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