South African Reds

When will the wine wave break?


Every so often South African wine gets props, but it seems like there has to be some external impetus to remind people of these often-wonderful wines. The World Cup last year caused some minor ripples in the wine world, but we’ve all been waiting for years to see the South African wine wave crest and break.

I like this wave analogy, and sadly have been using it for too long when it comes to South African wines. You see, I think of people in the wine business, those jaded women and men (like me), who’ve been there and done that as surfers. We paddle out far from the shore and catch the wine waves way before they ever reach the shore and the general public. Now, the surfers may catch a great ride, and the wave breaks on the shore as well, but sometimes we catch a great ride, only to see the wave peter out just before it reaches the shore. I keep on getting the impression that this is the case with South Africa’s wines.

I’ve been hoping for their arrival for years, for no other reason than the simple fact that they are unique and an exciting addition to the vinous landscape. I hope I can drag some of you out to the surf to catch the next wave!
Top 3 South African Reds Tasted

Click to see a slideshow of Top 3 South African Reds Tasted

2007 Glenelly Stellenbosch Grand Vin (44% Shiraz, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot) 14%
Dusty and a little rusty on the nose with a sprinkling of white pepper and a nice beefy quality with a slow-to-emerge oaky undertone. There’s almost a strawberry fruitiness to the nose, with a hint of minty chalkiness, some herbaceous tones, a layer of sundried tomato and a faint pencil lead accent. In the mouth this is fairly fruity and rich, with black fruit tones. The tannins are a bit aggressive and angular, adding weight in the mouth but also distracting attention from the fruit. The wood spice is noticeable and a touch obvious today. There’s no doubt that the underlying material is fresh and juicy with fine notes of fruit, earth, and a lovely black, almost leathery/savory quality, with cocoa strewn all over the place, but today the oak is just a bit too obvious with drying tannins on the finish. 89pts

2006 Joubert-Tradauw Tradouw Valley Syrah R62 14.5%
Decidedly oaky and very candied coffee-scented at first, with a creep of oxidation adding to the rather evolved aromatic impression. There’s some ivy and plum here with a nice bacon fat hint and some cola/rootbeer accents to the fruit. The palate is bright and surprisingly fresh after the nose. There’s a nice bed of ripe tannins and good acidic cut that supports ripe but cool raspberry and red plum skin fruit. The finish is darker with a lightly oily coffee sheen but real persistence to the black raspberry fruit with a gentle seedy astringency. 89pts

2007 Kanonkop Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 14%
Really fairly vegetal on the nose but also well fruited. This packs in some impressive black currant fruit with sweet eucalyptus notes, hints of tomato leaf, tomato paste, and spicy oak. Interesting in the mouth. There are some seriously ripe flavors, juicy, sweet blackberries and some plum, but the texture remains rather linear with good acids and some astringent tannic notes. The fruit in the mouth is framed with some tobacco, spicy oak and a nice earthy streak, but the finish is a bit short and a bit tough. The nose is lovely though, complex and deep, and I certainly don’t mind the vegetal qualities. 87pts

2009 Dark Lady of the Labyrinth Doolhof Pinotage Dark Delight 13.5%
Smoky and vegetal on the nose with initial aromas of burning garbage, compost and cold coffee. Lots of pencil eraser and smoky bacon as well as spicy raw oak join in. Big and rich in the mouth, with rich, sweet dark berry fruit. The acid is bright and juicy and the tannins dusty and fine. It’s rich but a bit simple in the mouth with a spicy, persimmon note on the backend, cleansing sour cherry fruit on the modest finish with some sweet vanilla and mocha on the finale. Certainly better in the mouth than on the nose, but it’s still a bit out of the mainstream for most people. The finish, with its sour cherry note is appealing though, and this does sort of grow on you. 84pts

Mentioned in this article


  • I agree with you. South Africa is very exciting. I just came back from a wine trip there and have reported about it on schiller-wine http://www.schiller-wine.blogspot.c...

    Feb 17, 2011 at 2:42 PM

  • I've been on that swell since 1992, when we started to import South African wine. The wave is cresting (not breaking) on the east coast and we're paddling like crazy on the west coast but we need bigger flippers or stronger arms. SA wines, carefully chosen, are distinctive, individual and world class, at value though not cheap prices. The best combine the best of old world and new world styles. We paddle on. Could it be 2011?
    Peter Koff MW - Fairest Cape Beverage Company

    Feb 17, 2011 at 4:11 PM

  • I was impressed by many of the winemakers I met in South Africa. Ntsiki Biyela at Stellekaya in Stellenbosch stood out - South Africa’s Only Female and Black Winemaker with International Recognition

    Feb 17, 2011 at 4:31 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748


    I'm hoping 2011 will see a surge of interest in South African wines.

    Dr. Schiller, nice work. I'll be recommending people read your article as a follow up.

    Feb 17, 2011 at 4:37 PM

  • Love South African wines WHEN I can find them in the stores in Texas! I enjoy a good Pinotage when I can find it. There is a recurring theme here - when I can find it.

