South Africa on the world stage

© Cape Times Friday 11th September 2015

Next week sees the start of the biggest event in the South African wine industry since 2012. Cape Wine 2015 is an open invitation to the world’s wine buyers, critics, tasters, media and more to come and experience the very finest the country can offer. It’s the second such event and it is fair to say that the last one, in 2012, was a game-changer. Prior to this, the wave of enthusiasm for SA wines occasioned by the end of apartheid in the mid to late 90’s had crested quickly and fallen away, leaving many overseas commentators with a less than favourable view of our wines
Cape Wine 2012 totally changed both the perceptions and the playing fields. Wineries showed a wide range of smart, modern, well-made wines to some of the world’s most influential palates, the majority of the wines made with South African character and flair and all at excellent prices. The effects of the show were far-reaching, altering perceptions around the globe, increasing awareness of SA as a country and giving SA wines an identity beyond the cheap and cheerful category in which they had been pigeonholed to date. And now, three years later, comes the follow-up show – can SA wine lift itself even higher and create even more enthusiasm for its wines overseas?

South Africa has a wonderful climate which means we are able to produce great wines from all sorts of different grape varieties. Stalwarts such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are flourishing all over the country with new regions such as Elim, the Klein Karoo and Elgin opening up in recent years. But these are grapes which make equally good versions in other countries as well, making them difficult markets in which to distinguish our differences and highlight our advantages. Better varieties to lead with may well be our two most successful ones, both of which have just released the results of annual competitions – Chenin Blanc and Pinotage.

Widely-acknowledged to the one of the world’s finest white grapes, Chenin Blanc is far more at home in SA than in its original habitat in the Loire Valley in France.  When you drink a great South African Chenin, you’re drinking liquid history, with many producers using fruit from vines up to and over 100 years old. The Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top Ten is now into its second year with half the winners featuring for a second time. KWV, Spier, Perdeberg, Simonsig and Stellenrust make Chenins across all price points and to suit all palates and I am sure they will be hoping to impress overseas buyers with one or more of their offerings. Hopefully there will also be of the delicious Chenin-based Cape White Blends on offer as well , wines which are truly unique and totally delicious.

A little more established, the Absa Top 10 Pinotage Awards are now into their 19th year. Winning this year for an incredible 10th time were two farms – Rijk’s in Tulbagh and Kanonkop – confirming that despite what people may think, Pinotage can achieve both consistency and longevity. If any wine has a point to prove at Cape Wine 2015, it has to be Pinotage which has much work to do to overcome the prejudices of the late 90’s and the early years of this millennium. To my mind, Pinotage has been on an enormous upward curve of quality in the last decade and is now making some truly individual and interesting wines, often in combination with other grapes. To convey this to buyers and establish the idea of a Cape Red blend containing Pinotage as well as a Cape White Blend, both at serious price points, would be a triumph for Cape Wine 2015 and a great success for the industry all round.