Five years ago, almost to the day, the New Wave South African tasting in London blew so many of us away. Wave? The amount of new exciting talent coming out of the country was more like a tsunami. Many of those producers, Duncan Savage, BLANKbottle, AA Badenhorst and Restless River are working with Swig in the UK, while some emerging talent like The Vineyard Party are also breaking onto the scene. Winemaker Chris Wilson was The Buyer’s man at the tasting and picks out a dozen wines that you need to be aware of including AA Badenhorst’s Palomino, a wine everyone’s talking about.
One of Wilson’s 12 new South African wines is I’m Your Huckleberry whose winemaker Jolette Steyn was named Newcomer of the Year 2022 by South Africa’s influential Platter Guide.
Not many of the smaller UK importers can so effortlessly and successfully pluck one country from its portfolio and offer a comprehensive showcase. Swig pulled it off with aplomb at this South Africa-focussed tasting showing once again why it leads the way when it comes to South Africa in the UK.
I visited South Africa in August and although it was a family holiday taking in the Wild Coast and Kruger National Park I did manage a few winery visits during our time down south in the Western Cape. Two of the producers I spent time with were Savage and Restless River, both of who work with Swig in the UK.
Duncan Savage’s urban winery in the Cape Town suburb of Salt River is a very special spot; here in this old industrial building he crafts a series of exquisite wines from fruit sourced from all over the Cape. The distances travelled to find grapes is immense but the results massively outweigh the fuel bill and time behind the wheel.
Equally interesting is Restless River in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley where self-taught winemaker Craig Wessels does fewer miles to source his fruit as it’s all estate-grown, but yields similarly impressive results.
Both guys were very generous with their time and exuded the kind of passion that goes some way to explaining why South Africa remains the most exciting wine country around. Another winemaker which fits the bill in this regard is Pieter Walser from BLANKbottle winery, and you’ve guessed it, he’s on the books with Swig too.
The Swig team clearly has its finger on the pulse in South Africa and theirs is such an interesting and complete selection of wines that tastings like this are a pleasure to attend (which, believe me, you cannot say about every event on the circuit).
There were almost 70 wines on show at the tasting, below are some of the best.
BLANKbottle, 1-Click Pinot Noir, Elgin, 2021
Elgin is one of the Western Cape’s highest and coolest grape growing spots and this is evident here. This Pinot is pale but punchy; there’s woodsmoke and cherry on the nose and palate, and a pop of bubblegum on the finish. Really sleek and understated.
BLANKbottle, Jan Niemand Riesling, Elgin, 2021
Petrol and citrus on the nose. Reminiscent of filling up my old Ford Fiesta while sucking on a sherbet lemon. Remarkably light and textured with a chewy, waxy mouthfeel and bags more citrus fruit in the mouth. A deftly made, confident Riesling.
Weather Report, Sands Cabernet Franc, Western Cape, 2019
With a total production of under 300 bottles this wine made by Christopher Keet Jnr is a rare thing indeed. Jam tart on the nose then more jam tart on the palate, but this time with a savoury kick, a marmite pastry perhaps? There’s brambly fruit too, pomegranate acidity and a herbal tea tinge.
The Vineyard Party, I’m Your Huckleberry, Botriver, 2019
Named Newcomer of the Year 2022 by South Africa’s influential Platter Guide, winemaker Jolette Steyn is behind The Vineyard Party. This Semillon from Bot River is herbal and bright with buckets of yellow fruit. A delicious minty note works as the perfect foil to fresh but tongue-curling acidity.
Keermont Estate, Terrasse, Stellenbosch, 2020
This Stellenbosch mega-blend sees Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier all coming to the party. It’s soft and approachable with ripe pear notes, hay and cut herbs. A pillowy mouthfeel and the richness of fruit feel like the wine’s giving you an internal hug. Lovely.
Keermont Estate, Steepside Syrah, Stellenbosch, 2017
Perfectly poised Syrah. Perfumed and fruit-laden; raspberry, black cherry, with some savoury notes too; tobacco leaves and wet soil. Above all, though, this is lifted and effortless, a joy in the glass and a wonderful example of what Syrah can do in this part of the world.
Restless River, Le Luc Pinot Noir, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, 2021
A tender, mesmeric Pinot Noir from the Le Luc vineyard on the Restless River estate in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde. With the colour of cherry Doctor Martens and aromas of dried raspberry and cola it draws you in. On the palate there’s more red fruit as well as black pepper spice and a delicate floral perfume. Wonderful stuff.
Restless River Main Road & Dignity Cabernet Sauvignon, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, 2013
A real treat to taste this older vintage of Restless River’s signature Cabernet ‘Main Road & Dignity’, served from Jeroboam. Nearly a decade on it’s an absolute delight; alive and kicking with vibrant ripe fruit, spice, black liquorice and a confident swagger. This will go on and on.
Savage, Savage White, Western Cape, 2021
An iconic wine in South Africa and it’s easy to see why, it brims with sweet fruit (pear, tinned pineapple), but there’s real depth of flavour and character here too. Herbs, fynbos, manuka honey all enter the frame adding sass and texture. A very complete, utterly faultless, wine
Savage, Thief In The Night, Piekenierskloof, 2021
Crunchy and crystalline cool climate Grenache from Piekenierskloof in the Citrusdal to the north of Cape Town. Light red fruit dominates but there’s an earthy bite too and bags of body. So easy drinking, worryingly so.
AA Badenhorst, Kalmoesfontein White Blend, Paardeberg, 2020
A warming white blend that’s sultry and pure with low-ish acid and a round mouthfeel. Guava and pineapple fruit, plasticine and beeswax combine to bring a richness to this 12-grape blend. Not like anything else in the room.
AA Badenhorst, Sout Van Die Aarde Palomino, Paardeberg, 2021
Everyone’s talking about this Palomino from Adi Badenhorst. This is light-footed, ethereal even, but serious. Lemon pith, grapefruit, white rose petal and a hint on anise join forces to create a whirling, swirling wine that’s savoury and bright.