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Focus on South Africa - Joanne Simon

Published:  18 January, 2007

After his somewhat overdue first visit to the Cape in March, Wine Spectator senior writer James Molesworth wrote that "Syrah has now taken the lead as South Africa's top varietals" - an opinion not shared by the judges at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, which took place last week and is arguably South Africa's most credible (that is, tough) wine competition.

It's not entirely surprising. As Jancis Robinson MW pointed out: "How can a third of South Africa's producers have access to Shiraz grown in the right conditions? Fashion or ambition has overtaken logic [resulting in] a lot of wasted effort and perhaps location."

Overall, it seems there is better site selection, vine age and greater confidence when it comes to white wines, which took 13 golds compared with eight for reds. "You have so many white wines with lots of personality and ageing potential, which so few other countries have outside Europe," said Robinson. "Don't overlook [this] in the constant challenge to get a modern red highlighted in Wine Spectator...".

Asked whether any discernible "South African-ness" has emerged, Steven Spurrier said: "There's a line of elegance that is quite remarkable. I could have thought myself judging European wines."

Robinson commented on "juiciness balanced by refreshing acidity", but Neil Beckett, perhaps worried that producers might now leap onto the freshness bandwagon, added: "Don't go over the top and add acidity if it isn't there in the vineyard."

Joanne Simon is a freelance wine writer based in Cape Town