A Modern Look at South African Wine

South African wine can suffer in the U.S. from the same stigma as Australian imports. Based on what brands people have commonly bought in years past, some consumers automatically imagine South African wine as cheap and bottom-shelf.

But brands like Simonsig are going a long way to reverse that notion. Located in the renowned Stellenbosch winemaking region of the Cape Winelands, this brand offers an array of premium wines across many styles. Jacques Jordaan, Simonsig marketing & sales manager, recently visited New York for a media tasting of the 2017 vintage, priced between $13.99-$43.99, and to emphasize the modern-day truths of South African wines:

South Africa Produces Quality Sparklers

Your mind may not travel to South Africa when thinking of quality bubblies, but it’s worth the trip. The Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut ($19.99) and Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé ($24.99) are excellent examples why.

“One thing we can do real well is sparkling wines,” Jordaan says. “Pinot noir has developed well in our terroir, and so has chardonnay.

The Vonkel Brut is 55% chardonnay, 44% pinot noir and 1% pinot meunier. The Brut Rosé is 73% pinot noir, 27% pinotage and 1% pinot meunier. Both are light, crisply acidic, with fine bubbles and pronounced fruit — excellent with Asian dishes, seafood and white meats.

“The challenge for us in America is that we’re competing here with the rest of the world, and we’re really competing with prosecco,” Jordaan says. “We’re a bit more expensive than processo, and ‘prosecco’ is easier for consumers to pronounce.”

Still, he believes these wines have good opportunity with American Millennials, consumers who are newer to the category. “They really don’t care so long as it sparkles,” Jordaan says. “And Millennials love trying something new.”

South Africa Produces Incredible Red Blends

Pinotage is the varietal that comes to mind with South Africa. The country’s own grape can cause split opinions among drinkers, and can dominate conversation about South African red wines. But do not lose track of the country’s killer red blends, especially as U.S. consumers feverishly buy up the same style from California.

Want a wine you cannot put down? Try the Simonsig Tiara ($38.99 for the 2015 vintage). This blend is 68% cabernet sauvignon, 24% merlot, 4% cabernet franc and 4% petite verdot. The Simonsig flagship red wine was 100% matured in French oak for 17 months (51% new barrels).

The Bordeaux-style blend has a wonderful cab sauv backbone, showcasing the country’s success with the varietal. This allows complexities brought by the other varietals to shine through in the perfectly balanced, complex palate of black and red fruits. For U.S. consumers who enjoy California red blends (i.e.: mostly everybody these days) here’s an easy, tasty alternative for when people want to explore beyond America.

South African Wine is Becoming More Sustainable

In a trend that has expanded throughout the wine world in recent years, South African producers have recently embraced more eco-conscious production methods.

Part of this is because a younger generation of South African winemakers has emerged, with a greener point-of-view. Another is countering stigmas: “South Africa really can be perceived as a country of cheap wines with no premium brands,” Jordaan says. Thus releasing organic wines can help reverse this consumer attitude.

And then there’s the sheer economics. “Annually, South Africa produces 915 million liters of wine,” Jordaan says. “Of that, 50% is exported. And of that, 50% is sold in bulk at a very low cost per liter. That’s unsustainable. No country can do farming at that amount and price.”

“So there’s been a big shakeup with the younger farmers,” he adds. “We have to become more sustainable. We’re making positive changes. We have the right soils in the right places so that we can make the finest wines that can compete with the rest of the world. The focus is now less on wines below $10, and more on premium wine. We’re really going to surprise the U.S.”

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Wholesaler. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece 7 Alcohol Trends at the 2019 Sun Wine & Food Fest.

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