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?