High on South African wines

Wines from the country are gaining popularity around the world and they offer high quality at affordable prices

NEW YORK • Cheers. In the past four years, drinkers have toasted delicious wines from Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Moldova and other areas of the former Soviet bloc.

Turkey has also sent some tasty wines made from grapes that are almost as hard to spell as they are to pronounce.

South Africa, however, has been relatively quiet.

Perhaps distance is the reason.

Importers who are already going to Italy or Austria may choose to extend their trips to visit the Balkans, but travelling to South Africa requires an extra investment of time and effort.

Still, in a recent exploration of South African wines, The Washington Post found some terrific values, matching high quality with affordable prices.

Some of these are old standbys - the Secateurs Chenin Blanc from Badenhorst Family Wines has always been a personal favourite for connoisseurs and the Secateurs red, made from shiraz, is also a reliable choice.

Some of the most intriguing wines are championed by young American importers exploring South Africa as a new market where they can plant their flags and establish a reputation.

Mr Travis Vernon and his wife, Carolyn, established their company eight years ago, calling it Spanish Wine Importers.

But when they decided to branch out beyond Spain, they rebranded it as Well Crafted Wine & Beverage.

They soon focused on South Africa. "We believed South Africa was underrepresented in the market and the wines that were in the US did not reflect the quality of wines being produced in South Africa," said Mr Vernon, 35.

"We came back convinced there were wines of incredible quality for the price, but also unique, artisanal wines of intrigue."

Well Crafted imports from Remhoogte, a winery in the Stellenbosch region.

Remhoogte bottles a racy red called Soaring Eagle, a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. At US$14 (S$19), it is affordably priced and ideal for a backyard cookout.

Another small company focusing on South Africa is Red Wolf Imports, run by Mr Ian Wolf and his wife Alyssa. They decided to import wine after returning from a South Africa vacation in 2014 and discovering the wines they enjoyed there were not reaching American markets. Red Wolf carries an outstanding Chablis-like chardonnay called Ataraxia, with limited distribution, mostly in restaurants.

More widely available are the wines from Kaapzicht, in Stellenbosch, including a delicious and vibrant red blend resplendent in New World verve aptly called Kaleidoscope, and a more restrained, though no less delicious, chenin blanc.

Priced at around US$16, these are a no-brainer buy.

"We were struck by how excited the young population was about the changes occurring in the wine industry," Ms Wolf recalled of her initial experience in South Africa.

"That wasn't reflected back in the States, though. You'd just see the same wines over and over with no sense of what was happening over there."

Red Wolf and Well Crafted are following in the footsteps of Broadbent Selections, which imports Badenhorst and others such as Duncan Savage's eponymous wines.

Their tip? Get into the spirit of adventure and sniff out why these South African wines are creating a buzz.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 05, 2018, with the headline 'High on South African wines'. Print Edition | Subscribe