Rapidly improving quality. A large number of value-priced offerings. A diverse range of varieties—from structured Cabernets and vivid Syrahs to enticing Chenin Blancs and crackling Sauvignon Blancs. All these factors combine to make South Africa one of the most attractive emerging wine regions in the world today.
For my South Africa tasting report in the April 30, 2009, issue of Wine Spectator, I reviewed nearly 440 wines in blind tastings, the most ever from the Cape's still-growing wine industry. The best are fresh, juicy wines that combine vivid, New World-style fruit with racy, Old World-style structure and minerality.
This year's group delivers the country's best performance yet. Nearly one-quarter scored outstanding (90 points or higher on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale), while nearly three-quarters rated at least very good (85 or more points). For those seeking value-priced wines, South Africa is teeming with very good to outstanding choices at $25 or less a bottle.
Though Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah dominate among the reds, Pinot Noir thrives in the country's cooler growing areas. Cabernet Franc is quietly producing excellent wines. Pinotage, the unique South African crossing of Cinsault and Pinot Noir, has become less prominent, but at its best, it provides hearty black fruit and licorice notes, along with burly tannins. Among the vintages you'll see in the market now, the 2005 growing season finished with hot weather, resulting in rich, dark fruit-filled reds, while the 2006 vintage was slightly cooler and more even-keeled.
Among the Cape's whites, Chenin Blanc produces a range of wines, from dry to dessert style, showing a panoply of flavors, from light citrus peel and floral notes to brioche and almond. While it offers the best overall quality among white wines, Chenin is quickly being challenged by Sauvignon Blanc, which has already passed it in terms of quantity. The best wines typically show crackling lime, herb and salt flavors.
WineSpectator.com members can use our Top Values tool to find great buys from James Molesworth's tastings: Nearly 100 red and white wines that cost between $10 and $25 and rated 87 points or higher.
View the full list of South Africa's Top Values.