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South Africa's top wines?

20 Apr 2010 by Jancis Robinson

South African wine writer Tim James of polled 26 respected observers of the South African wine scene with the questionnaire below*. (I declined, on the basis that I have not been to South Africa in the last two or three years.) The results of that poll are below and you can read Tim's own comments on the results here.

I'd say there are not too many surprises here, except that so many of the names are so relatively new. Ataraxia Chardonnay (one of the wines we served at our South African Room to Read dinner in London last November, along with Boekenhoutskloof Syrah, Kanonkop Paul Sauer and Morgenster) has done amazingly well for such a young label with its own vineyards only just coming on stream. See this wine of the week.

There also seems to be a reassuringly high level of coincidence between that list of up and coming wineries and various wines of the week on this website. See Great new South Africans published last November and Julia's Jewels from South Africa from last May.

Feel free to comment in the box below.

Top ten South African reds:

1st Sadie Family Columella
2nd Kanonkop Paul Sauer
Joint 3rd Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet, Boekenhoutskloof Syrah and Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
Vergelegen Red
Meerlust Rubicon
Joint 9th Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir and
Jordan Cobblers Hill

Top ten South African whites:

Joint 1st Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh and Sadie Family Palladius
3rd Ataraxia Chardonnay and Vergelegen White
5th Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay
6th Tokara White
7th Ken Forrester The FMC
Joint 8th Chamonix Chardonnay, Sequillo White and
Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc Reserve

Up and coming wineries:



Please note that in all cases we are looking for wines and wineries with a bit of track record - let's say 3 years. So a winery that has produced one or even two brilliant vintages should not qualify as a top 20 producer, nor should the wines themselves qualify in their categories until they have shown a bit of consistency. There is provision below for mentioning new wineries to expect great things from.

1. Name (order irrelevant) the top five wineries in the Cape, in terms of quality.

2. Name (order irrelevant) the next best 15 wineries. This will give a total of the top 20 wineries)

3. Name up to five wineries that you think will probably be VERY strong contenders for a Top 20 placing within a few years.

4. Name the top ten red table wines in the country (track record of three vintages).

5. Name the top ten white table wines in the country (track record of three vintages).


Just back from a trip to SA with 16 Belgian sommeliers ... and I must admit, it was a super trip. We visited almost all the wineries listed above ... and we came to the same conclusions. At Riebeek Kasteel (in the cellar of Mullineux) we tasted a fantastic range of domaines : Willie Scali, Mullineux, Badenhorst, Babylon's Peak, Lammershoek and of course the wines of Eben Sadie (what a modest man!):Sequillo White 09 and red 06, Palladius white 08 and the red Columella 07 ... unforgettable! We visited Cederberg (Five Generations Cab Sauv 06), Kanonkop, Vergelegen, some estates in the Elim and Elgin region, we tasted a range of pinot noir at Hamilton Russell ... and not to forget De Grendel and super sauvignon blanc at Cape Point Vineyards.. I appollogize for the domaines I forgot to mention ...but our group of sommeliers will try to be an ambassador of SA wines!

27 Apr 2010 20:37 by ronny debaere

Great to see Mullineux listed in the up and coming,especially as we have had only one vintage to date . My bet is that shortly a tiny boutique winery situated next to De Trafford will be in this list---look out for Keermont.

23 Apr 2010 15:05 by Keith Prothero

What about Anwilka in the reds... I heard a lot about it but didn't get to taste it. Any good..?

20 Apr 2010 13:21 by Guillaume Raffy

This is a fascinating list, and one that makes me happy as it reaffirms my instincts and buying in recent years. I first visited SA in 1995 and fell in love with the wines and the wine lands. I also spend over a year living their in 2001/2001. Initially, to my amateur tastes, the Vergelegan Red was a stand-out, and I still have vintages dating back to '98 that I look forward to tasting. But in recent years it was clear that Kanonkop was overtaking it with the Paul Sauer - particularly when I visited last year the difference was noticeable. Is Vergelegan focussing on volume at the expense of the top end? Incidentally, Vergelegan is still a stunning estate to visit if you get the chance.So in recent years I've not even bothered cellering the Vergelegan Red, instead buying a few cases of their great value Sauvignon Blanc for the summer from Tesco Online. Instead I've focussed on the wonderful, full and soft Paul Sauer. I actually brought 18 bottles home with me from SA last year....only to find that Majestic now stock it! Not only that, but if you wait for one of their South African deal you can get it for less than in SA, at around £16 - £18, and at that price it's brilliant value for money.But in the last few years Ethen Sadie has been the talk of the town in Cape Town. Initially it took me ages to actually track it down, and when I did it was pricey. But the wine is stunning. The red is a powerful Rhone style whine, the white is really unusual and not like anything I've tasted before - which is great in my book, South Africa has for too long focussed on emulating European wine rather than finding their own style (again, I speak as a very amateur amateur!).  And, once again, Sadie Family wine can be found here in the UK. Berry Bros sell it for about £45, but hurry, Waitrose Online are selling it for £33 at the moment - again cheaper than you can get it in South Africa - is this a mistake? Anyway, I snapped up a case of the '05 recently and it will give me something to look forward to in a decade! The Wine Society now has the '06 in stock, but I'm going to wait and see if Waitrose offer it at the same price as the '05 before I buy. It's wonderful that South African wine has these rising stars, it will be good to see how the long-established houses respond. Thanks Jancis for this update, it's nice to see wines I'm familiar with talked about here.

20 Apr 2010 11:50 by Peter Kyle

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