Wednesday, December 7, 2011

South Africa’s Top Wines - Platter´s South Africa Wine Guide 2012

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Jean Smit, Winemaker at Boekenhoutskloof

South Africa is a New World wine country, with a long wine history. With about 100.000 hectares of land under vine, it accounts for 1.5% of the world's grape vineyards. Yearly production is around 10 million hectoliters, which puts the country among the top ten wine producing countries in the world.

The authority in terms of South African wine is the Platter's South African Wine Guide. The 2012 edition packed with ratings of more than 800 producers and brands and 7000 locally grown wines was just released. For my report on the 2011 Platter's South African Wine Guide see schiller-wine.

Modern South Africa

I have traveled in South Africa many times in the past 3 decades, in particular during the period 1989 to 1992, when I used to live in Madagascar. When traveling in South Africa today, it quickly becomes evident that apartheid is resting in the dustbin of history. South Africa’s current President is the Zulu Jakob Zuma, who is mired in personal and political controversy. The Txosa Nelson Mandela, who had spent more than 25 years in prison during apartheid, was President in the 1990s and is now a revered elder called "Madiba" ("Papa"). South Africa successfully hosted the Soccer World Cup. The Soccer World Cup was hoped to provide a boost to the tourism industry; but indications are that the expected boost did not materialize, at least not fully. The gap between the haves and have-nots continues to be wide, but is narrowing and a black middle class is emerging. This, however, is not so much evident in the wine region, which continues to be dominated by the whites; Cape Town even has a white mayor. 99% of the vineyard area is in the hands of whites. The AIDS pandemic is taking a huge toll with the HIV infection rate at about 20 percent.

Pictures: Franschhoek Valley, Cape Town and Christian G.E. Schiller at the Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg

Over the course of the years, I have detected an increasing openness, pride and camaraderie among all the South Africans – white, colored or black, Boers or Brits; Indians, Jews, Zulus, Txosas or Vendas, I met. Nevertheless, this rainbow society with a share of 75% of blacks, has huge challenges to cope with.

South African Wine Industry

Unlike other New World wine regions, the South African wine industry is strongly influenced by several large wine-cooperatives, including Distel and KWV; in total, there about 60 co-operatives. In addition, there are about 25 trading companies, or negociants, which often operate wineries, but seldom own their own vineyards. Among these are SAVISA, Winecorp, Stellenbosch Vineyards and Graham Beck; Western Wines is among the trading companies that are foreign based and owned; their brand Kumala is by far South Africa’s biggest brand. Over 80% of the total crop is delivered to these large wineries by about 4000 wine growers. However, private wineries have increasingly emerged and seen an impressive growth; there are now about 600 winemakers with their own cellars, most of them in the premium wine segment.

More than half of the total production is exported. The previous Cape powers, the UK and Netherlands, are traditionally the main destinations for wines shipments; but other markets are coming up, including Sweden, Denmark, the USA, Germany and Angola.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Ntsiki Biyela, a female black winemaker, who is producing outstanding wines at Stellekaya in Stellenbosch

The wine industry is firmly in the hands of the whites, both white South Africans and foreign investors. But I had the pleasure to meet Ntsiki Biyela, a female black winemaker, who is producing outstanding wines at Stellekaya in Stellenbosch. Also, the Diemersfontein wine portfolio included a line of wines that was produced in the framework of the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program (to promote the black community's involvement in the South African wine industry-including ownership opportunities for vineyards and wineries).

Boekenhoutskloof is South Africa’s Winery of the Year

Boekenhoutskloof, which I visited last year, is Platter’s winemaker of the year. Its three five stars – for Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Syrah 2009 and Noble Late Harvest 2008 – and taking the Superquaffer with the value for money Wolftrap White blend 2010 surely made editor, Philip van Zyl’s decision that much easier. Since Boekenhoutskloof first appeared in the Platter in the 1998 edition, only in four editions has Boekenhoutskloof failed to receive five stars for any of his wines; in some years there have been two, but this is the first year he has claimed a hat trick.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Jean Smit at Boekenhoutskloof

Boekenhoutskloof Winery

From an initial 6000 bottles in 1996, now Boekenhoutskloof’s output is running at 3 million bottles, of which 95% is its second label Porcupine Ridge and the new Wolftrap, and 5% the premium category wines Boekenhoutskloof and The Chocolate Block. Founded in 1776, Boekenhoutskloof is one of the oldest farms in the Franschhoek Valley and has seen a phenomenal development since 1996. It now enjoys a reputation as one of the leading wine estates in South Africa. I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours there with winemaker Jean Smit in September 2010.

