meanwhile, established leaders such as Fairview, de Trafford and Engelbrecht-Els keep upping their game.

As I get ready to start writing my story (nothing like staring at a blank document on your computer during the quietest week of the year in the office to get you motivated), I've been looking at the numbers of vineyard plantings on the Cape. They are skyrocketing—how's a jump from 21,800 acres to over 67,000 acres in the last five years sound? And that's just Cabernet. Syrah has gone from 14,000 acres to over 48,000 acres in the same period of time, and there is similar growth in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and other grapes.

As for tourism, the number of Americans visiting the Cape has risen steadily in the last few years. Apparently the allure of gorgeous scenery, rapidly improving wines and the chance to either golf or game drive in truly wild settings is pulling in more and more folks.

It all adds up to a dynamic time for South Africa, which is hoping to get the World Cup in 2010, though some infrastructure issues are yet to be ironed out.

What's your experience with South African wine and/or travel? Is it still a small, unexplored category for you, still led by that odd grape called Pinotage? Or have you discovered its rapidly expanding offerings and improving quality with Syrah, Chenin Blanc and other grapes? And, if you've been lucky enough to get there in person, what was your impression?

Jeffrey Brown
Canada —  December 28, 2006 5:31pm ET
two wines that impressed me were the De Toren Fusion V 2003 and the Mulderbosch 2004 Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc.
Claude Pope
Raleigh, NC —  December 28, 2006 5:46pm ET
I've really enjoyed the Goats do Roam branded table wines. Good quality everyday wines at a great price point. I'd love to travel there some day, but first, I'm off to the land down under in April - Barrossa and New Zealand - with my golf sticks of course!
Mg Matzkin
Thousand Oaks, CA —  December 28, 2006 8:20pm ET
I am traveling to South Africa in mid-April, unfortunately 2 weeks before your report arrives. Is there any way I can get a preview sooner? In addition, do you have any suggestions for specific wineries that would be special for a visiting experience? I am looking forward to exploring the wines of South Africa. Thanks.
James Suckling
 —  December 29, 2006 12:17am ET
My memories are amazing. I only went once, in 1994. And I wrote one of my most memorable cover stories. Where has the time gone? It is a mix of the Old World and the New World with a hope for Africa...something all of us want. And the wines keep getting better. Drink them.
Dana Buys
Paarl, South Africa —  December 29, 2006 3:28am ET
James, you are WAY overdue for a visit - so much has changed since '94 in so many ways.
I have travelled the wine regions of California, France and Australia quite extensively and can say (with slight bias of course!) that the Cape winelands are hard to beat from a wine tourism perspective.
Starting only 30 minutes from of the wonderful city of Cape Town, the winelands offer diversity, great food, great accommodation and rapidly improving wines. There are excellent golf courses, spa's and beautiful beaches on offer too - catering for those who want more than just wine tourism. The value proposition is amazing.
Please let me know when you have the time to come - I am sure the local industry would love to get you back here again! Best time of the year would be Feb to May....
James Molesworth
December 29, 2006 9:43am ET
Mg: Sorry, no sneak peeks of course. But keep an eye on the Tasting Highlights and Insider here on the website, which should have quite a few South African reviews appearing shortly.

As for wineries to visit, Stellenbosch is the area with the highest concentration, and many are open to the public (though you should always call ahead) - and some, like Tokara, even have a restaurant as well. Also, 96 Winery Road Restaurant is run by Ken Forrester, one of the top Chenin Blanc producers.

Dana: Yes, Suckling was the last WS editor to visit the Cape, back in '94 (I've been covering the region for WS since '00 but have yet to visit myself). I'm surprised to hear you want him back though - he usually drinks up all the 1900 Margaux wherever he goes, like a wine locust! ;-)...
Gary Cato
Atlanta  —  December 29, 2006 10:46am ET
James, your right we tend to get hooked on individual wines or particular types of wine within a region. This tendency to head towards the old reliable gives the expected results. But it is a real joy to venture out and be surprised by something new and original. I first heard about Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc from WS and took a risk, (it wasn¿t from New Zealand so how could it be any good, as far as the French version ¿ where is the fruit), I was blown away on my first tasting and it is now an old reliable. I am not looking for the next classic ¿ not sure I would recognize or care. I am looking for great wine at a good price that matches up well with my meal. A major plus is to have my wine boundaries expanded and prejudices eroded. Over the years so much has improved; Rioja are no longer stingy and dried out, Chilean wines are not always thin and ruined by vegetable flavors, wines from Argentina can be world class, California can make very good Pinot affordable, Rheingau can have acidity and balance, Merlot can be a great wine in Italy. Tokaji can be on par with other great wines. So today on my trip to the store, something out of the ordinary will come home to be paired with dinner and family. Just maybe I will bring a little of the Cape home with me.
James Molesworth
December 29, 2006 10:51am ET
Mulderbosch's Sauvignon Blanc continues to be a rapier of white, with racy gooseberry and chive flavors. But try their Chenin Blanc too - it gets a touch of oak, and offers lots of ginger, floral and mineral notes. It might open your eyes to what Chenin can do on the Cape...
Dana Buys
Cape winelands, South Africa —  December 30, 2006 7:09am ET
James - the comment re a visit to the Cape was meant for you as the editor responsible for the Cape wines! You recently mentioned the 'connection' issue on your blog.
We need to get you more 'connected' to the Cape so please come and visit :-)
Alexandre De Azara
SAO PAULO BRAZIL —  January 7, 2007 8:05pm ET
De Toren Fusion V, Meerlust Rubicon for Reds and Steenberg reserve sauvignon Blanc 2005. Fantastic.We¿ve visited Thelema also and Saxemburg Both great syrah.

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