Like most people in the UK right now, I’m well overdue a holiday. Last year was the first I’ve not left the country in a very long time. The majority of the trips I take involve wine. Some of the most beautiful places I’ve travelled to have been wine growing regions. I can’t think of one vineyard that isn’t set in a picturesque landscape. And where there’s good wine there’s always good food close by.
With the slate grey, depressing January skies, I’m ready for a trip to the Southern Hemisphere – South Africa to be precise. Average temperatures right now are 22°C but can reach highs of 28°C. But as we can’t actually travel right now, we’re going on a trip with your mind and palate.
South Africa is known for so many things; rich culture, history, wildlife and the amazing hospitality of its people. The landscape of South Africa is so dramatic. Temperatures change quickly when you head inland and the incredible mountains make it a really exciting place to grow vines.
Here are three of my favourite winemakers from there, all from contrasting and beautiful landscapes that you have to visit – in the meantime, use these wines and taste your way around South Africa.
Duncan Savage, Cape Town
You might have heard of an ‘Urban Winery’ before – we have a couple here in London, with the best being Black Book and London Cru. Duncan Savage’s winery is based on an industrial estate in the Cape Town. I was lucky enough to visit a couple of years ago. Duncan is an extremely dedicated winemaker who spends just as much time in the vineyard as he does the winery. His attention to detail is inspiring and has a fun and creative approach to winemaking.
His philosophy is “do as little as possible, as much as you can.” This approach requires a lot of skill and experience. Because of this his wines sell out quickly when they reach the UK, he has a real cult following.
Storm Wines, Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven on Earth)
This winemaking region lives up to its name, with some of the most stunning coastline in the world. I drove through this region two years ago and saw the devastating effect of the forest fires on the area first-hand.
If you haven’t been blown away by South African wines and you love the wines of Burgundy, you must try Storm Wines. A fairly new winery with their first vintage coming in 2012, the wines seem to be getting better each year. Winemaker Hannes Storm is doing some amazing things – the words ‘elegance’ and ‘purity’ are overused by wine writers but these wines really are. The elegance comes from the cool sea breeze which keeps the vineyards cool and stops the grapes from cooking.
Thelema Wines, Simonsberg Mountain range, Stellenbosch
As we head inland a short drive from Franschhoek we find the Mountain Vineyards of Thelema. The vineyard has been run by the Webb family since 1983 and they were incredibly welcoming when I visited. This winery is a real South African classic.
They have an impressive range of wines including a sweet, late harvest sparkling, and a selection of dry whites including Riesling, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. But they’re best known for the rich generous reds they produce. Look out for their Cabernet Sauvignons, which have flavours and aromas of dark chocolate and brambles. They also produce a fantastic single vineyard Shiraz packed full of cassis and freshly ground black pepper.
It’s important more than ever to drink and support South African wineries. With the current alcohol ban and the pandemic, life is hard for them right now. So bring some South African sun to your gloomy January and crack a bottle.
All these wines and more are available from Bottles ‘n’ Jars food and wine store in Highgate. Sommelier Bert Blaize decided to leave hospitality in August 2020 to open Bottles ‘n’ Jars, a food and wine shop in East Finchley. The inspiration for the shop came from his recently published book Which Wine When, published by Ebury Press and co-authored with food writer Claire Strickett.