The Boekenhoutskloof farm was founded by Hugenot settlers, bringing with them Mediterranean grape varieties and French know how. In 1993, the farm was purchased and restored by a partnership of wine enthusiasts, revamping the ancient cellar, installing state-of-the-art equipment and implementing a new vineyard planting scheme. Boekenhoutskloof derives its name from the Boekenhout tree, of which there are still several along the stream banks of the property.

There are approximately 20 hectares of vines at Boekenhoutskloof - 25% of which are planted to white varieties:Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier; and 75% of which consist of reds: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. All vineyards employ extended double perold trellises. The soil types are not homogenous, ranging from deep, rich alluvial soils along the river’s edge to iron ridge clay on hillsides with areas of decomposed granite.

Boekenhoutskloof produces four wine brands: Boekenhoutskloof, The Chocolate Block, Porcupine Ridge and Wolftrap. Boekenhoutskloof is farming organically and also well advanced in its plans to embrace bio-dynamic wine making.

Marc Kent

Boekenhotskloof’s public face is Marc Kent, who was in Europe when I visited Boekenhootskloof. Marc Kent joined Boekenhoutskloof in 1994 and has become the seventh partner. He pays frequent visits to France where he indulges in the French traditions of winemaking, which are clearly the inspiration behind the style and philosophy of his own winemaking. Boekenhoutskloof shot to prominence with its first Syrah (1997). It was Kent’s first job out of wine school. His hands-off approach captivated an audience looking for wines not focused around fruit or oak. Many say that it put South African Syrah on the map. Winemaking was not Kent’s his first career choice: he was on course to be a pilot with the South African air force when the changing political landscape derailed this option.

Jean Smit

Marc Kent is heading a team of winemakers that now includes Jean Smit, responsible for Boekenhoutskloof’s high-end wines. Jean likes to get his hands dirty and believes that good wine can only be made from good fruit. The whole time I was together with Jean, we were accompanied by his dog Aikas, wherever we went.

Pictures: Jean Smit of Boekenhoutskloof


This is the flagship range: Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, The Journeyman, Noble Late Harvest.

The majority of grapes for the Boekenhoutskloof range are outsourced as the home vineyards are too young or not yet bearing. The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a single riverside property in Franschhoek. This is also the source of the Sémillon. The Shiraz is sourced from a vineyard in Wellington.

The Chocolate Block

“The Chocolate Block is not at all a terroir wine, but a multi-regional blend", said Jean. The 2008 Chocolate Block is blend of Syrah (69%); Grenache (12%); Cabernet Sauvignon (10%); Cinsault (7%) and Viognier (2%). The Syrah fruit comes from Malmesbury with its unique growing conditions and dryland farmed vineyards to ensure it deep-rooted vines and therefore optimal concentration of color, flavor and tannin structure. The Grenanche is sourced from Citrusdal with its very sandy soils and perfect terroir for ripening this grape varietal. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier come from the organically farmed vineyards of Boekenhoutskloof and the Cinsault is from old bush vines on decomposed granite soils in Wellington. All five varieties have appeared in varying quantities from vintage to vintage.

Porcupine Ridge

Below The Chocolate Block sits the Porcupine Ridge tier of wines, and here we are in altogether different territory, with volumes exceeding 2 million bottles a year. Half of this is Sauvignon Blanc.

The Wolftrap

The Wolftrap is the latest edition to the stable of Boekenhoutskloof. This used to be a sort of bin-end; now it is a more focused blend of four varieties: Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Viognier, typically made in volumes of between 35 000 to 40 000 cases. In addition, there is now The Wolftrap Rose. There is a 250-year old wolf trap on Boekenhoutskloof and the name is a tribute to the pioneers who in the early days of the Cape erected a wolf trap, mistakenly believing that wolves inhabited the area. To date, no wolf either real or mystical has been seen in the valley.

The Platter 5 Star Wines

This year’s Platter´s South Africa Wine Guide includes 45 five star wines – the crème de la crème of South Africa. In the first round of tasting by individual members of Platter’s judging team, 139 bottlings were identified as potentially worthy of five stars. The candidate five star wines were then entered into a second round of evaluation, conducted “blind” across a variety of categories, including reds and whites, sparkling, dessert wines and port styles.

45 wines got the nod from the assembled panel. Remarkably, three producers each netted three five star ratings, namely Boekenhoutskloof, for their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Semillon Noble Late Harvest; and Mullineux Family Wines, for their Syrah, White Blend and Straw Wine; and Nederburg, with their Ingenuity White, Edelkeur and Eminence. Graham Beck Wines was the other star performer, with five star ratings for two wines: the new Chalkboard #3 Cabernet Sauvignon and Pheasants’ Run Sauvignon Blanc.

