Sommelier's choice: South Africa
People underestimate South African wine, according to Skylon’s head sommelier Alexis Meszoly, who says you can find examples that compare to the best Bordeaux blends. The Artful Diner asks him where to search…
“South Africa is one of the wine countries that most interests me,” says Alexis, who was born and raised in Chantilly near Paris. He is passionate about it because he believes South Africa is one of the best places to discover exceptional yet great value wines. But, you need to know what you’re looking for.
“It has very big reds and complex whites, but also crisp and light whites,” he says. “I think a lot of people underestimate South Africa because there are a lot of average South African wines.” If you want to find the best wines, however you need to get to grips with the best winemakers.
Most South African vineyards are clustered around the Cape of Good Hope to benefit from cooling breezes blowing off the Atlantic Ocean. Robertson in the Western Cape is an important region for whites and in particular chardonnay. The Dewetshof Estate produces a wine, famous to sommeliers, called Bateleur, explains Alexis.
Other wines like Kleinboet by Hermanuspietersfontein also in the Western Cape contain virtually the same blend as Bordeaux, but come out with a very different result. “Kleinboet is robust, spicy and tannic like the Bordeaux wines, but there’s also this freshness and herbal notes, which is quite surprising,” says Alexis. By using “old world” blends alongside new techniques they’re offering something very special and great value, he adds.
Sometimes there is not much difference in price between an average and a fantastic wine, which can make finding the great ones even harder, especially for someone unfamiliar with South African wines. Alexis explains that the key is to discover the best winemakers.
Here are his top three plus his “best value” South African wine:
Alexis’s favourite South African winemakers:
The Dewetshof Estate, Robertson – for its “buttery chardonnays”
Graceland Vineyards, Stellenbosch – for the shiraz and merlot, which have “strong spices and silky tannins”
De Trafford, Stellenbosch – for its merlot made in a “Pomerol style”
Alexis’s ‘best value’ South African option:
Merlot 2005 by De Trafford (£53.50 on the wine list at Skylon) “For me you can put it next to some of the best Pomerol which costs more in the region of £70 to £80.”
Discover these wines on the wine list at Skylon.
Alexis Meszoly comes from Chantilly near Paris and has worked as head sommelier at Quaglino’s and now Skylon.
Main photograph of South Africa's Western Cape, credit to Wines of South Africa.
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