I’m enjoying my journey of wine discovery. Now, I want to learn more about South African wine. South Africa ranks amongst the top 10 wine-producing countries in the world. With such a rich culture and a willingness to experiment, South African wine export has been increasing exponentially. The varied climate and local expertise makes South African wine truly unique. Did you know that the UK is the biggest long-term export market for South African wine? In fact, UK imports of South African wine increased by 20% in value in 2021. UK exports now account for 25% of the value in total. So, what are the best South African wines in the UK?
I recently met Gerhard Perold from Perold Wine Cellar. Gerhard is ideally placed to give an overview of the wines of South Africa. His roots are firmly grounded in South African heritage and the wine industry. Abraham Izak Perold, his great grandfather, is known as the father of Pinotage. It’s a truly South African grape variety with a very interesting history. He created the Pinotage varietal by crossing the Cinsault and Pinot Noir vines after getting back from France in 1924. However, Abraham Izak Perold was more than just the father of pinotage. He brought a total of 177 grape varieties to South Africa. He became the first Professor of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch doing amazing work around sustainable agriculture in South Africa. In 1928 he became the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at the university.
Gerhard inherited both his love for wine and South Africa from this icon of a man. He has dedicated his business to promoting the South African wine industry in the UK and worldwide and he kindly agreed to answer all my questions.
Tell me winemaking in South Africa?
The South African climate is very diverse. With a wide expanse of land at their disposal, winemakers can experiment with different soil structures and within the various microclimates. Even in a specific area, you will find various microclimates. Areas on the coast, for example, will be influenced by ocean breezes while the more mountainous areas can be very hot.
The cooler areas like Walker Bay, Elgin and Hemel & Aarde Valley specialise in Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The hotter climate of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Swartland and Robertson are where you’ll find Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage.
The most important aspect however is what the viticulturists are doing in the vineyards. They experiment a lot with different rainfall areas and soil types.
Cape Town is also unique in that it contains a wine region in the middle of the city: Constantia. In fact, the oldest wine farm in South Africa is Groot Constantia where wine has been a passion since 1685. The first governor of the Cape, Jan van Ribeeck planted the first vineyard in 1655. The first wine was then made from Cape grapes on 2 February 1659. South Africa has been one of the best places for wine farming ever since.
But Aren’t Old World Wines better than New World Wines?
As with most things, it depends on your preferences. However, when it comes to Old World Wines, winemaking can be a very restrictive process. Old World Wine is generally made in Europe and other regions in the Mediterranean basin. In the Old World winemaking methods can be traditional and prescriptive. Regulations govern them.
New World wines are generally made in areas other than Europe, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. These would include wines from South Africa. As New World wines are not restricted by so many regulations, winemakers have the freedom to experiment a lot more. They can therefore use different applications and be more creative and experimental within the winemaking process. There is also more scope for value for money within the New World. As we have so many grape varieties you also find that many winemakers buy different varieties from wine farmers and experiment with creating different blends as they have access to more varieties and styles. Therefore possibly more interesting wines compared to old world wines.
Producing a special wine is a creative process and New World Wines have a lot more scope in which to work. However, Old World Wine makers have been perfecting their craft for many centuries. Both have their place in the world.
What are the key grapes in South Africa?
Abraham Perold created the Pinotage variety by brushing the male Hermitage (Cinsaut) flower up against a pollen donor Pinot Noir. There were 4 seedlings that were almost lost in a garden clear up after he left his university residence. These were saved by a passing lecturer and are where all the Pinotage in the world come from. The history of the Pinotage grape variety is interesting and often misunderstood. The flavour was originally described as “hot and horrible” and compared to rusty nails. However, winemakers like Beyers Truter from Kanonkop put this grape variety back in play.
Pinotage has come a long way since the criticism from the British Winemasters in 1976 when it was dismissed by the international wine community.
“Pinotage is capable of many diverse expressions and it also has a remarkable ability to age,” Beyers Truter
The vast amount of grape varieties in South Africa adds another element to the richness of winemaking. Some of the key grapes include:
- Cabernet Sauvignon – the most planted red grape variety in South Africa
- Petit Verdot
- Pinot Noir
- Chenin Blanc. The most planted white grape variety in South Africa. It is also called Steen and is one of the signature grapes of South Africa. It is not only used for wine but also brandy, fortified wine and port. Peter Bayly, in the Swartberg mountains, makes a lovely white port with it.
- Sauvignon Blanc
Different varieties are more suited to certain areas. Therefore, vineyard management is key.
Where would you start if you are new to South African wine?
The best place to start is with an independent wine merchant who specialises in South African wine. At Perold Wine Cellar we focus only on South African wine. Our wine tastings are bespoke and can be done in person or online.
Get in touch with him and see what he recommends for you specifically? Gerhard’s passion is around sharing the best South African wines in the UK. He add context and connects them to the stories and the people that create them.
What are the best South African Wines in the UK?
South Africa makes some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon’s in the world. The best Cabernet usually comes from the Stellenbosch region. However, for a unique taste experience, there are so many options.
There are many boutique wines that are amazing, yet many are not well known or readily available. Some of the Perold Wine Cellar recommendations include:
- Van Niekerk’s Pinotage – available later this year from Perold Wine Cellar
- KWV Mentors Perold & Perold Tributum
- KWV Mentors Orchestra
- Painted Wolf Wines
- Tanagra Wines
- Mischa Wines
- Beau Joubert Wines
- Seven Springs Wine
There is a great selection in this KWV Mentors New Release Case.
There are just so many amazing South African wines. It would be unfair to limit these. The South African wine market is not well represented. I’m happy to help anyone find their favourite South African wine.
We are so lucky to have so many grape varieties and the chance for winemakers to explore and experiment with different wine varieties and methods to make top class wines. Winemakers in South Africa have a whole melting pot of grape varieties to pick from. That makes us distinctive, we have winemaker styles instead of applications. Winemakers are open to express themselves through their wines.
About Perold Wine Cellar and Time to Wine Down
Gerhard’s heritage and roots in the South African wine industry have also led to a collaboration in the form of Time to Wine Down. Gerhard Perold, Michelle Cheyne and Andy Copps started this collaboration during the 2021 lockdown.
The events are based on wine, stories and music and sharing and celebrating South African culture. They also do a monthly YouTube Live on the second Thursday of every month. Their guests include winemakers from South Africa and they hope to host a few in-person events in the UK in 2022. I am hoping we might be able to arrange a special event for Top Note Design customers.
Water and Wines Jigsaw Puzzles
I’m delighted to stock these fabulous wine jigsaw puzzles. And as part of my learning about the wines of South Africa I’m adding the South African puzzle to our range. These jigsaws are fantastic quality and are great fun to do. I’m will be enjoying a glass (or two) of South African wine while I complete mine.