Feeling Thirsty?: new wave South Africa

Elodie Cameron, from Thirsty, on the new generation of South African wines that will thrill your tastebuds

With winemakers that look more like surfers than farmers the name is truly apt, but the ‘rock star’ look sported by many of these young (and a few not so young) winemakers means they are equally at home drinking craft beer in Shoreditch as blending top-notch, small-batch wines back home. But what’s so exciting about these guys in T-shirts, ripped jeans and beards, and should we be bothered to pick up some of their wines and give them a go?

These are deemed to be some of the most exciting wines in the world at the moment. When you get lots of talent together, an energy emerges and when this spirit occurs in a place that offers the right ingredients, at the right time, then hey presto: magic is made. It may feel as if this has come out of nowhere but these wines have been gradually improving over a decade or so.

Many of these winemakers grew up after apartheid ended so their perspective is different to previous generations; they have travelled more and their industry has been less cut off from fellow winemakers abroad. This has led to a hunger for knowledge and development, leading to an enormous learning curve, coupled with a desire to show what they can achieve. These young guns are fiercely proud and want to bring in a new era of winemaking. By looking at the rest of the world and reflecting on the strength of their climate (akin to Mediterranean), geography and vineyards (many with old vines), they were able to not only adapt, but leap forward.

In the UK, this spirit and its results proved infectious and in 2015 the first New Wave South Africa wine tasting was held in the back of a record shop in Soho – it was fun and cool and those of us in the trade tasted some exciting wines that we wanted to share. 

As Thirsty tweeted back in 2018, ‘the Saffas are coming to 46 Chesterton Road’ – come by and see for yourself what the hype is all about. Good-value, individual wines with style – and some pretty good-looking labels to boot.

With an incredible diversity of styles, a mass of quality winemaking and just the right hint of eccentricity, South African wines are not just a wave: these are wines that are here to stay.

Wines To Try

Blank Bottle Kortpad Kaaptoe 2017

The name means ‘quickest route’ in Afrikaans due the route the winemaker took to discover this vineyard and grape when he decided to make this wine. Oh, and what a surprise it is: juicy peaches and honey, with hints of clementine and quartz stones. 

A A Badenhorst Papegaai Cinsault 2017

Papegaai (or parrot in Afrikaans) is not only distinctive with its pirate-like parrot adorning the label, but the super high-quality fruit produces a wine that is not forgotten easily. With what is known as Swartland swagger, this is dark and deep, featuring cherries and raspberry ripple with a crunch of green peppercorns and rosemary. Delightful, smooth and supple.