Jamie Goode's top 10 South African wines of 2014

By Jamie Goode | 8 December 2014

Jamie Goode

So we’re in December. How did that happen? Soon it will be time to write about our resolutions and plans for 2015, but for now, it’s time to look back. With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to list my top 10 South African wines of 2014. I have tasted a lot of wines this year, and so making this sort of list is very hard if you think too much about it. In the end, I just went with the criteria of putting together a list of the wines that I enjoyed the most, that I’d most like to have on a table in front of me now, and also a list that showed a bit of balance. I’m not pretending that this is the ultimate list of the best wines – it would be far too hard to put this list together. And if you are a winemaker or an agent and your wine isn’t here, let me reassure you that I could have pulled together a list from a selection of 40 or 50 wines and it would have looked just as good. I just had to make a decision! I apologise for the fact that many of these wines will have sold out and thus are really hard to get hold of. There’s such a lot of interest in the top wines that you sometimes have to jump on release or miss out. A shame. So, in no particular order, my top 10.

Sadie Family Pofadder Cinsault 2012 Swartland
I love this wine. It’s not just because it’s brilliant, but also because it is made from Cinsault, an important grape for South Africa, but one that’s often despised. It makes lighter-coloured reds, but it’s superbly adapted to warm climates and keeps its freshness and acidity. And I could have put five of Eben’s wines in this list. He’s such a talent.

Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2013 Hemel-en-Aarde
The Newton Johnsons are on fire. This is just a brilliantly elegant, expressive Pinot Noir, from the extremely promising Hemel-en-Aarde region that does so well with this variety. Top South African Pinot Noir is coming of age.

Rall White 2012 Western Cape
Donovan Rall is gaining a stellar reputation for his wines, and this is one of the top white blends from South Africa. It’s a blend of Chenin Blanc, Verdelho, Chardonnay and Viognier, most of which comes from the Swartland, but there’s also some Stellenbosch fruit. White blends are a really exciting category at the moment.

Iona Chardonnay 2013 Elgin
Elgin has a talent for Chardonnay. I tried this wine, which in the UK is stocked by Marks & Spencer, and was blown away by it. I gave it a good write up, and then a week later found out it had been awarded five stars by Platter. So I wasn’t alone in my admiration. Iona has stepped up a gear in the 2013 vintage, for sure.

Savage Red 2012 Western Cape
Duncan Savage developed quite a reputation for his work with Cape Point, and now with his own wines he’s extending this. The second release of his red, this is a blend of two thirds Syrah, with the balance equal parts of Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault with 40% whole cluster. It’s just brilliant.

CWG Mullineux Semillon Gris 2013 Swartland
Such an interesting wine. It’s from an old decomposed granite vineyard in the Paardeberg, planted in 1959. Originally white Semillon, it has gradually mutated to Gris so that 70% or so is now Gris, which Andrea Mullineux selectively picked to make this wine. It’s just so interesting and delicious.

Testalonga El Bandito Skin Contact 2011 Swartland
Craig Hawkins is a very clever and brave winemaker, and his Testalonga wines are fabulous. This white wine spends 6 weeks on the skins, so it’s made like a red wine, and has structure, freshness and beguiling detail. Brilliant stuff. And you should probably check out Craig’s work with his day job, Lammershoek.

De Morgenzon DMZ Reserve Syrah 2012 Stellenbosch
De Morgenzon is a producer that’s very much at the top of their game, and they have gradually been building a stellar reputation for their wines. I’m glad to include this wine because first, it’s a Syrah, a variety that’s well adapted to South Africa, and second because it’s from Stellenbosch. It’s great to herald a rising star that’s not from the Swartland for once! This is a ripe wine, but crucially it is not too ripe or forced, and still retains Syrah’s inherent floral quality.

Beeslar Pinotage 2012 Stellenbosch
Abrie Beeslar is winemaker at star estate Kanonkop, where he’s making great wines. I thought I’d opt for this, though – his debut release under the Beeslar label. I’m so glad I could include a world class Pinotage in this list. Normally, it’s a grape I struggle with, but Abrie has shown that you can make top wines from it. This will age beautifully I reckon, so if you have any, stash it away deep in your cellar or storage locker.

Klein Constatia Vin de Constance 2008 Constantia
A beautiful, historic sweet wine, made not with botrytis but with natural sweetness from the Muscat grapes grown on this beautiful Constantia property. I’ve tried this 2008 three times and it’s just such a complex, beguiling wine with lovely concentration. It will, of course, age so well. I also love the bottle shape! 

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From Jamie Goode

Jamie Goode

The interesting thing about wine is that you only get one chance a year to make it. So for the average winemaker, retiring at a normal age, you might get to make 40 or so vintages in your lifetime, unless of course you switch hemispheres in your winter and go to work somewhere else.   Wine is an expression of place; it's also an expression of a particular year. For the winegrower who also tends their own vines, there's a special significance to vintage time. From the time the vine buds, to the point where the flowering occurs, to the point where grapes begin developing, to the point of veraison when the skins soften and red grapes chance colour, to the point of deciding when to pick, the winegrower tracks the progress of vintage. That year is then something they try to capture in the wine, as the grapes enter the cellar. It's only after several months that they will really know the personality of the vintage they have just lived through, when the baby wines begin to show what they are about. Along the way, there are many things that can go wrong: frost, disease, pests, microbial disasters in the wine. It's a complicated business, but when it does well, it’s worth all the anxiety and toil.

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In Jo's glass

I was recently in South Africa for Cape Wine and managed to taste several vintages of the delicious Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia. I usually opt for a sweet wine at the end of a meal instead of a pudding and The Vin de Constance is a perfect way to end a meal. It's rich and opulent with stone fruits, vanilla and a hint of spice yet it is also fresh, balanced and has a long, moreish finish. Master of Wine, Tim Atkin, highly rated both the 2011 and 2012 in his most recent report on South Africa which is available to download for £15 on timatkin.com.  

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