In the late 70s, mired in political and geographic isolation thanks to the reigning apartheid government, I can remember my Dad venturing out to Stellenbosch on a Saturday morning and stocking up with cases of the likes of Delheim’s Vin Ordinaire. At a restaurant he would order Bellingham Johannisburger with the frozen fried fish on offer, and perhaps a Nederburg red with the ubiquitous steak and chips. Wine farms were few and wine lists were short.

My folks would serve these wines at dinner parties with the traditional roast and gravy and on Sundays we might have friends for a braai (barbecue) and in between dips in the pool they would sit in the back garden sipping Stein or Grand Cru with the mandatory braai fare of lamb chops (cutlets), boiled potatoes and the standard green salad. Ice cream and chocolate sauce was bound to follow.

Fast forward forty years, and my (now grown-up) friends and I are enjoying a much more diverse experience. While the mandatory braai and refreshing swim are still ‘de rigeur’, both the wine and the food are much improved and much more varied. 

Bubbly (not the carbonated kind) on arrival, or perhaps something interesting like Adi Badenhorst’s Caperitif makes a scintillating ice breaker. And while we still reach for the mainstay lamb chop, it is served marinated and with a raft of other meats and cooking methods from tandoori to pizza ovens; confit duck to pulled pork and the salads hail from across the globe with interesting and unpronounceable ingredients. All this can be achieved by the home cook armed with her internationally acclaimed but locally written recipe books and Youtube videos to rescue any threatening flop.

Similarly, when we go out to restaurants, we are spoilt for choice. From nose to tail dining to off the charts tapas or simply the best steak. Food is ‘out there’ but not impossible and wine pairings are considered and tantalising.

I bumped into The Test Kitchen’s sommelier Tanashe Nyamudoka the other day and asked him: Just how far have we come? Pondering the question for a few seconds he replied with the enigmatic: “We came, we went and then we came back again.”

Picture of Tinashe Nyamudoka

Mmmmm, what does that really mean? He wasn’t prepared to expand on that much, except when you look at his wine lists, they vary from traditional stalwarts to ground-breaking wines from the Young Guns made from cultivars new to this country.

The rise of the Sommelier has perhaps been the most exciting development on the South African wine scene. Gone are the days of short, boring wine lists offering the ‘same old, same old’ and in its place are wine pairing menus where each morsel of food meets its match with a wine that ventures into new and exciting territory, entertaining and challenging the diner to embrace so much more than a good plate of food and a decent glass of wine.

So I think what Tinashe meant was that we have been able to master the art of making excellent, international standard wines from traditional cultivars, but also, more recently, we are making a new standard for ourselves where we produce wines difficult to pigeonhole. Like Old Vines Chenin, to ground-breaking wines from newer cultivars such as Roussanne and Nero d’Avola, Tempranillo and Tannat, where there is no South African standard, but yet the wine holds its own and hits that sweet spot on a wine list aimed at stimulating the senses of a discerning and demanding diner.

-Julia Moore