Four wines that show why South African vineyards are getting rave reviews

John Wilson: This region has been behind some exciting new wines in recent times

South African wines have been receiving rave reviews internationally for the past decade or so. In this country, Kinnegar Wines have led the way for such products with exciting new wines, and other importers have followed. However, since the Covid-19 crisis began, the wine business in South Africa has been thrown into turmoil, with the sale, movement and export of wine there being banned, then permitted, only to be partially prohibited once more. With an economy heavily reliant on wine tourism and wine exports, many in South Africa are facing extreme difficulties.

This week I look at two grape varieties that are closely linked with South Africa. Pinotage is a South African cross of Pinot noir and Cinsault, the idea being to combine the rugged durability of the latter with the finesse of the former. It achieved neither. With tasting notes from the wine trade such as “hospital corridors”, “sticking plaster”, or “nail varnish remover”, it is not hard to see why consumers never really warmed to Pinotage. I didn’t either, but every now and again I tasted a really good one.

The other variety is Cinsault itself. This French grape is used in blends all along the Languedoc and in the southern Rhône – it is the fourth most widely planted grape in France – where high yields and an ability to withstand hot weather made it very popular. It was also planted in Morocco, Algeria and Lebanon, where it is a component in the famous Château Musar.

In South Africa, Cinsault was grown principally for use in cheap bulk blends. Once the ugly duckling, it is now the swan, as producers seek out old parcels in the Swartland region north of Cape Town and elsewhere to produce some very good wines. Typically they pick early to retain acidity, and to keep sugar and alcohol levels down. Done well, the wines are compelling, and sometimes fragrant, with sour cherries and an earthiness that is sometimes not unlike a Pinot noir from Burgundy.


The Swartland, once dismissed as only good for bulk wine, was rediscovered first by Charles Back, the man behind the Spice Route wine I feature today, who began making excellent wines based on Rhône varieties including Cinsault, as well as Pinotage. Soon, other producers followed suit, often using minimal intervention methods.

You will sometimes find less expensive examples of Pinotage. O'Briens usually stocks the reliable Bellow's Rock (€15.45) and very good Delheim Pinotage (€19.95), but is currently low in stock due to the problems outlined above. Dunnes Stores has the powerful, oaky, full-bodied Clos Malverne (€14). This is one of a range of so-called coffee Pinotage, aged in heavily toasted oak barrels that give it a unique and unmistakable flavour.

Spice Route Pinotage 2018, Swartland
13.5 per cent, €22.65

A lovely glassful of swarthy, spicy, smooth bold dark fruits. It calls out for meat – a juicy gourmet burger or a shredded beef taco.

From: Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,; Matson's, Grange, Cork,; Power & Co Fine Wines, Lucan,; Egan's Off Licence, Portlaoise,; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2,

Ashbourne Pinotage/Cinsault 2019, Swartland
12.5 per cent, €22-25

A very moreish wine. The Cinsault brings fragrance and elegance, while the Pinotage brings supple, ripe dark fruits. There are just enough tannins to give it grip. Try it with lamb kebabs or a rack of lamb.

From: The Winehouse, Trim, Co Meath; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin,; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3,; Deveney's, Dublin 14,; Whelehan's Wines, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin,

Blank Bottle Master of None 2019, Western Cape
13.5 per cent, €28

An ethereal wine from an eclectic mix of grapes, including 30 per cent Cinsault, with elegant, fragrant, deliciously refreshing red summer fruits. Good with lighter chicken dishes.

From: Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca Kilmacanogue and Avoca Dunboyne,; Thomas Woodberrys, Galway,; Redmonds, Dublin 6,; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4,; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, Co Kildare,; 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin,; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2,; Storyboard, Dublin 8,

Kanonkop Pinotage 2016, Simonsberg
14.5 per cent, €33-36

Rich, full-bodied and smooth, with opulent dark fruits layered with vanilla and cinnamon. Good with substantial red meat dishes – why not go for a braai?

From: Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca Kilmacanogue and Avoca Dunboyne,;; O'Briens,