The Rise of South African Premium Wines

by Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright, CWM


South Africa, the Cradle of Humankind, has some of the oldest soils in the world, made up of decomposed granite and Table Mountain Sandstone that range from 100 million to 1 billion years old, as well as having a 300-year history of producing quality wines. 


Featured in this Cellar Offering are some pinnacles of excellence, both from established brands such as Warwick and newer, cutting-edge ones like Kershaw. Richard Kershaw, a Master of Wine, is famous for his brilliant range of deconstructed Syrahs and Chardonnays for his GPS range, which explores some more diverse climates, other than the cool climate Elgin where his winery is based.


Richard Kershaw MW talks about why premium South African wines are skyrocketing in popularity: “South Africa has a wealth of small select sites with diverse soils and meso-climates that afford winemakers the ability to create premium wines with good structure and acidity; wines that can age a long time, and that hold their own against many Old World wines, but often at a much lesser price.”


Nick Pentz from Groote Post has a similar view, saying the quality to value ratio is huge, which makes South African wines offer enjoyment at the highest level, be it from a sensory point of view or price point. It is common that once a wine drinker has experienced the premium wines from the Cape, they are back for more. South Africa excels in the production of many different varietals from varied wine producing areas: from cool coastal pockets of excellence to drier inland areas, South African wines have a thread of authenticity, over different climatic influences.


As Christiane von Arnim from Warwick Wines says, South Africa offers more variety and diversity than any other wine growing country, being spoilt with exceptional terroir across all regions. This allows winemakers the ability to produce world-class wines that best suit their style and terroir. Mike Ratcliffe of Vilafonté added that the top-end of South African wine is a fast-changing place. High quality has been produced for a long time, but it is now being complimented by dynamic brands, cultural interest, historical significance and a focus on creating meaningful brands.


South African premium wines are achieving a wave of global recognition. Vilafonté’s Series C was rated in The South Africa Wine Report from Robert Parker as the best red wine for 2019, as well as joint-highest rated South African wine overall. The Series C won the trophy for best Bordeaux Blend at the Six-Nations Competition in Sydney, Australia, while Greg Sherwood MW described the Seriously Old Dirt by Vilafonté (lot 2285) as one of the most sought after “second wines” from a premium winery in South Africa.


South Africa also has a great reputation for sparkling wine, produced in the méthode champenoise style. Called “Cap Classique since” 1992, the name was derived from the fact that the classic art of winemaking was introduced to the Cape by the French Huguenots, and the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine produced in the Cape was called Kaapse Vonkel (Cape Sparkle), which was released in 1971 by Simonsig Wine Estate, using the three traditional Champagne varieties, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.


Cap Classique is a premium category of South African sparkling wines. It’s a generic term for any wine in the Cape that is produced by the traditional method, that is, in the same way as Champagne. To distinguish them from other, invariably less expensive, ways of getting the bubble in the bottle, Cap Classique will be on the label. The Warwick The First Lady Rosé (lot 2281) and Aristea Cap Classiques clearly show this category to be premium in South Africa. With such an array of wines of every style, region and price point to choose from, it is exciting to see the quality the country is delivering and it is certainly worth exploring!