South Africa’s Old Vine Project Tasting

South Africa’s Old Vine Project Tasting

At the end of June there was a special tasting in London organised by Wines of South Africa showcasing a wide selection of wines presented under their Old Vines Project in the comfortable backdrop of the Reading Room at South Africa House. You can also read about the background of the South Africa Old Vine project here. The tasting included wines at a range of price points from the easy and approachable red berry-fruited 2016 Boutinot South Africa Percheron Old Vine Cinsault at a suggested snip of around £7 – £8 to a number of stunning single vineyard/cru wines from Alheit Vineyards at up to £65 a bottle.

Indeed Chenin Blanc is the main story here and the variety was the key focus of the tasting. Other whites were presented from Sauvignon Blanc, Palomino, some classy and very old Semillon and a handful of white blends. Red grape varieties took up substantially less table space and included Cinsault, Grenache, Carignan, Tinta Barocca and Pinotage. Certainly it seemed to suggest that there potentially are more great whites emanating from South Africa than reds, certainly from older vine plantings. This said there were no red Bordeaux blends, or examples from Syrah, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay present. Some of South Africa’s top reds are undoubtedly among benchmarks for the Southern Hemisphere.

Old Semillon vines at the La Colline Vineyard in Franschhoek

Here then is a quick snapshot of the winery highlights. Readers would be advised to hunt down all of these. The first group of wineries covered here had at least two wines on show or two or more vintages. From a base in Ashton in the Robertson region come a red and white of lots of character and interest from the small Elemental Bob project. The Cosmic Flower white is from 100% Palomino now over 90 years old. There was also a Cosmic Flower red with spicy, earthy berry fruits, again from 2017 and made from 44-year old Tinta Barocca. Adoro Wines are based in Stellenbosch and their 2013 Naudé Old Vines Chenin Blanc comes from three separate sites ranging from 20 to 60 years of age. Also highly impressive was a Naudé Old Vines Cinsault from 2014 and full of red berry fruit complexity although the vines were younger than others at 36 years old.

Antonij Rupert produce a number wines both under this label for top reds, L’Ormarin for sparkling wines as well as a number of well priced wines under their Cape of Good Hope label. These included the 2016 Van Lill & Visser Chenin Blanc from 52-year old vines and 2015 roundly textured, citrus infused Laing Semillon from 59-year old vines, both sourced from Citrusdal Mountain. Also based in Franschhoek is the exceptional Boekenhoutskloof winery with four separate vintages of their Semillon from 2004, 2005, 2014 and most recently2015. The 2015 showing restrained green fruits, citrus and mineral qualities, the 2004 and 2005 by contrast were more honeyed and opulent with evolved complex character, but still fresh.

Another winery showing a range of vintages was Beaumont Family Wines with their Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc from the Bot River sub region of Walker Bay with examples from 2006, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2016. The vines are now up to 45-years old and it was again an excellent example of the propensity for good South Africa Chenin to age well. Also based in the Bot River are Gabriëlskloof. Among a small range they make two excellent whites from vines now 40 years old. The 2015 Magdalena is a richly textured Bordeaux style blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, barrel fermented in 400 to 500 litre barrels. 2015 Elodie is complex and green fruited with a subtle citrus quality. A varietal Chenin it is similarly vinified.

Alheit Vineyards offer some of the finest whites in South Africa, from vineyards in a variety of regions. The 2015 and 2011 Western Cape Cartology both come from a blend of around 90% Chenin Blanc with the balance Semillon. The 2011 is showing a little evolution but with clearly age and develop for a number of years yet. There are a number of other crus of real interest and character. The 2016 Radio Lazarus is a Chenin Blanc from two hilltop parcels, one 39 years old and one 46 years at Bottlerary in Stellenbosch. Rich, intense and with real depth showing elegant green fruits and a zesty citrus zestiness. The 2016 Magnetic North Mountain Makstok from Citrusdal Mountain is also Chenin Blanc. It comes from two adjacent parcels, respectively 31 and 36 years old. Real intensity and carry, this is a touch more restrained and mineral with subtle citrus fruits. From Franschhoek, the La Colline Vineyard is a co-planted assembly of Semillon Blanc and Semillon Gris from now 82-year old vines. Opulent and intense citrus fruits are balanced with a characterful spicy, herbal quality.

Swartland is a region offering some of the countries most interesting artisan styled wines produced by inventive young winemakers. Filla is a traditional method sparkling white from Huis van Chevallerie. Dryland Chenin Blanc bush vines now over 40 years old provide excellent raw material. The 2014 was crisp and intense, still very young while the 2011 had opened up with impressive weight and a green fruited concentration balanced by zesty fresh citrus acidity. Adi Badenhorst is a source of some of Swartlands most exceptional reds and whites. 2016 Golden Slopes is a rich, concentrated Steen (Chenin Blanc) with opulent green fruits and an intense citrus zestiness. Equally impressive was the 2016 Raigrass a Grenache red from what are now 65-year old vines.

