South Africa’s Cape Winelands will be hard to beat in 2019 – Alistair Gibson 

Iona Sauvignon Blanc, Elgin, South Africa.
Iona Sauvignon Blanc, Elgin, South Africa.

I am never sure at the start of a new year whether you should be looking backward or forward. The end of December saw numerous best-of lists and I have been thinking about my wine adventures over the past 12 months. 

So, before I look ahead to 2019 next week, here are some highlights from 2018. 

In my job I get the opportunity to travel, meet many interesting people and taste some pretty amazing wines. Last year was no exception.

I spent some time in the Cape Winelands in March, a wine region I have visited often and there is little doubt that South Africa is one of the most exciting and most dynamic wine regions in the world right now.

However, while I was there the region was in the middle of a terrible drought, with many vineyards bearing the brunt of water rationing measures.

It was a reminder that growing grapes and making wine is in essence farming, and like other strands of agriculture it is subject to the vagaries of the weather, with global warming being much debated. And here it was in stark reality. 

The winter brought much needed rain and the Cape’s dams are now much healthier but there is no doubt the drought will raise bulk wine prices and many lessons have been learned.

If I had to pick one wine from that trip it would be Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Elgin (Hermitage Cellars £10.99, Bush Vines £10.99), tasted from a barrel in the cellar with owner Andrew Gunn.

My middle son James and his fiancée Naomi accompanied me on this visit, they fell in love with the farm and will be serving this wine at their wedding reception this year. Happy memories indeed.

Somewhat ironically my next trip took me to Provence in early June and I was greeted by overcast skies and vineyard owners showing some concerns over the unseasonal spring and early summer rain.

Provence rosé is currently one of the world’s most fashionable wine styles. But on this trip I tasted some really interesting Provence reds and whites that get lost in the ‘pale pink haze’ that covers the region in most people’s eyes.

Of the numerous London tastings I attended, a couple of winemakers really stand-out.José Zuccardi, from Argentinian producer Familia Zuccardi presented a range of the family’s wines as well as launching a new wine, José Zuccardi Malbec.

The wine was named after him by his son, Sebastien Zuccardi, one of South America’s most respected winemakers.

What particularly came across – not just in this wine but the entire range – were wines that show elegance and great purity of fruit, wines that are made with real thought to the vineyards where the grapes were grown, much of which to my mind is missing from the chunky, over-ripe and over-alcoholic malbecs that populate the supermarket shelves.

Lastly, it’s not often a winemaker shows every vintage that’s ever been produced of one wine, but that’s exactly what Chris Alheit of Alheit Vineyards did in July this year.

The wine, called Cartology, is based on old vine chenin blanc, and was first produced with the 2011 vintage.

It would be easy to argue this wine was the catalyst for the new Cape wine renaissance and it was a real pleasure to spend a morning with Chris who is, without question, one of  my wine heroes.

Here’s to a wonderful 2019 for you all.