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11 best South African wines: From chenin blanc to cap classique

Whether you prefer red, white or fizz, we’ve found the best bottles to try

Siobhan Grogan
Monday 20 February 2023 11:39 GMT
We noted each wine’s body, acidity and length when drunk on its own, and then paired with food
We noted each wine’s body, acidity and length when drunk on its own, and then paired with food (The Independent)
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Wine has been made in South Africa since the 17th century and it’s now one of the top 10 wine-producing countries in the world, ahead of Portugal, Greece and New Zealand. Despite its long history, however, it’s still considered a ‘New World’ region with many wine drinkers only just beginning to realise all it offers.

The country grows a range of grapes but is best known for chenin blanc, cabernet sauvignon and the popular pinotage, which is South Africa’s national grape and a cross between pinot noir and cinsault. These are grown in areas such as Stellenbosch, Paarl, Swartland and Constantia, just south of Cape Town and best known for its sauvignon blanc. Wine blends are also popular, with notable versions including bordeaux-style blends of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and more.

“Although it’s classed as a New World wine country, South Africa is actually more Old World with its history and styles of wine,” explains head sommelier Derek Scaife from the The Grand in York. “South African wine also has some great options to enjoy alongside food. Sauvignon blanc from Elgin is a great option with a fuller-bodied style and a great fresh edge. I also like a dry-farmed chenin blanc from Swartland, which demonstrates a different style of chenin from what people might expect from South Africa, with almost a nod to Old World chenin.”

Thankfully, the South African wine industry is now also finally bouncing back after the pandemic, during which the country’s government banned all alcohol sales. This caused huge difficulties for all wineries, particularly smaller ones – even more reason to try a South African wine.

We’ve rounded up some of the country’s best wines to get you started, including show-stopping chenin blancs, robust fruity reds and even South Africa’s little-known version of champagne. There are fail-safe swaps for your weekly go-to vinos, supermarket steals and excellent Fairtrade buys, so you can make sure your money supports local workers.

How we tested

We tested a range of wines from South Africa, including white, red, rosé and the country’s answer to champagne: cap classique. For each, we served the wine at the temperature recommended, then sniffed and sipped to appreciate all the aromas and flavours. We noted each wine’s body, acidity and length when drunk on its own, then tried every one with various foods, including steak, chicken dishes and cheeses, to see which bottles stood out.

The best South African wines for 2023 are:

  • Best overall South African wine – Raats bush vine chenin blanc limited release 2021: £13.99,
  • Best champagne alternative – Journey’s End methode cap classique brut reserve: £22.50,
  • Best chardonnay – De Wetshof Estate bon vallon ‘sur lie’ chardonnay 2022, Robertson: £15.50,
  • Best cabernet sauvignon – Billy Bosch Paarl cabernet sauvignon: £10.99,
  • Best supermarket buy – Tesco Finest South African chenin blanc: £7.50,
  • Best rosé – Mount Rozier reserve frog chorus Fairtrade rosé: £6.50,
  • Best sauvignon blanc swap – Adnams South African Stellenbosch chenin blanc: £13.99,
  • Best syrah – Boschkloof syrah 2019: £15.99,
  • Best for summer drinking – Rustenberg wild ferment unwooded chardonnay: £12,
  • Best red wine – Bouchard Finlayson galpin peak pinot noir: £31.45,
  • Best budget red – M&S Classics South African pinotage: £8,

Raats bush vine chenin blanc limited release 2021

Raats bush vine chenin blanc limited release 2021.png
  • Best: Overall
  • ABV: 13 per cent
  • Size: 75cl
  • Grape: Chenin blanc

It’s not too pricey but this is a very special white wine. It’s made by Bruwer Raats, who is known as South Africa’s king of chenin and even won Winery of the Year in the country’s Platter Guide awards when an unprecedented eight wines were given five stars.

Unusually, this one is made from 45-year-old vines, meaning they’re free-standing and not trellised, so look more like a bush. Such vines are more labour-intensive to care for, as they cannot be worked with machines, yet produce grapes with more concentrated flavours. They make this chenin blanc an elegant but unexpectedly complex white, full of pear, orange blossom and spice, a touch of honey and plenty of oak. It’s full-bodied but with a fruity delicacy that keeps it light enough to drink with fish dishes but rich enough to work alongside a creamy curry. Give yourself a real treat and get a bottle in your fridge pronto.