    Love the single page formats which are user friendly in my format of a desktop PC with muscles!

    Feb 17, 2011 at 8:25 PM

  • Snooth User: DrGeek
    167490 3

    I've been similarly enjoying SA wines intermittently. The good news is there are several fine shops here in Denver that are showing real enthusiasm for the region. Rejoice we!
    As an aside, I would love to read your thoughts on cellaring the various wines you taste, especially the more off the beaten path.
    Many thanks.

    Feb 18, 2011 at 1:05 AM

  • Snooth User: Shuteh
    524315 11

    I am a Canadian who moved to Cape Town three years ago and have enjoyed learning about and tasting the fantastic SA wines. I agree the Kanonkop is lekker. If you are in town try: Rubicon by Meerlust, Rouge by Alto (2006 is nice), Shiraz by Plasir de Merle, and a nice everyday drinker, Grand vin Rouge by Saxenburg (NV as it is a French/SA blend.)

    Feb 18, 2011 at 3:09 AM

  • Snooth User: Elzabi
    634535 7

    Being South African, articles like these make me very proud. I can honestly say that we can boast a wide variety of wines, in an ever growing industry. Even as a local, some wines do tend to be way overpriced, but there are many great value wines that won't disappoint. Generally bold, strong wines with many boutique wineries that are delivering hand crafted beauties.

    Feb 18, 2011 at 5:36 AM

  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,085

    I have had SA wines on a few occassions. They were enjoyable but they are hardly ever available in southern New England (Ct..RI, Ma.)

    Feb 18, 2011 at 8:24 AM

  • Snooth User: gsricks55
    463977 5

    In the past few years I have really enjoyed the Ernie Els Stellenbosch and the Hamilton-Russell Chardonnay. Based on how much I liked those two wines it is not hard to imagine the great potential South Africa holds.

    Feb 18, 2011 at 6:00 PM

  • Snooth User: SAWI
    373015 9

    Thanks Gregory for this focus on SA. The Essential Guide to SA Wines (from Amazon) and are two great reference sources to consider. Not taking away from Dr Schiller, he has facts wrong and seems to focus much on the colour issue. We have made great strides and have moved on long ago from the picture he is trying to sketch. Nevertheless, 2011 will certainly see a surge of interest in South African wines. I trust you all catch that big one ! Enjoy !

    Feb 19, 2011 at 2:38 AM

  • Snooth User: Pablo64
    594496 11

    Dr. Schiller I read your article Ntsiki Biyela and i have to agree with most of what you are saying about the current situation in South Africa, but i will rather focus on the beautiful story of a young African woman clearing the way for others to follow instead of the politics of keeping the industry dominated by rich Afrikaner families and foreign owners with big purses.
    Shuteh, I remember a time when I could pick up a Meerlust Rucicon with my Saturday morning shopping at the local Hyperrama in Parow. Sometimes I would get a few bottles just for the hang of it, but this was a long while ago, before we heard in the local news that thousands of bottles of Meerlust Rubicon went walkabout never to be heard from again. The thieves left no trace...
    Here in Estonia the wine culture is catching on and a few local importers are making sure that we are reasonably well stocked. Bought a few bottles of Lyngrove Pinotage Platinum Label 2008 the other day and what a joy! One of the best Pinotages I have had so far! Kanonkop is also Readily available. For a country with 830 000 Estonians they are not doing to bad :)

    May 12, 2011 at 5:12 PM

  • Dear Gregory - thanks for the SA focus. My brother Meyer produces the Joubert-Tradauw wines and when next you visit SA, I hope you will make it out to the farm. We have a 200 year old muscat in a barrel in the cellar on the farm you will enjoy.

    Pablo - Estonia is an exceptional fine wine market. Vaho Klaamann, based in Tallinn, imports a long list of hand crafted wines from SA. Visiting SA three or four times a year with other Estonians interested in fine food and wine, Vaho works closely with You can get hold of him through Thanks for the support with only quality wine in every glass!

    May 15, 2011 at 2:02 PM

  • Snooth User: Pablo64
    594496 11

    You are welcome Cobus. My personal sommelier is working at Bestwine and just a few weeks ago the two of us introduced 2 superb South African wines to the GM of the 5 star 3 Sisters Hotel in the Old Town with the intention of getting it on their Winelist. I am flying the flag for SA wines and will make contact with Vaho soon.
    PS: I am doing a function with The GM of Hotel Meriton and the SA Ambassador in Helsinki, Finland in the next few months. Any Ideas on Great SA wines we could introduce to a select audience of Estonian Business people, VIP guest, Media, all the Ambassadors based in Estonia and members of Parliament? This will be 5 course Gourmet SA Cuisine. I am launching 3 weeks of SA days in Estonia celebrating all things SA through food and wines and culture. Let me know.

    May 16, 2011 at 8:14 AM

  • Pablo - great work. Do meet up with Vaho soonest. Finland... tough one for me and my wines, as I am yet to crack it. Send me your email and I will email you a summary of my wines. May just have one or two labels that can come in handy for the events you plan.

    May 16, 2011 at 9:13 AM

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