South Africa's Fine Wine Dimension
So, after my recent trip, here are my thoughts on the state of South African wine. [Caveat: I'm not pretending that this is in any way anything more than my own personal perspective, so please excuse the presumption. And I know that I have just scratched the surface of South African wine through my various trips and tasting the wine here in the UK. But what I do have, FWIW, is a healthy international perspective.]
1. Much progress is being made over a short period. Since my last trip in December 2005, it is exciting to see how much has changed for the better. [Impressive progress has been made with the more commercial wines: this is really important for the industry, but here I'm going to be focusing on fine wine.]
2. South Africa's best wines are yet to be made, which is encouraging, I suppose. There is much potential.
3. I acknowledge the temptation to be obsessed with the new at the expense of the old. But while I acknowledge some of the classic wines made from Bordeaux varieties, I don't think this is the future of the wine industry, at least at the top end. Instead, I'm thrilled by the progress being made outside the the traditional Cape fine wine model (Estate wines/Bordeaux varieties/Stellenbosch and Paarl focus).
4. I'm very excited by the new Swartland/Paardeberg/Tulbagh wines. The Syrah-based reds and white blends (Chenin plus Rhone varieties) are frequently thrilling. It's so exciting seeing people driven by passion and ability seeking out special vineyard blocks and doing great things with them.
5. I was also excited by Sauvignon Blanc. It's great to see people beginning to understand that there's more to Sauvignon than just methoxypyrazines. I had so many really good Sauvignons on this trip, but clearly not all regions are suited to this variety: you need to focus on the right sites.
6. Syrah is doing so well. I think it will eclipse Cabernet fairly soon. South Africa does make some great Cabernets, for sure, but it is easier to make great Syrah (and Rhone blends) here.
7. There are many seriously talented people in the industry, and this is the hope for its future. And, encouragingly, many of them have got a brilliant sense of where they want to get to. This is important: you can be talented, but if you are aiming at the wrong destination, you won't make great wines. The people I met who impressed me had a clear objective: to make authentic, interesting wines that reflected a sense of place, aimed at elegance rather than power, and were made as naturally as possible. The likes of Marc Kent, Gottfried Mocke, Duncan Savage, Chris Mullineux, Eben Sadie, Chris Williams, Adam Mason and Bruce Jack are deeply impressive...and this is just an off-the-top-of-the-head list with many omissions.
8. Regionality is perhaps a lesser story. The important bit is the actual vineyard site. Identifying great patches of land for growing wine grapes, and farming them well, will be the factor that limits the scale of South Africa's fine wine dimension.
9. We shouldn't forget about sweet wines. Klein Constantia's Vin de Constance is definitely one of South Africa's great wines. The straw wines from the Swartland are looking very exciting.
10. I think the fine wine dimension of South Africa will be driven by great wines, with an authentic story to them. I think the 'icon' wines - reeking of ego and pretense, in unfeasibly heavy bottles - are a cul de sac.
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