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Journey’s End methode cap classique brut reserve

Journey’s End methode cap Classique brut reserve.png
  • Best: Champagne alternative
  • ABV: 12 per cent
  • Size: 75cl
  • Grape: Pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot meunier

Ditch overpriced champagne and try this dupe from South Africa instead, where sparklers made by the traditional method (like champagne) are known as cap classique. This type of wine celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, and this particular one from Journey’s End is the first sparkling released by the Stellenbosch-based winery to celebrate its own 25th anniversary.

It’s a corker – pardon the pun – too. Produced using only the best quality cuvée, and fermented for a second time in the bottle to produce the bubbles, the fizz has spent at least 18 months on lees to give it distinctive brioche notes similar to champers. Full-bodied but fresh, it’s full of fruity pizzazz, with a crisp acidity that would make a shellfish dish sing. However, we’d enjoy it as an aperitif and toast our excellent choice in fizz.

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De Wetshof Estate bon vallon ‘sur lie’ chardonnay 2022, Robertson

De Wetshof Estate bon vallon ‘sur lie’ chardonnay 2022, Robertson.png
  • Best: Chardonnay
  • ABV: 13.5 per cent
  • Size: 75cl
  • Grape: Chardonnay

If you’ve avoided chardonnay since the days of Bridget Jones, it’s time to give this much-maligned grape another try. This bottle is made by one of South Africa’s most awarded wine estates, owned by the De Wet family, whose ancestors were one of the earliest settlers in the Cape in 1694. They went on to shape viticulture in the Robertson Valley region and their whites are now internationally renowned.

This one has already received a double gold medal in the 2019 Veritas Awards and is a sophisticated, unwooded version that should convert anyone who dreads the oaky, buttery chardonnay of old. It has a lovely citrus tang on the palate with notes of honey and nut that really make this a wondrous white worth splashing out on.

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Billy Bosch Paarl cabernet sauvignon

Billy Bosch Paarl cabernet sauvignon.png
  • Best: Cabernet sauvignon
  • ABV: 14.5 per cent
  • Size: 75cl
  • Grape: Cabernet sauvignon

The Paarl region is known for its knock-out reds, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Cabernet sauvignon grapes are the most popular in the area but are usually blended with other varieties in locally produced wine, yet this one lets the cabernet sauvignon do its thing alone.

A full-bodied, vibrant drop that makes a serious impact, it’s a jammy, spicy red that explodes with blackcurrant flavours. It’s a meat-eater’s wine of dreams and would be a match made in heaven with a rich beef stew or even a Sunday roast with all the trimmings. If you prefer white, the Billy Bosch semillon 2021 (£9.99, is a true tropical delight too.

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Tesco Finest South African chenin blanc

Tesco finest South African chenin blanc.png
  • Best: Supermarket buy
  • ABV: 13.5 per cent
  • Size: 75cl
  • Grape: Chenin blanc

If you always reach for the same old bottle of white in the supermarket, grab this one instead and thank us later. A fresh, aromatic chenin blanc that tastes like a breezy summer’s day, it’s made at the family-run Stellenrust winery, where wine has been made since 1928. It also gets a big thumbs up from us for being a Fairtrade producer, with 70 employees so far taking ownership of the land they farm.

The wine itself benefits from the sea breezes and cool climate of the Bottelary Hills, which are known to have some of the best chenin vines in South Africa. Dry and zingy on the palate, it’s ripe with pear flavours, a twist of citrus and some underlying oak that makes it stand up well to food, including creamy curries and spicy stir-fries. Definitely worth giving it space in your trolley.

  1. £7 from
Prices may vary
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Mount Rozier reserve frog chorus Fairtrade rosé

Mount Rozier reserve frog chorus fairtrade rosé.png
  • Best: Rosé
  • ABV: 13.5 per cent
  • Size: 75cl
  • Grape: Pinotage

South Africa might not be the first place you think of when choosing a rosé, but this fruity, floral pink wine could well change that. Named after local 19th-century flower merchant Annie Rozier, this wine is made from 100 per cent pinotage grapes handpicked from cooler coastal vineyards, 350m above sea level.

It’s more than a match for your go-to Provençal too, with an appealing light pink colour, juicy strawberry and raspberry flavours and delicate floral notes. Though we’d be happy sipping this on its own on a sunny day, a good acidity makes it a winner with food too, especially salads, fruity desserts and even a no-fuss pesto pasta.

