Discover South Africa’s Finest: The Ultimate Guide to Our Top Ten Wine Estates

By: Genevieve Mc Carthy / Last updated: December 7, 2023

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

South Africa is now an undisputed first-division wine-producing country. Years of hard work, investment, and diligence have left the country with an increasing number of superstar wineries producing world-class wines at prices to match! This explosion of high-quality wine has been partially led by a growing number of younger, dynamic winemakers who have worked more than one vintage abroad and returned home with their important know-how.

Like other New World regions, the current craze in South Africa is terroir and matching specific varieties to the right place. And like prestigious regions such as Napa and Sonoma, an elite class of wine estates have emerged as leaders and ambassadors for the country’s winemaking potential, centered around the western Cape’s focal point of quality wine product – Stellenbosch. Other areas in South Africa, like Paarl, Hermanus Bay, and Wellington, are producing good wines. Still, the country’s real pioneers and stars are mostly found in this stunningly beautiful region.

1. De Morgenzon

There can be no finer introduction to the Cape’s white wines than the powerful, structured, and age-worthy Reserve Chenin Blanc wines from the acclaimed Estate of De Morgenzon. Owners Hylton and Wendy Appelbaum purchased the farm in 2004 and continue raising the quality bar for their wines. Winemaker Carl van der Merwe crafts a Chenin like no other in the region – barrel-aged; it shows gorgeous tropical fruit notes, a rich palate, and a velvety texture balanced out by generous acidity. The high-altitude mountain vineyards contain some Shiraz, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and other varieties, although the show’s star continues to be the De Morgenzon Chenin. Hylton also takes the unusual but effective approach of playing baroque music to select plots of vines in his vineyards – which, he says, have rewarded them with perfect fruit. The farm welcomes visitors and has recently invested in a beautiful, renovated tasting room.


2. De Trafford

Today, David and Rita Trafford are Stellenbosch’s leading boutique growers with a highly respected international reputation for intense, elegant, and structured wines. Just 3,500 cases a year of stunning wines are released, produced from vineyards located between the Stellenbosch and Helderberg mountains. The first vineyards were planted in 1983, although it is only since 1991 that the wines have been released commercially. All De Trafford’s range of reds and whites impress, but the stars are undoubtedly the brilliant Bordeaux/Shiraz blend Elevation and their Chenin Blanc, which has a depth and intensity rarely found in Stellenbosch. This boutique wine farm has proven that Chenin Blanc, still the Cape’s most widely planted white variety, can reveal the special terroir of these ancient soils with razor-sharp focus. All the reds will benefit from cellaring and can easily be kept for at least ten years after release.


3. Hamilton Russell Vineyards

Does Hamilton Russel produce the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Cape? It’s hard to say for sure, but these Burgundian specialists at Hermanus certainly grow the two varieties to near perfection. They are a small and impressive producer of cool-climate, elegant wines in the beautiful expanse of Walker Bay. Current owner Anthony Hamilton Russel constantly pushes the boundaries for excellence and has experimented with alternative vessels for the wine’s maturation, including stoneware and terracotta amphoras. They also make a very good Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc, but the best wine is still the Chardonnay. It is a refined white with tropical notes, a real intensity, and a remarkable mineral undercurrent. A genuine piece of competition for Burgundy’s finest domaines at a much more reasonable price! Luxury South African wine!


4. Jordan Wine Estate

Gary and Kathy Jordan’s wines are hard to beat for quality, consistency, and value for money. The family has been producing top-flight wines in Stellenbosch for over 16 years, and their flagship Nine Yards Chardonnay has won critical and consumer acclaim globally. Their secret is simply using the finest quality fruit sourced from higher-altitude vineyards that benefit from the cooling Indian and Atlantic Ocean breezes. Their top red is the Bordeaux blend Cobblers Hill, which offers restrained, elegant, cool-climate mint and berry aromas supported by toasty, ripe fruit characteristics on the palate. The family also makes excellent varietal wines in the shape of Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a delectable late-harvest Riesling dessert wine. Visitors can also enjoy sumptuous cuisine at Jordan’s onsite restaurant, although reservations are advised.


5. Ken Forrester Wines

One of the region’s most fervent supporters of the stellar potential of Cape Chenin Blanc, restaurateur Ken Forrester’s winery homestead has a long history, dating back to the 17th century. However, this is a thoroughly modern approach, from the style of the wines to the 21st-century ethos of actively engaging with consumers and visitors. His three benchmark Chenin Blancs are the flagship wines, including the world-class FMC Chenin, resulting from collaboration with star winemaker Martin Meinert. At the foot of the breathtaking Helderberg range, the farm also produces a range of varietal reds – including Merlot and Shiraz – and a divine Rhone-style blend produced from old vine Grenache and Shiraz. Called ‘The Gypsy,’ it is an oak-aged beauty, displaying vanilla and toasty notes and a rich, spicy mouthful of dark cherry fruit. All the wines are good across the range, and Ken also runs a fantastic restaurant nearby.


