My New Year’s resolution? To sip and celebrate more incredible South African wine

January 1 arrives with good intent: we’re all taking up pilates, embracing veganism, and saving rainforests. And occasionally, one of those resolutions will limp through to February, before the reality of life takes over, and the yoga mat, gym contract and organic lentil diet go out the window. So I’m going with some more manageable resolutions in 2020 - and unsurprisingly, they’re all around wine…


To the sounds of Queen’s ‘I Want To Break Free’, this is the year of casting off the shackles of your standard varietal and trying the new, the different, the exotic. Strictly Sauvignon? Give some Semillon a run (Shannon Wine Estate make an excellent example). All about Cabernet Sauvignon? Try some Cabernet Franc. (The 2013 Anthonij Rupert was one of my favourite wines of 2013, and Holden Manz make a cracker.) Something very different? Spanish grape Albariño is a beautifully crisp, dry white, brought to life delightfully by Newton Johnson, while Lozarn gives South Africa a taste of Chile with a lovely (and very unusual) Carmènere.

ALSO READ: A new grape varietal for SA - and you should probably know about it if you drink wine


We have some heavyweight names in local wine that do the industry proud - but also plenty of smaller producers that add a rich dimension to the South African wine industry. Don’t dismiss your favourites, but complement them with some of the smaller guys, and explore what they have to offer.

Examples? Keermont are making some of the best wine in Stellenbosch, Sumaridge offers a Hemel-en-Aarde treat (the 2014 Chardonnay was another of my favourites from 2019), and Almernkerk’s resident Belgians have fine Chardonnays and Syrahs. 


It’s easy to get swept up by a particular stretch of the wine world, and stick to it - they all have their charms, with favoured wines. But in 2020, mix it up a little. Only drink Stellenbosch reds? Try some of the bigger numbers from Robertson (Rietvallei’s JMB Cabernet Franc is a great start). Obsessed with Hemel-en-Aarde pinot noir? Give some lighter Swartland reds a run - Marras Piekenierskloof Cinsaut is an inexpensive start. Love Elgin Chardonnay? Try out some Breedekloof Chenin Blanc, from estates like Merwida, Opstal or Stofberg.


Linefish with white wine, steak with a Bordeaux blend: there are simple rules to wine pairing that have become a little too hard and fast. Yes, there’s a reason for them, and a piece of kingklip in lemon butter probably won’t suit a big Shiraz. But playing around with combinations can throw up some unexpectedly good matches. From Pinot Noir with seared tuna, to Chenin Blanc with chicken curry, there’s much to experiment with. My favourite combination of 2019? The frivolously festive pairing of 2013 Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs… with Flings.


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I love the setting of Mendoza beneath the Andes. Waiheke Island off Auckland is great fun to visit. The Napa Valley has some terrific vineyards with wine to match. But of all the wine travelling I’ve done, South Africa’s wine routes top the list for complete appeal.

From the regal splendour of Stellenbosch, to the French Huguenot appeal of Franschhoek, to the space and tranquility of Robertson, there’s a comprehensive array of wine areas that offer rich reward to the visitor. Top of my list for 2020? Some time in the Swartland, my annual wine safari along the route of the Cape Epic, and the Nederburg Harvest Festival in February.


Find a new wine? Tell people about it. Visit a fantastic estate? Let your friends know. Visiting friends abroad? Take a couple of bottles of South African wine with you. Discover a restaurant with exceptional food and wine? Put social media to good use. The wine industry in South Africa did us proud once again in 2019 - but the potential to be even bigger and better in 2020 is immense, and we can all contribute to delivering on that potential. So drink, support and celebrate South African wine - there’s a New Year’s resolution worth making.

WHAT I’M DRINKING THIS WEEK: A bittersweet bottle. The destruction by fire of most of Samantha O’Keefe’s Lismore Estate in Greyton was heartbreaking - having been through so much to create a wine brand from nothing, the Californian now has so much to rebuild. But Sam has proven herself a tough character, and with her wine now exported around the world - and with over R500 000 in crowdfunding raised to get her back on her feet, and the industry offering heartwarming support - Lismore Estate is far from finished. And as a wonderfully aged 2012 chardonnay illustrated this week, the Samantha O’Keefe is making wine that’s just too good to lose.

Want to see what else Dan Nicholl has been drinking? Watch his latest episode of Dan Really Likes Wine!