Swartland, a rolling coastal valley north of Cape Town, was once famous for its vast swaths of renosterbos, or rhinoceros bush. After rain, the plant’s leaves look black; hence, in Afrikaans, het zwarte land, or "the black land." Today, grapevines draw more attention than renosterbos, as Swartland has risen to become South Africa’s most exciting new wine region. Two factors play into that: the area’s countless old vineyards, once used for nondescript blends, and a group of young, tremendously talented, visionary winemakers, most gathered under the Swartland Independent Producers rubric. Their focus is on grape varieties that have been planted in the region for decades, such as Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. Made with an eye toward expressing the character of the region, the wines can be remarkable: layered, complex reds and whites that are eye-opening for anyone used to more commercial wines out of South Africa.
Five Bottle to Seek Out
2015 Secateurs Chenin Blanc ($16)
Adi Badenhorst’s top wines are wonderful but pricey. His affordable Secateurs white comes primarily from the family estate as well, and has juicy peach flavors and stony mineral notes.
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2014 Fram Shiraz Swartland ($16)
Winemaker Thinus Krüger sources grapes from vineyards on the western slopes of the Paardeberg mountains for this mocha-scented, peppery Shiraz.
2014 Mullineux White ($30)
Chris and Andrea Mullineux helped found the Swartland Independent Producers group. Their savory white—a floral, old-vine Chenin Blanc blend—is a benchmark of the region.
2013 Rall Red ($42)
An up-and-comer, Donovan Rall makes only two wines, a red and a white, both from some of the oldest vineyards in the region. His inky, bacony red is a blend of 85 percent Syrah and 15 percent Grenache.
2014 Sadie Family Treinspoor ($60)
Tinta Barroca is a moderately obscure grape even in its homeland of Portugal; that there’s any growing in South Africa at all is truly strange. But winemaker Eben Sadie’s gift for finding extraordinary small vineyards in Swartland led him to this parcel of old vines. The result is an intense red wine full of wild cherry fruit.