Ex Africa semper aliquid novi. New things are always coming out of Africa, including new styles of wine from South Africa, even when their ‘newness’ is sparked by wines of times past.

There is much interest of late, among both local and international winelovers, in old, mainly red South African wines, from around the 1940s to 1970s; many have surprised and delighted those lucky enough to taste them. 

Old vines too have become a focus of attention; qualification for ‘old’ is 35 years, but some vines are well over 100 years old. Old vine enthusiast and viticulturist, Rosa Kruger, a major driver behind the Old Vine Project is active in seeking out and encouraging winemakers to help these ancients thrive.

Among them is Cinsaut, once the Cape’s most planted variety, neglected in recent years, but today finding a new lease on life. Fruit from two of the oldest Cinsaut vineyards, one 117 years old in Wellington, the other 91 in Franschhoek, has been sourced by Kruger for Chris and Andrea Mullineux, who have channeled it into the new, top-class blend, Leeu Passant Dry Red Wine, part of the flagship Leeu Passant range (separate from their Swartland, Mullineux wines) made with their business partner, Analjit Singh. 

Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc share the blend. The old Rustenberg Dry Red, a Cabernet/Cinsaut blend and Chateau Libertas provided inspiration. ‘We see it as a de-construction of the old and re-construction into something new,’ explain the Mullineux’s. Not only the blend is new, but vinifying Cinsaut as a serious red wine (who knew it could deliver such determined tannins!?) and harvesting Cabernet Franc much earlier to capture natural freshness and add a subtle perfume. On the whole, a beautiful new idea!

Lukas van Loggerenberg, who released his first, impressive range, earlier this year, also harvests his Cabernet Franc earlier, but by labeling it Breton, the local name for the variety in the Loire, it’s clear he has a very specific and different goal. Whole bunches undergo spontaneous fermentation, the wine then receiving the gentlest of treatment to avoid stemmy harshness; just one punch down a day – by his wife’s feet! The result is aromatic, bracing and bone-dry, yet hugely flavoursome; a wine that will benefit from ageing, as do its best Loire counterparts. An extraordinary new idea. 

The intrigue of new approaches to old wines and vines, especially Cinsaut and/or Cabernet Franc, was described by the Mullineux’s and van Loggerenberg among others at a recent tasting hosted by colleague, Tim James. Among them, Marc Kent with his classic, Bordeaux-style Boekenhoutskloof The Journeyman 2015 (90/10 Cabernet Franc/Merlot), a great wine from a great vintage and worth tracking down via Kent, and Chris Alheit’s brightly perfumed, invigorating Cabernet Sauvignon/Cinsaut 2014 (yet to be finally named), inspired by a Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1961; due for release in 2018 and another worth looking out for.

New ideas, spurred by old ideas, continue to flow from South African winemakers’ imagination and curiosity. Long may they continue to do so.

-Angela Lloyd