There was a buoyant mood at yesterday's Intrepid South Africa tasting, held at Tobacco Dock in London. Concerns about both the devaluation of the rand — which fell to record lows in January following political instability in the country — and a problematic 2016 vintage with severe droughts, were countered by praise for the 2015 vintage and growing support for South African wine in the on-trade.
Tim Atkin MW, who has just released his fourth annual report on South Africa's wine industry, described the 2015 vintage as 'the best I’ve tasted in 26 years of writing about the country's wines', adding that it should be a springboard to global recognition.
'A winning combination of better viticulture, the development of new wine regions and the emergence of a young generation of winemaking talent make South Africa the most dynamic wine-producing country in the world right now,' he said, singling out Chenin Blanc, Syrah and Méthode Cap Classique wines for special praise.
However, he added that too many South African wineries are currently unprofitable due to the low price of the country’s wines, particularly in export markets. 'In the absence of significant government subsidies, the answer is to increase the price of South African wine,' he added.
Jo Wehring, UK market manager of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), confirmed that the country's wines have seen value growth, although volume has dropped, in line with WOSA's long-term strategy of building value over volume. 'I don't think the volatility of the rand has been too detrimental, though it does create pressure,' she added. 'It makes marketing and travel to Europe very expensive for winemakers. And obviously it remains to be seen what will happen post-Brexit.'
Wehring was positive about the role of South Africa in the on-trade, highlighting the success of the UK round of the Wines of South Africa Sommelier Cup, which was won by The Savoy's Erik Simonics in June. 'An incredible group of sommeliers entered the comp this year,' said Wehring. 'They are engaged, enthusiastic and know a lot about regionality in South Africa. So I think that although we've already seen good growth in the on-trade, South Africa is still going to grow.'
Look out for our special report on South Africa by Tim Atkin MW in the November/December issue of Imbibe.