Top 10 South African red wines

Wine news

Mon 26 Apr 2021

By Stuart Peskett

Quoin Rock winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa

The best South African red wines are an intriguing blend of New and Old World – bright, vibrant New World fruit, but with Old World complexity. This is due in part to the dazzling array of flora in the Western Cape, and this earthy, herbal character is often found in South Africa’s reds, particularly those made with its signature grape, Pinotage.

This divisive variety used to deter some with its funky notes reminiscent of rubber tyres, but Pinotage has evolved into a beautiful beast, rich and velvety and brimming with mocha notes. A Silver winner this year is the appropriately named Chocoholic Pinotage 2018 from Darling Cellars, which uses a proportion of appassimento (dried) grapes for extra richness and intensity.

The progress made in South Africa since the 1990s has been incredible – up until that point, the focus was on brandy and fortified wine – but the new democratic South Africa paved the way for a surge in quality, as well as the freedom to sell wine around the world again.

Bartinney Skyfall Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 is another of the IWSC's trophy winners from 2020

Winemakers are trialling grape varieties including Grenache, Mourvèdre and popular Port grape Tinta Barroca in the Western Cape, but it’s the big-hitting international varieties such as Cabernet, Shiraz and Malbec that form the bulk of the IWSC winners this year. Gold gongs go to Quoin Rock’s Red Blend 2015, made with the three classic Bordeaux varieties, and Glen Carlou’s Syrah 2018, which shows classic South African notes of earth, leather, pepper and spice.

Despite its history, South Africa still feels like a young, evolving wine region – here is the pick of the crop of South African reds from the IWSC’s 2020 tasting.

Nicolas Van Der Merwe Cabernet Sauvignon 2017iwsc-top-south-african-red-wines-1.png
Nico Van Der Merwe

Ripe fruit and perfumed, spicy oak nose lead straight onto the palate, with licks of mint, raspberry and blueberry. Lovely plum notes and balanced cedar. Lingering, long finish which is well balanced. Quite a beast. 14.5%

Red Blend 2015iwsc-top-south-african-red-wines-2.png
Quoin Rock

Delicate and focused nose with black fruits and floral notes. Concentrated and well-balanced palate with ripe tannins and nicely integrated oak. This is a plush yet elegant example which shows complexity and length. 15%

Malbec 2015iwsc-top-south-african-red-wines-3.png
Mt Vernon

Densely-woven dark fruit like the depths of sultry midnight run throughout. Big palate layered with chocolate brioche, rimmed by sweet and sour plum and framed by muscular tannins. Magnificent structure with long black fruit finish. Complex and classy. 14.4%

Syrah 2018iwsc-top-south-african-red-wines-4.png
Glen Carlou

Expressive nose of deep dark vibrant spices, rich earth, leather, pepper, clay and blackcurrant complement a velvety soft structured palate of ripe black fruits, oaked vanilla and silky yoghurt. Elegant acidity lifts whilst balanced tannin provides texture. The finish is pleasurably long. 14%

Skyfall Cabernet Sauvignon 2015iwsc-top-south-african-red-wines-5.png

Hawthorn, hedgerow and Heathcliff. It's me, Cathy. Complex, and irresistibly smooth and supple below the (rose) hip. Tease me with cigar, tobacco, and watch me evolve into something delicious. Something divine. A Stellenbosch at its most prime. 14.5%

Southern Point Shiraz-Merlot 2019iwsc-top-south-african-red-wines-6.png
International Procurement and Logistics

Violets, roses, raspberries, strawberries and plums; a smorgasbord of aromatic fruits and earthy flavours. Full yet mellow nose, rich tannins balanced by elegant acidity. The palate reveals evolved violet notes and a beguiling complexity and concentration. Well balanced and beautiful! 12.5%

Royal Nymphomane 2015iwsc-top-south-african-red-wines-7.png
La Vierge

Attractive nose of vanilla, marzipan and red fruits. Palate evolves nicely into savoury, complex flavours of black fruits and citrus, with tobacco. Classy. 15%

The Best Shiraz 2019iwsc-top-south-african-red-wines-8.png

Explosive peppery nose with hints of burnt charcoal and seamlessly smooth palate expressing deeply-layered black fruit and tight, satiny tannins make good typicity. Lengthy, intense finish. 14%

Chocoholic Pinotage 2018iwsc-top-south-african-red-wines-9.png
Darling Cellars

Bold berry fruits shine aganst a backdrop of earthy dried herbs. Abundant ripe, juicy blackberries fill the mouth in velvety opulence dusted by vanilla glow. A bruised apple finish is like a deep breath of dusky autumn air. Just divine. 

Syrah 2018iwsc-top-south-african-red-wines-10.png
La Motte

Divinely structured from its dusty, potpourri nose through to a rich, full red fruit mouth, off-dry tannins and intense finish. Savourable. 13.5%