While those in the know, know you can chill a bottle of red to 16-18 degrees C and thoroughly enjoy it during summer, in winter thoughts naturally turn to the comfort of red wine especially in front of a fireplace, on its own or paired with hearty, rich and delicious dishes like beef bourguignon, slow cooked short rib, or coq au vin.
Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec…the names of these grapes roll off the tongue as smoothly as the wine made from them feels in the mouth. While the great Old World wine growing regions, like Bordeaux in France, are famous for their reds, what of our own here in South Africa?
“Our wines stack up very well internationally. In style, they’re probably the closest ones to Old World but from the New World – so although fruit-driven, they are more elegant and restrained than a lot of other New World examples,” says Cathy Marston, associate of the Institute of Wines & Spirits and approved programme provider in Africa for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET).
Marston recommends Raats Red Jasper – the “baby” version of the flagship MR de Compostella. “This is utterly delicious and approachable now but has the structure to age for another 5 to 8 years at least,” she says.
“Hartenberg Doorkeeper Shiraz is another excellent entry level (also try their Cab/Shiraz) wine for everyday spicy, peppery pleasure.”
Stellenbosch is the bastion of premium red winemaking in South Africa, says esteemed wine judge and award-winning wine writer Malu Lambert. “While it is most famous for its exceptional, site-specific styles of Cabernet Sauvignon, the diverse appellation likewise produces world-class Syrah (Polkadraai Hills) and Pinotage (Simonsberg).”
Ah, Pinotage. The quintessential South African red wine variety, created in South Africa in 1924 by Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University. Perold was attempting to combine the best qualities of the robust Hermitage (now more commonly known as Cinsault) with Pinot Noir, a grape that makes great wine but can be difficult to grow.
Pinotage is in a class of its own with Beyerskloof and Kanonkop usually topping the leader board.
“Premium red winemaking in South Africa is unparalleled globally due to its rarefied nature. While many in the top tier easily stand up to international counterparts in terms of quality, the fact that the majority of these bottlings are in small volumes makes our fine wine sector highly specialised – and the wines hard to get – in comparison to, say high volume, high quality brands from more well-known regions,” says Lambert, whose recommendations include Boschkloof Epilogue 2021, Le Riche Cabernet Reserve 2019, and L’Avenir Single Block Pinotage 2018.
“South African red wines have made great strides and I believe that winemakers understand their vineyards better, plant varieties where they are best suited, and make wines with personality, reflecting the terroir and the thumbprint of the vintage,” says Cape Wine Master Dr Winifred E Bowman. “Our reds don’t have to stand back, and we should be proud of them. I love Constantia Glen 5, a cool climate regal and elegant Bordeaux style blend; Ian Naude’s Werfdans Cinsault – from Old Vines and just so, so delicious and a nod to the old vines of the Cape; and Creation Art of Pinot Noir for the grace and delicacy in treating this special barrel selection that just gets better the more it ages.”
Samarie Smith, creator of online platform Married Two Wine with her sommelier husband Georgio Meletiou, affirms that you get mega bang for your buck when drinking some of South Africa’s finest red wines. “South African winemakers showed confidence moving away from the mere Bordeaux or Rhône-inspired red blends, embracing Cape Blends, where Pinotage is featured as their heritage grape and taking inspiration from Super Tuscans by blending Cabernet Sauvignon with a cultivar like Sangiovese.
“South Africa will always excel in diversity, and a noble grape like Cabernet Sauvignon has proven to produce quality from many areas beyond just Stellenbosch.”
When it comes to red wine in winter, Smith and Meletiou are led by what they cook and eat. “Georgio will always embrace his Italian heritage in the kitchen, hence our preference for Pinotage or Cabernet blended with Italian varietals. As most dishes will have a tomato base, whether it is homemade pizza, Parmigiana di Melanzane or duck ragu with pappardelle, acidity in your red wine matters,” says Smith. “There is something soothing about a rainy weekend and a red wine that lifts a hearty dish with its tangy, bright and aromatic character. Innovative blends, including cultivars like Sangiovese, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, even Malbec, give Cab and Pinotage a vibrant, mouthwatering appeal for winter.”
South African wines are showered with annual accolades at home and abroad, and for those to whom such things matter, Nederburg in Paarl is the only winery from South Africa to achieve the top honour for Cabernet Sauvignon at the 2022 The Drinks Business Global Cabernet Sauvignon Masters in the United Kingdom, with the 2018 vintage of its Private Bin R163 Cabernet Sauvignon earning a prestigious Master medal.
That’s in addition to a duo of golds and silvers attained by other Cabernets in the award-winning Paarl winery’s portfolio, making this label a reliable go-to.
For something special, look to the 2021 Leeu Passant Wellington Old Vines Basson Cinsault. With just 680 bottles produced from the 2021vintage, matured for 22 months in French oak barrels, the grapes come from the oldest registered red wine vineyard in South Africa, planted in 1900 on the first selection of rootstocks available in the country.
by Bianca Coleman