April brings warmer temperatures in Hong Kong and the opportunity to finally ditch the jumpers, bring out the shorts and also try new wines. It marks a month-long celebration of South African wines, with April etched in historical significance for Afrikaners. The first democratic non-racial elections were held in April 1994, giving rise to the incredibly diverse and dynamic wine industry we know today.
For those unacquainted with South African wines, here’s a quick primer to give a bit of context. Despite its location south of the equator, South Africa’s cooling influence of the Southern Ocean and strong south-easterly summer winds, plus prominent mountain ranges running through the wine regions, give it a dramatic range of different altitudes and soils, leading to varied site climates. The result is a landscape with an incredible diversity of wine styles, making it a continually exciting and dynamic region for everyone, from casual wine drinkers to more seasoned wine professionals.
The excitement was notable from the normally reserved distributors and importers at the recent Discover South Africa walk-around annual tasting event hosted at the Renaissance Hong Kong Harbour View Hotel in Wanchai, where trade and consumers had the opportunity to preview more than 140 wines from 20 exhibitors. Well versed in the typical Old World wines in demand in Hong Kong, distributors were, until recently, unaccustomed to the surge in popularity and interest in South African wines. The enthusiasm as they poured and offered insights on the terroir while sharing stories about up-and-coming winemakers making an impact on the region was infectious.
As South African wine month in Hong Kong heats up, here’s a brief round-up of new wines to try that we had the chance to taste at the event. It’s worth noting that this is by no means a comprehensive list given the number of wines that were exhibited at the tasting, but it should give a good starting point for this dynamic region that continues to evolve. In addition to including indigenous varieties like Pinotage and Chenin Blanc, the selection provides a fine representation of the diversity and quality of the wines in the region without breaking the bank.
Discover South Africa – tasting highlights:
- Mullineux Old Vines White 2016 – start your South African journey with a representation of the up-and-coming region of Swartland. This blended white made with majority old-vine Chenin Blanc and bits of other varieties including Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Clairette Blanche and Sémillon Gris is a nice balance of green citrus, mineral notes and hint of floral aromas. Still a bit tight and should be served chilled at 10–12°C. 94 points, Tim Atkin. HK$188, Berry Bros. & Rudd
- Ken Forrester Vineyards Reserve Chenin Blanc 2017 – as you move onto other whites, try a Chenin Blanc, a varietal native to South Africa. Golden, full-bodied with layered complexity, apple, mineral notes, baked fruits, vanilla and oak. Perfect now for the summer and a versatile white for heavier, spicy dishes. HK$155, Kerry Wines
- Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2016 – for those who prefer to battle the rising temperatures in Hong Kong with the crispness of Sauvignon Blanc, this one takes you to the upper foothills of the Constantiaberg with a cool climate, offering fresh acidity with grassy notes, lemon and lime, gooseberries, a medium body yet a clean finish. Nice change of pace and alternative to other New World Sauvignon Blancs and one that the wine critics liked for a very decently priced white wine. 90 points, Tim Atkin; 90 points, James Suckling; 90 points, Robert Parker. HK$140, Northeast Wines & Spirits
- Forrester Meinert Chenin (FMC) 2015 – beautiful Chenin Blanc that originated as the “Chenin project” between winemaker friends Ken Forrester and Martin Meinert. Using grapes harvested from old-bush vines, there’s some botrytis, giving a higher fruit concentration and musky notes, vanilla, honey and dried apricots. Worth the splurge or order if it’s on the wine list as it’s usually sold out. Pairs well not only with seafood but also spicier dishes. 94 points, Robert Parker. HK$508, Kerry Wines
- Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage Rosé 2017– just in time for summer and a fresh alternative to Rhone and Provençal rosés. Young, fresh berries, strawberries, a pleasant medium finish for a rosé and altogether very drinkable at this approachable price point. HK$90, Northeast Wines & Spirits
- Ken Forrester Vineyards Renegade 2013 – continue your journey onto reds and switch things up with this Old World style meets New World fruit Rhone blend of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Black fruits, earthiness and spice, with nicely integrated tannins for a wine at this price point. Good acidity and medium finish for a pleasant school-night wine that won’t break the bank. 90 points, James Suckling. HK$135, Kerry Wines
- Mullineux Syrah 2015 – continue on your adventure with a spicy, fruit-forward Syrah from Swartland. Offering an affordable alternative to wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pap, this Syrah offers fresh red berries, black fruits and violet aromas. Structured with a decent body and medium acidity, with a long, pleasing finish with tannins that don’t grip the tongue or necessarily need to be paired with food. Could use some more ageing, but a great school-night pizza wine for now and better when decanted. 93 points, Robert Parker. HK$305, Berry Bros. & Rudd
- Kanonkop Estate Wine Pinotage 2007 – another indigenous varietal to South Africa, Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. We like this one for its approachability – dry with a light hint of the typical Pinotage aroma, structured tannins, dark fruits, sweet, peppery, vanilla and oak aromas with floral notes. High acidity leaves you wanting more. Still needs some time for ageing, but a nice treat to bring to a dinner party to mix things up or a pleasant surprise for the table if you find it on the wine list. 91 points, Robert Parker; 90 points, Wine Spectator 2010; 90 points, Wine Enthusiast 2010. HK$380, Northeast Wines & Spirits
- Napier Red Medallion 2011 – interesting Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon blend, earthy, blackcurrants, decent balance and medium structure without being too tannic and good acidity. Wish the finish was longer, but a nice treat for a school-night red with chicken, pork or a heavier protein. 90 points, James Suckling. HK$228, Kerry Wines
- Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons Baron Edmond 2014 – continuing in the Old World style of Bordeaux and onto the Right Bank, if you’re in the mood for something more refined, you can’t go wrong with “Rothschild” on the label. A partnership between the Rupert family of South Africa (owners of luxury house Richemont) and the family of Château Lafite Rothschild fame, Rupert & Rothschild wines are a safe route when looking for New World alternatives without straying too far from Old World tastes. Try the Baron Edmond, an elegant blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This balanced, structured wine gives off notes of jammy dark cherries, strawberries and coffee, with a nice, lingering finish without the grippy tannins or big price tag. HK$368, Jebsen Fine Wines
Hong Kong will be celebrating the diversity of South African wines for the month of April. To create your own South African wine experience without travelling to Cape Town, click here for an exciting line-up of events and promotions around town.