One of the other established stars of Swartland is Eben Sadie. Two wines full of character were shown. The 2016 Voetpad is a stunning white blend of Semillon Blanc, Semillon Gris, Chenin Blanc, Palomino and a field blend of Muscat. The vine age is extraordinary, 129 years as of the vintage. Complimenting this was a fine, richly textured savoury and berry fruited Tinta Barocca, the 2016 Treinspoor. A red and a white of both real quality were shown by Dewaldt Heyns Family Wines. The 2013 Weathered Hands Chenin Blanc from Swartland offers a really impressive intensity of green fruits with a fine undercutting fresh citrus acidity and an emerging honeyed, peachy quality. The 2012 Weathered Hands Pinotage, also Swartland, was one of just two examples of the variety. The vines are now over 40-years old and there is an intense, concentrated berry fruits character.

A number of other whites also impressed and will be worth at least *** in the next edition of Wine behind the label. Among the Chenin Blancs Raats Family 2016 Old Vine offered impressive depth from 3 Stellenbosch blocks over 40 years old. Also from Stellenbosch the 2016 Kaapzicht 1947 provided copious rich, complex fruit. The DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc again from Stellenbosch has long been established as a benchmark from the area and the 2016 is no exception. Reyneke Wines make a very stylish Biodynamic Chenin from a combination of Stellenbosch and the Polkadraai Hills. The 2015 was full of honeyed green fruit intensity with a mineral edge. The 2016 Thistle and Weed Paarl sourced Duwweltjie Chenin Blanc is vinified from fruit harvested from over 65-year old vines.

One of the standout wines from Bosman Family is their Optenhorst Chenin Blanc from Wellington. The 2015 comes from 63-year old vines. From Swartland its worth looking out for the 2016 Chenin Blanc from David and Nadia and the intense, zesty, mineral 2016 Hogan Wines example. Also from Swartland is the Fledge & Co 2015 Klipspringer Chenin and Leeuwenkull 2013 Heritage Chenin showing attractive honeyed, citrus qualities with a little age. The 2015 Mary Delaney Collection from Botanica Wines is sourced from Citrusdal Mountain and dry farmed bush vines. It has a lovely intense citrus character and underlying minerality. Chenin Blanc is also a significant element in the 2014 Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines Old Vines White from Swartland, which also includes Clairette Blanche, Viognier and Semillon Gris.

While Chenin Blanc dominated the wines on taste there were also some additional old vine Semillons that should be noted. The 2016 Thorne and Daughters richly textured citrus infused Paper Kite Old Vines Semillon comes from a mix of old Swartland and Franschhoek fruit. Franschhoek is indeed notable for holdings of old Semillon. We have long had a profile for Landau du Val in Wine behind the label and the 2014 Semillon did not disappoint. It is made by Rickety Bridge winemaker Wynand Grobler. Rickety Bridge showed a very well priced 2016 Chenin from 45 year old vines and Wynand Grobler also makes a Semillon under his own label. The 2014 Road to Santiago Semillon is made in tiny quantities and sourced from the now 115-year old Landau du Val vineyard. Another excellent Franschhoek Semillon to consider, also from over 100-year old vines is the 2015 Dark Side of the Vine from Black Elephant Vintners. The rich, peachy, citrus infused fruit, is underpinned nicely by green herbs. From vineyards close to Worcestor readers should also consider the 2015 Carl Everson Chenin Blanc from Opstal Estate.

A number of other interesting old vine reds were also tasted. Both Solms-Delta and the Piekenierskloof Wine Co produce interesting Grenache reds from the Piekenierskloof region, the Solms-Delta in a darker fruited style. Honourable mention should also be given to the 2015 blackberry and pepper spiced Swartland sourced Pegleg Carignan from Fairview Wines and 2010 Meerendal Heritage Block Pinotage.

Wine searcher shopping links (click on the winery name)

Elemental Bob

Adoro Wines

Antonij Rupert


Beaumont Family Wines


Alheit Vineyards

Huis van Chevallerie

AA Badenhorst

Sadie Family

Dewaldt Heyn Family Wines

Raats Family



Reyneke Wines

Thistle and Weed no Wine Searcher links yet

Bosman Family

David and Nadia

Hogan Wines

Fledge & Co


Botanica Wines

Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines

Thorne and Daughters

Landau du Val

Rickety Bridge

Wynand Grobler

Black Elephant Vintners

Opstal Estate


Piekenierskloof Wine Co

Fairview Wines



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