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7 of the Best White Wines From South Africa (That Aren’t Chenin Blanc)

While Chenin Blanc is considered South Africa’s signature white wine (as I pointed out in my last column), the country’s less heralded Sauvignon Blancs may be South Africa’s key to greater recognition and prominence in the wine world.

I suggest this for two reasons: The world knows and loves Sauvignon Blanc, so there’s nothing particularly exotic about the variety to wine drinkers; not much of a learning curve to appreciate the grape. Just as importantly, South Africa is producing some damn good Sauvignon Blancs, at exceptional prices, as I found in my recent tastings of the wines.

South Africa, I am sure, would like a little of wine lovers’ long infatuation with New Zealand’s Sauvignons to rub off. In fact, one producer seems to be gunning for that right on its front label, proclaiming that its Sauvignon has “gooseberry flavours & chalky minerality.”

The gooseberry tasting note, of course, is almost a New Zealand Sauvignon cliché. And while this wine does have the tart, citrusy flavor of the fruit that few people have ever eaten — “Who even knows what a gooseberry tastes like?” as someone I know put it. Beyond New Zealand, maybe this producer is trying to invoke the mineral-driven wines of the Loire Valley as well. Sorry. Still, at a mere $9, the wine delivers, and you can read about it below.

To say that gooseberry dominates South African Sauvignons would be a vast overstatement. In fact, what I like about the wines is that they don’t seem to have one defining characteristic; they show a variety of flavors, with each somewhat different from the next. But all are refreshing, mostly unoaked, interesting, and easy to drink.

One of the best is from the Aslina label of Ntsiki Biyela, a pioneering figure in post-apartheid South Africa who became the country’s first Black winemaker. I first met Biyela — and tasted her wines — on a visit to South Africa’s winelands in 2016, the year she established her Aslina label. As I wrote back then, her journey into wine is fascinating, and in the years since her wines have only gotten better.

Here are five South African Sauvignon Blancs, plus a couple of other white wines, worth trying:

Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2023

From the coastal Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and Walker Bay appellations, this delightfully fresh Sauvignon is citrus-dominated and shows grapefruit and lime flavors, herbs, and a candied orange note on the finish. With piercing acidity, it nonetheless finishes with a soft landing, thanks to a hint of cream (a small percentage of the wine is fermented in neutral oak barrels). The winery is named after the Southern Right whales that are common in the ocean. Southern Right is a sister property of and adjacent to the famed Hamilton Russell Vineyards.

Price: $15
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Savage Salt River Sauvignon Blanc 2022

From Stellenbosch, this wine is at once subtle but full of character, with green apple and herb notes along with hints of nutmeg and eucalyptus. Fermented in stainless-steel tanks, concrete eggs, and old barrels, it spends four months on the lees before being bottled. Named after the Salt River area of Cape Town, owner Duncan Savage sources grapes from throughout the Western Cape.

Price: $16
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Aslina Sauvignon Blanc 2022

Crisp and delicious with stone and tropical fruit notes, grapefruit pith, and a layer of cream. The wine was aged on the lees for four months. This is an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc from the Western Cape and Ntsiki Biyela, who named her label Aslina after her grandmother, a guiding force in her life growing up in Zululand in eastern South Africa.

Price: $19
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Neil Ellis Sauvignon Blanc 2022

There’s unusual elegance and complexity in this wine from the Cape West Coast appellation. It’s got typical Sauvignon grassiness that underlies the green apple, melon, and white grapefruit flavors. There’s a salty mineral note and a hint of black licorice on the long finish. The wine has a rich mouthfeel. Stylistically, I think of it as New Zealand meets Sancerre.

Price: $18
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KWV Sauvignon Blanc 2022

The powerful KWV brand, which stands for “Co-operative Winemakers Union of South Africa,” was founded as a wine co-op more than a century ago and became a private company in 1997. It churned out oceans of cheap wine and still offers value bottlings like this one from the Western Cape, which is marked by those gooseberry notes I mentioned above, along with lime and a creamy end note that softens the finish. If you like New Zealand Sauvignon, this is a worthwhile alternative at a bargain price.

Price: $9
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Aslina Chardonnay 2022

Another winning wine from Ntsiki Biyela, this is a well-balanced Chardonnay with green apple and citrus flavors, a hint of green olive, and touch of cream on the finish from partial aging in oak barrels.

Price: $22
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Bosman Family Vineyards ‘Fides’ Skin Contact Grenache Blanc 2020

From the Wellington appellation of the Western Cape, this wonderful “orange” wine has a good deal of tannic grip from extended skin contact. Butterscotch in color with flavors of golden delicious apple, tropical fruit, and subtle strawberry, there’s also a touch of honey and a mineral note. Lees and partial barrel aging provide a hint of vanilla.

Price: $27
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Next up: Cooler-climate American Syrahs

The article 7 of the Best White Wines From South Africa (That Aren’t Chenin Blanc) appeared first on VinePair.

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