Why we should be drinking South African wine
Our wine expert explains why this nation’s producers are well worth supporting. See her top five bottles to buy including Merlot and Chardonnay
About South African wine
2020 has been a tough year for so many, and the wine industry is no exception. Despite a sharp upturn in sales of wine to drink at home, the closure of bars and restaurants over lockdown led to an overall drop in wine sales of nearly 50% in the UK, a pattern mirrored across the world. All wine-producing regions have been affected, but some have had it worse than others.
South Africa suffered a double whammy when its government imposed anti-Covid measures, calling a halt on wine exports for five weeks in March and a ban on all sales of alcohol in the country that was only lifted in the middle of August. The cost has already been high, with wineries and grape growers going out of business, and thousands of jobs being lost.
The anti-apartheid trade boycotts, largely led by consumers, not only played a major part in dismantling South Africa’s oppressive regime in the early 1990s but also kickstarted its modern wine industry. It is now one of the world’s most diverse and dynamic, producing around 850 million litres a year, which range from budget supermarket bottles made in vast quantities to wines that stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s best, and with plenty of interesting options in between.
Environmental sustainability is taken seriously in South Africa (drought is a constant threat) and there are compulsory measures in place to protect the unique biodiversity and preserve it for future generations.
South Africa is also addressing its troubled history of racial inequality. Impressive initiatives include the Land of Hope Trust established in 2007, with the primary objective of providing high-quality education not previously available to black children, and to encourage more people of colour to enter the wine-making business. Another is Bosman Adama, formed in 2009 when it gave its workers a 26% share in the business and its vineyards, and created facilities to improve the working conditions, health and education of those workers and their families. Last year it launched Adama Wines, which is run by an all-black team of women.
There are now some 65 black-owned wine companies, and while black winemakers are still very much in a minority, their numbers are slowly increasing. However, all this is now at very real risk.
Covid has left us all with a sense of powerlessness. It may seem a small and insignificant gesture but buying wine can be a meaningful act of solidarity with ethically minded producers whose futures are in jeopardy, and go a long way to help ensure that their good work continues.
South African wine dinner
South African chef Talia Prince (Lyon’s Seafood & Wine Bar, The Fat Duck, Le Gavroche) is helping to boost the wine industry of her native country by showcasing small producers in her ‘Vine Dinners’ series. Tuck into a South African tasting menu that includes fire-baked sourdough with biltong fat lardo, smoked eel vetkoek (think South African savoury donuts) and koji beef picanha with pinotage sauce. Accompanying wine flights offer an eclectic insight into South Africa's versatile growing regions, wine-making techniques and grapes, including salty, apple-forward Saurwein Chi riesling, fruity Savage Red syrah and Restless River Wanderlust sauvignon blanc, with a floral nose and a fresh, savoury finish. Only 24 seats available per night, £65 for 6 courses and welcome cocktail, with wines priced by the glass or bottle. 11 and 12 December, Great Guns Social.
Top 5 South African wines
Robust yet very gluggable, fruity but still fresh. This is made by young black winemaker Nathan Valentine – try it with slow-cooked shoulder of lamb.
A little skin contact gives extra depth and bite to exuberant, peachy fruit: lovely with roast chicken breast.