White Wine Bliss: A Look at Dynamic South Africa

I am so jazzed to see so many full-throttle, high-quality wines arriving to the US shores from South Africa these days. At last! I used to drink most of this country’s ambitious to high quality wines almost soley in the UK. Here are some of my latest tastings of SA wines in New York City. I loved every one of these bottles.

Capensis 2013 Chardonnay Western Cape 14.5%
This wine smells like Meursault. I know winemakers who would revolt against such a description (given it isn’t from Meursault) and others that would relish it (as they wish they could make Meursault). Sigh. Can’t please everyone. I am tasting bottle number 6,174 of 1,000 cases. Other than its copious body and generous alcohol (all nicely reined in by just enough lift) it certainly isn’t dissimiliar from Meursault. This is scrumptious happiness with elegant toast, lots of yellow and baked apples and yeasty tones keeping the imagination occupied. This is labeled Western Cape but is more specifically a blend of Stellenbosch (56%), Overberg (20%) and Robertson (24%).
Drink: 2017-21

Mullineux & Leeu 2014 Old Vines Swartland 13.5%
Though bottled unfined and unfiltered, this wine has no haziness. (There were some tartrate crystals at the bottom, but unless the bottle’s bottom gets dumped into your glass, who cares about those harmless things?!) This eclectic white blend – which South Africa has come to do incredibly well – is composed of 73% Chenin Blanc, 13% Clairette “Blanche”, 10% Viognier and 4% Sémillon. Though ultimately blended before bottling, each grape is harvested, vinified and aged differently and separately. Proffering a nose of lime peel, spring flowers and crushed spices, this is showing beautifully now. Its palate is delightfully creamy and mouth-filling on the attack then lifted by soft acidity as the wine glides into a medium finish.
Drink: 2017-19

Bellingham 2015 Chenin Blanc Old Vine The Bernard Series Limited Release 14%
This wine hails from Coastal Region vines. It is pleasantly mouthfilling and copious in body with just the right amount of lift and savoriness. It tastes of toasty brioche and salty Spanish almonds sprinkled with Manzanilla sherry. Moreover, it is flattering and mouthfilling thanks in part to its 50% new French oak and 50% second-fill French barrels – both with extended lees contact and battonage. It may not have the structure to be long-lived, but it is utterly delectable today. I am loving that savory, yellow apple finish!
Drink: 2017-19

Raats 2013 Chenin Blanc Old Vine Stellenbosch 13.5%
This could be a rather polarizing wine. It is certainly not like the regular cuvée that is a crowd pleaser. It is deeply colored (already) for a 2013 and definitely shows advanced notes on the nose. The palate remains rather fresh, but it tastes unusually salty, nutty and saline in a seawater sort of way. There is a good bit of brothiness to it, too. Piling on, there are dried yellow plums, bruised apples and quince paste. Full-bodied and generous in mouth-coating qualities, there isn’t so much acidic relief as there is salty relief. This is surely due to the vineyard sources: decomposed dolomitic granite and Table Mountain sandstone. Besides the amazing flavor and structure, what is dynamic here is this wine’s utter elegance.
Drink: 2017-19

Dornier 2014 Donatus White Western Cape 12.5%
This is a wine of finesse. It is also moreish. It suits almost any occasion, too. Few won’t love this wine! There is decided concentration and serious intensity of expression. Wowsa - I am more inclined to pair this Chenin Blanc blended with 24% Sémillon with a richer dish at the table, including white meats. There’s loads of bouillon, sour dough yeast starter, tart yellow apple skin and almond notes here. It’s not just the richness of grape ripeness and concentration, it is also that these berries are pressed in whole bunches then fermented in 300L French oak barrels (30% new), giving the wines even broader texture on the palate.
Drink: 2017-19

Kloof Street 2015 Chenin Blanc Old Vine Swartland 13.5%
Though youthful in vintage, this Chenin Blanc has a reserved fruit character that seems to be showcasing its old vine provenance. The palate tastes of pent-up white peach, anise and riverbed rocks. As unusual as it might seem with this being a young vintage and a screwcap-closed wine, this wine would benefit from decanting and serving at cellar rather than refrigerator temperature.
Drink: 2017-18