Stars of Stellenbosch: Top South African wines unveiled

Views of Delaire Graff Estate’s vineyards and Simonsberg Mountain

Stellenbosch is in many ways the nerve centre of South African wine. The country’s largest and second-oldest wine region, it’s home to Stellenbosch University, where many of the country’s winemakers honed their craft. It’s the birthplace of the country’s signature Pinotage, where the country’s first wine route was established in the 1970s – and where many of South Africa’s most revered wines are made.

So it came as no great surprise when, after crunching the numbers following Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) 2024 judging in May, that a mini-galaxy of stellar performances for the region’s producers was revealed. In addition to 77 Silver and 17 Gold medals there were two Best in Show awards as well as a standout Value Gold for an unusual (in this part of the world, at least) grape variety.

Just 50 wines were awarded Best in Show this year, accounting for 0.28% of the total wines tasted. The two Stellenbosch wines (both 97 points) were of very different styles: one a red Bordeaux blend, the other a varietal Chardonnay, from two neighbouring wards – Simonsberg-Stellenbosch and Banghoek.

So, how important is terroir? ‘It’s crucial,’ said Regional Chair for South Africa, Fiona McDonald.

‘We’re seeing producers become very focussed on only making wines that are suited to their particular conditions and locale. Where two or three decades ago they were trying to be all things to all people, they are now sticking to their knitting – so to speak! And that’s why there’s a growing recognition for the fact that Stellenbosch and Cabernet Sauvignon work well. The same is true for Chardonnay. South Africa has form for both.’

The Cabernet connection

Stellenbosch’s reputation is based largely (along with Pinotage) on Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends. About 20% of Stellenbosch’s vineyard area is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and about 12% to Merlot, and the region is frequently compared to Napa and Bordeaux – so it’s fitting that Best in Show winner Tokara, Reserve Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch 2021 is a Cab-dominant blend: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon with 7% Petit Verdot and the remainder Malbec.

‘Splendidly deep in colour and has sophisticated aromas that take the drinker well beyond blackcurrant towards plum, bramble and damson, with sumptuous incense spices lending a little exotic lustre,’ is how the panel described the Tokara blend, noting that, ‘the winemaking here puts the emphasis on drinkability with detail.’

Stuart Botha, who joined Tokara as winemaker in 2017 at the relatively young age of 32, describes Cabernet as ‘our focus red variety’. It comprises 65% of Tokara’s vineyard plantings. ‘Tokara is placed on the mid-slope of the Simonsberg mountain, the most important piece of topography in Stellenbosch,’ he said.

‘Here, on 400-million-year-old granitic soils, we planted various clone/rootstock combinations of Cabernet Sauvignon.’ The aim, Botha said, is ‘the expression of Cabernet that benefits from a unique terroir, but also leans towards a new world and bolder style. This stylistic goal supports the use of small-format French oak, with a 59% new-barrel component. That the wine effortlessly laps up and integrates this wood is testament to its power and pedigree.’

No fewer than nine of Stellenbosch’s 17 Gold medals were awarded to Cabernet or Cab-dominant blends. Among these were three from Stark-Condé Wines, including two from Jonkershoek Valley ward (Stark-Condé Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 (96 points) and Oude Nektar Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 (95 points)), plus another wine from Delaire Graff for its Botmaskop 2021 (95 points) and from Ernie Els’ Major Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2022 (95 points).

The Chardonnay card

Compared to Cabernet, Chardonnay is a relative newcomer to Stellenbosch – the oldest Chardonnay vines in the region were planted in the mid-1980s –…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/decanter-world-wine-awards/stars-of-stellenbosch-top-south-african-wines-unveiled-533906/