Noteworthy this edition is the high number of first-time five star recipients, including Badsberg Wine Cellar, Colmant Cap Classique & Champagne, Diemersfontein Wines, Glenelly Cellars, Miles Mossop Wines, Mont Destin and Oak Valley Wines. Established producers returning to five-star form after a gap of several years are La Motte, which last bagged the maximum rating in the 1995 edition, and KWV, in the 1986 Guide.

The best-performing categories this edition are Red Blends, with seven wines, and Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Unfortified Dessert Wines and White Blends with five wines each. Of the single-variety white-wine categories, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Grenache Blanc yield three, two and one five star wines respectively, while Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc are the top order in the single-variety reds line-up.

The leading Wine of Origin appellations are Stellenbosch, with 9 five star wines, followed by Western Cape (7), Coastal (5), and Franschhoek, Paarl and Swartland, with 4 apiece.

The five star wines for 2012 are:

Cabernet Franc

• Warwick 2008

Cabernet Sauvignon

• Boekenhoutskloof 2009
• Graham Beck Chalkboard #3 2007
• Stark-Condé Three Pines 2009

Pinot Noir

• Chamonix Reserve 2010
• Newton Johnson Domaine 2010
• Oak Valley 2009


• Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2009
• Fairview The Beacon 2008
• Mont Destin Destiny 2007
• Mullineux Syrah 2009
• Saxenburg Select 2007

Red Blends

• Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal 2010
• De Toren Fusion V 2009
• Glenelly Lady May 2009
• La Motte Pierneef Shiraz-Viognier 2009
• Meerlust Rubicon 2007
• Miles Mossop Max 2008
• Sadie Family Columella 2009


• De Wetshof The Site 2009
• Jordan CWG Auction Reserve 2010

Chenin Blanc

• Beaumont Hope Marguerite 2010
• Diemersfontein Carpe Diem 2010
• Vins d’Orrance Kama 2010

For more on Diemersfontein see my posting on schiller-wine: Wining, Dining and Relaxing with the Chocolate/Coffee Pinotage at Diemersfontein Wine and Country Estate in Wellington, South Africa

Pictures: Francois Rhode, David Sonnenberg and Christian G.E.Schiller at Diemersfontein Wine and Country Estate

Grenache Blanc

• KWV Mentors 2010

Sauvignon Blanc

• Graham Beck Pheasants’ Run 2011
• Hermanuspietersfontein No 5 2010
• Kleine Zalze Family Reserve 2010
• Steenberg CWG Auction Reserve The Magus 2010
• Strandveld 2010

White Blends

• Fable Jackal Bird 2010
• Flagstone CWG Auction Reserve Happy Hour 2009
• Mullineux White Blend 2010
• Nederburg Ingenuity 2010
• Tokara Director’s Reserve White 2010

Méthode Cap Classique Sparkling

• Colmant Brut Chardonnay NV
• Topiary Blanc de Blancs Brut 2009

Natural Sweet

• Badsberg Badslese 2009

Dessert Wine Unfortified

• Boekenhoutskloof Semillon Noble Late Harvest 2008
• Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest 2010
• Mullineux Straw Wine 2010
• Nederburg Edelkeur 2010
• Nederburg Eminence 2010


• Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve 2009
• De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve 2009

schiller-wine - Related Postings

In the Plane: Wine on South African Airways from Johannesburg to Livingstone in Zambia (Victoria Falls)

New World Wine Producer South Africa

Boekenhoutskloof – Producer of Sensational Premium Wines as well as Good Value Table Wines in Franschhoek

Lunch with Raphael Dornier in Stellenbosch

Burgundy Wines in South Africa: Hamilton Russell Vineyards

Devon Rocks - A Boutique Producer of Pinotage in South Africa

Wining, Dining and Relaxing with the Chocolate/Coffee Pinotage at Diemersfontein Wine and Country Estate in Wellington, South Africa

In the Glass: A Rust en Vrede 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon With South African Oysters in Stellenbosch

Marianne Wine Estate: South African Wine with a French Soul

Meeting Ntsiki Biyela at Stellekaya in Stellenbosch – South Africa’s Only Female and Black Winemaker with International Recognition

Wine, Art and Food: Donald Hess’ Glen Carlou Estate in South Africa

Platter´s South Africa Wine Guide 2011

Riesling in South Africa

A Day in Cape Town's Wine Cellars and Vineyards - Constantia Valley in South Africa

1 comment:

  1. Philip van Zyl | EditorDecember 14, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    Hello Christian

    Quick note to thank you for the coverage of Platter's in your excellent blog. Much appreciated.

    Philip van Zyl | Editor