  1. £6 from
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Adnams South African Stellenbosch chenin blanc

Adnams South African Stellenbosch chenin blanc.png
  • Best: Sauvignon blanc swap
  • ABV: 13.5 per cent
  • Size: 75cl
  • Grape: Chenin blanc

We’re suckers for a good sauvignon blanc but South Africa’s best chenin blancs have turned our head. This one is made by De Morgenzon in Stellenbosch, where vines are cooled by the sea breeze and treated to baroque music 24 hours a day, which the winemaker swears improves the quality of the wine.

The tunes certainly seem to be doing the trick, as this deliciously complex white is a real stunner. It’s luscious with green apple and stone-fruit flavours with a hit of honey and a long finish that would pair like a dream with a plate of oysters or even a seafood risotto.

  1. £13 from
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Boschkloof syrah 2019

Boschkloof syrah 2019.png
  • Best: Syrah
  • ABV: 14.5 per cent
  • Size: 75cl
  • Grape: Syrah

If you love discovering smaller wineries and up-and-coming winemakers, this is a must-try bottle. Reenen Borman is a much-praised young winemaker whose red wines have already attracted huge critical praise. His Boschkloof estate near Stellenbosch is a real family affair too, with his dad looking after the grapes and his mum and wife working in the office. Ninety per cent of their wine is sold to restaurants and bars around the world, so Covid hit hard until Naked Wines bought half the winery’s annual production to enable them to carry on making vino.

We’re very glad they did, as we couldn’t get enough of this smooth-as-silk syrah, which has a peppery fruitiness, defined tannins and a balanced acidity that isn’t too heavy but has plenty of depth. We’d recommend opening it half an hour before you want to drink it, to taste it at its best.

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Rustenberg wild ferment unwooded chardonnay

Rustenberg wild ferment unwooded chardonnay.png
  • Best: For summer drinking
  • ABV: 13 per cent
  • Size: 75cl
  • Grape: Chardonnay

Make this the summer you choose something a little more interesting than the usual pinot grigio and give this unwooded chardonnay a try. Rustenberg is already renowned for its top-notch chardonnay but this is their first unoaked one, so ideal if you’re not keen on woody whites.

Without the oak, the real character of the chardonnay grapes shines through, making this wine pop with clean citrus flavours and fruity notes of pineapple and grapefruit. It’s much crisper and more refined than the hearty, creamy chardonnay you might be used to, so would work a treat with summer dishes such as salads, barbequed prawns or even chicken kebabs.

  1. £12 from
Prices may vary
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Bouchard Finlayson galpin peak pinot noir

Bouchard Finlayson galpin peak pinot noir.png
  • Best: Red wine
  • ABV: 13.5 per cent
  • Size: 75cl
  • Grape: Pinot noir

This might not be your average weekday bottle, but you won’t regret splurging on this outstanding, velvety red – especially if you love classic burgundies. Grown in clay-rich soils in Bouchard Finlayson’s vineyards in Western Cape, the grapes are planted in tightly packed rows, which causes competition between the vines and results in more colourful fruit and eventually more complex wines.

An elegant, powerful red, it’s full of dark red berry aromas with lingering floral notes. On the palate, deep balanced flavours include cherries, plums and even a trace of leather with wonderful acidity and a long, expressive finish. It will also keep well for around five years, making it a great gift for anyone who really appreciates good wine.

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M&S Classics South African pinotage

M&S classics South African pinotage.png
  • Best: Budget red
  • ABV: 14.5 per cent
  • Size: 75cl
  • Grape: Pinotage

This is a cracking example of South Africa’s signature grape, and you can pick up a bottle for less than a tenner. Made using sustainably farmed grapes by winemaker Leon Esterhuizen in Swartland, it’s also Fairtrade-certified and a smooth, full-bodied delight to drink.

A dramatic, dark purple colour in the glass, it’s not one for the faint-hearted but brims with intense flavours of plum, blackcurrant and cherries. There’s a touch of spice and a hint of smoke to make things even more interesting, while oak adds complexity. We’d serve it alongside roast lamb or a meaty pasta dish, such as lasagne, for the perfect night in.

  1. £8 from
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The verdict: South African wines

We were bowled over by the quality of all the South African wines we tested. While we’d happily buy any of them again, our favourite white was the restrained but complex Raats bush vine chenin blanc limited release 2021, which wowed us with its surprising flavours and oaky depth. We’re also smitten by Journey’s End methode cap classique brut reserve, a crisp and elegant fizz that’s more than a match for champagne.

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