If you aren’t a wine connoisseur, you may not know that South Africa is a major player in the global wine industry. As the ninth largest wine-producing country in the world, South Africa is responsible for exporting 450 million liters of wine per year. In 2013, the country produced 3.9 percent of the world’s wine, with Chenin Blanc, Merlot and Pinotage as its top varieties.
In South Africa, wine’s definition extends to more than the usual wine distinction. Brandy, as well as grape juice and grape juice concentrate, have become key building blocks of the industry. Since starting production in 1659, South Africa now has 3,323 grape producers in the country that operate 123,624 hectares of land that houses 341 million vines.
When choosing the country’s top wines, there are several ways to go. You can cite sales, liters exported or simply by enthusiasts’ opinions. To get non-connoisseurs off to a proper start, here are the five most popular wines according to the experts at Wine Enthusiast:
Mullineux 2013 Straw Wine Chenin Blanc (Swartland) — 95 points
40 miles north of Cape Town is where you will find the country’s top-rated wine according to the experts. This air dried Chenin Blanc is “well-balanced,” containing notes of honey-drizzled apricots, peaches and apples, as well as several other delectable hints. As a wine that can taste delicious now or age for another decade and still taste great, this should be good to drink anytime. As one of Swartland’s premiere grapes, this Chenin Blanc represents the region quite well. In fact, Wine Enthusiast listed Mullineux 2013 at number 76 on 2014’s top 100 list.
Klein Constantia 2007 Vin de Constance Muscat (Constantia) — 95 points
In production since 1685, Constantia is one of the country’s most well-known producers of top quality wine. Additionally, Constantia is the oldest uninterrupted wine producer in the southern hemisphere. This dessert wine represents the region incredibly well with an array of fresh flavors, including peaches, jasmine and honeysuckle. Varying flavors help provide a balance of sweet, refreshing variety. As is the case with Mullineux 2013, collectors can enjoy this bottle a decade or more later. Or, you could enjoy it today. Similarly to Mullineux 2013, once again, this wine made 2014’s top 100 list at number 99.
Warwick 2004 Estate Reserve (Trilogy) Red (Stellenbosch) — 95 points
While Stellenbosch is largely known for Cabernet Sauvignon, it is often mixed with Merlot to create Bordeaux blends like Warwick 2004 Estate Reserve. This hybrid is the “very best” of the region according to WE editors. Considered a stylish blend, this Bordeaux sets itself apart with rich fruit flavors and a great ability to age. It may be hard to wait, but a little patience will allow this incredible wine the time to air out and open up to peak deliciousness. Even as the first Bordeaux blend from the region, it has yet to be topped according to the experts.
Ernie Els 2003 Limited Release Red (Stellenbosch)
To the majority of the sporting world, the name Ernie Els is synonymous with multiple golf titles, including four major titles. However, “The Big Easy” is also known for operating one of the country’s most highly regarded wineries. With his namesake’s 2003 Limited Release Red, another Stellenbosch Bordeaux blend cracks the top five. Though it was unable to unseat the 2004 Estate Reserve to most critics, this mint and smooth fruit flavored wine is nothing to pass up. With great aging potential, you can store this away or take in now–maybe while supporting Ernie during his next PGA tour stop.
Louis Nel 2012 Cape Winemakers Guild Gonzo Cabernet Sauvignon (Stellenbosch)
Representing Stellenbosch’s prime variety, this is considered a “brooding wine” that should age well for up to another decade. With a mouth full of varying flavors ranging from fruit to cigar box, Louis Nel 2012 should take your taste buds on a journey. Experts advise us to give this one some time to come into its own. Unfortunately for the U.S., this red isn’t imported to you. With only 130 cases in production, it may be time for a trip to give this one a try in its homeland.