Close Menu

Are white blends SA’s best wines?

In a recent feature for the drinks business Tim Atkin MW asserted that South Africa’s best wines are its white blends.

In what is a strengthening category, South Africa’s blended white wine is a flagship for the country’s overall offering, underscored by the release of Cartology’s 2011 Alheit.

Described by winemaker Chris Alheit as “an exploration of the Cape’s heritage”, it had critics purring with pleasure, according to Atkin. A blend of mostly Chenin Blanc with 12% Semillon, he said it set a “new benchmark for South African whites.”

He said: “With hindsight, Cartology may come to be seen as a milestone in the history of Cape wine, and this for two reasons. First, it focused people’s attention on the quality of some of the country’s old vines – a scarce and, until comparatively recently, dwindling resource thanks to the uprooting of venerable parcels of Chenin Blanc; and secondly, it underscored something that insiders have known for some time: South Africa’s best wines are its white blends.”

South Africa’s blended white category is still an incredibly new category, but is home to “some of the most exciting and best value wines in the New World”, writes Atkin.

With such high expectations set, we asked a number of South African winemakers “are white blends South Africa’s best wines? And if so, why?”


“Whilst there are some world class examples of white blends being produced today in South Africa there are also world class examples of single varietals – most notably with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. The ‘one size fits all’ philosophy is a dangerous avenue to go down and whilst new and exciting blends may attract much excitement and focus of many exploratory wine drinkers, varietal stalwarts such as Chardonnay and Chenin have stood the test of time and still remain among the very best wines in the world. With such an incredible diversity of regions and within those regions hundreds of mesoclimates one can find today an immense treasure chest of fantastic reds, whites, blends and varietal wines to suit all palates.”


“Single varietal or blends, white, red or rosé – South Africa is about exploration, the beauty of the place, the warmth of the people. These form a melting pot for interesting wines. White blends are just another part of the journey of discovery.”


“White blends possibly offer South Africa the best opportunity at the top end due to the diverse terroirs we have and the opportunity to balance temperatures and micro climates.

“Chenin-based wines offer an amazingly diverse palate due to the solid acidity in the base wine, and we have found expression in diverse blends such as our Neethlingshof Six Flowers blend of six white varietals, Chenin, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtz, Riesling, Chardonnay and Viognier.”


“I think it would be wrong to generalise and say that white blends are our best wines, as South Africans are making exciting, original, trailblazing and often challenging wines of all types: white blends, single varietal wines, both red and white, as well as terrific red blends.

“What is certainly true is that currently some of our best wines are white blends. It’s interesting to note that while the number of five-star-ranked wines in the Platter’s South African Wine Guide has dropped from 80 in the 2014 edition to 50 in the new 2015 edition, the category with the highest number of five-star wines is white blends. There are no fewer than eight.”


“It is true that there are a lot of fantastic white blends coming out of South Africa and they are amongst some of the best wines in the country. At Kleine Zalze, however, we are focused on Chenin blanc. We try to highlight the diversity and ‘uniqueness’ of the variety. To this extent we produce a number of styles of Chenin and within each style we usually use vineyards with quite different terroir and so while only using a single variety we do in fact blend different components.”


“Our most famous white blend is Flagstone Noon Gun, which is a blend of Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. In its 15th vintage, it is our biggest Flagstone blend at about 70,000 cases a year. I believe it is one of the best value for money wines on the market. Our single biggest customer is Matthew Clark so it goes into the on-trade, where premium South African wines are really beginning to find an enthusiastic consumer – if only sommeliers would list more, they might see their revenue increasing.

“Building ‘total wine’ white blends in South Africa requires a certain hedonistic approach to the craft of blending. Making things simpler doesn’t always make them better. Mies van der Rohe wouldn’t have been comfortable in my cellar – less definitely isn’t more in this case. It’s as though you are swimming against a rip tide of complexity. Your instinct is to swim against it, to fight it. But this is the quickest way to die. You need to relax and go with the flow. Embracing the natural diversity our soils gifts us a wonderment of complexity – the main thing is not to panic. The one skill we need is in balancing it all out. And that’s when the delicious magic happens.”


It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No