6. Meerlust

Established as a Dutch homestead in 1693, this historic wine farm is located in a cooler part of the Stellenbosch zone. Today, It is renowned for its whites and reds’ finesse, longevity, and elegance. Their flagship Bordeaux blend, Rubicon, was one of the first to appear in the region and has become a worldwide sensation. Hannes Myburgh, the eighth-generation owner of this great wine property, owns the Estate. This is a sizable operation with over 400 ha of vineyards, including some promising Viognier in False Bay. But the stars are still the majestic reds: a supple, elegant Pinot Noir and exotic but structured Merlot are complemented by their stunning Bordeaux imitation, a wine of considerable depth and ‘breeding.’ Its rich, concentrated palate and mouthful of cedar and dark fruits are enough to convert any wine-lover to the awesome potential of cape reds.


7. Neil Ellis

A veteran winemaker in the Cape, Neil Ellis, is on a mission to craft the finest wines from cool-climate sites that truly express their terroirs. The property was founded in 1993 when Ellis joined forces with estate owner Hans Peter Schroder, and the duo have not looked back since. Seeking out optimum, cooler sites for their red and white varieties, the wines have become increasingly refined and complex since the partnership’s inception. All the wines shine, but the old bush-vine varietal Grenache is a true triumph, with a depth and complexity rarely seen in Cape Grenache. Their Shiraz and Pinot Noir are also some of the best examples emanating from the region, complemented by two superb whites – a classy, elegant Sauvignon Blanc and distinctly Burgundian Elgin Chardonnay—a trusted source of top-class cape wines.


8. Rustenberg

A prestigious family-owned winery near Stellenbosch, Rustenberg has invested heavily in recent years, overhauling the cellar and building a new, inviting tasting room. The farm has a long pedigree, established in 1683 as a Dutch homestead. The current owners are the Barlow family, with second-generation Simon Barlow steering the Estate toward ever-high quality since 1987. Their prize wines are the John X Merriman Bordeaux blend, a fleshy, supple Merlot-dominated wine, and the intense, structured, and refined Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Five Soldiers Chardonnay is a similar delight, a top-flight, age-worthy, and elegant example yet again proving the Stellenbosch can more than match the top white Burgundies today. The varietal Roussanne is also worth seeking out, as it brings new-world fruit and intensity – but also balance – to a Rhone classic.


9. Rust en Vrede

One of the oldest wine farms in the Cape region, Rust en Verde, was founded in 1694 and continues today as one of the Stellenbosch superstars of premium wine production. The Engelbrecht family took over in 1978 and has always focused solely on red wine production. These are unashamedly powerful, new-world ripe-style wines, with the concentrated, fleshy single vineyard Shiraz being the Estate’s blockbuster wine. The vineyards are located south of Stellenbosch against the spectacular backdrop of the Helderberg Mountains. Shiraz, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon are grown as varietals and blended to form the superstar, fleshy Estate red, which benefits from at least five years of cellaring on release—an impressive range of opulent cape reds.


10. Vergelegen

Arguably the Cape’s most famous and revered wine estate, Vergelegen has become famous for its intense, award-winning varietal Cabernet Sauvignon V. This historic wine farm dates back to 1700 and changed hands throughout the 20th century, with the Philips and Barlows families controlling its destiny until 1987. That year, Vergelegen was purchased by the company Anglo American Plc, which has continued the families’ hard work and kept the farm at the forefront of the region’s premier wineries.

The entire range impresses, although connoisseurs tend to gravitate toward the reserve Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blancs, both some of the best examples available in the Cape today. The Vergelegen Red is one of the best reds yet from the area, and the recent addition of a white Bordeaux blend has won pundits across the country. The top red V has taken South African winemaking to new heights and is very impressive—a wine that easily rivals the finest examples from Napa and Bordeaux.



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Genevieve Mc Carthy

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18 thoughts on “Discover South Africa’s Finest: The Ultimate Guide to Our Top Ten Wine Estates

Vlok Hanekomsays:

April 3, 2021 at 11:18 am

I think there should be a better criteria and wine cellars can basically test themselves. Maybe something like the wines score 50% of the marks, then view/scenery, then food/ restaurant then something like child friendly staff knowledge, tastings etc. Maybe build a list of criteria rather then shooting with a shotgun. Then we as readers can also learn how the selection took place. Places like Tokara, Delaire, De Grendel, Groot Constantia surely deserve a spot in the top 10.

Mike from Vin-Estsays:

July 8, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Great list, my own favourite South African Chenin Blanc right now is Beaumont Hope Marguerite 2012 from Bot Valley. A wonderful, wonderful wine.


April 11, 2014 at 10:16 am

Hi Susan, we would highly recommend this agency for touring in the wine country near Capetown- Vineyard Ventures P.O.Box 554, Sea Point, 8060 Contact person: Mrs.Glen Christie Tel: + 27 21 434 8888 Fax: 086 579 9430 Cell: 082 920 2825 [email protected]


April 10, 2014 at 10:40 pm

We will be in Capetown this July and would like to go on a full- day wine tour. Can you recommend any?

Eilis of Kinnegar Winessays:

December 23, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Agree with Daren Brogden. So many great wines made in the Stellenbosch area - David Trafford's wines are indeed exceptional & Thelema has been and still is a great flag bearer for the wines of Stellenbosch & the Cape in general. However, the Swartland is hugely exciting now and is the real buzz word in SA wine talk with so much young blood, energy, passion with stunning wines to show for it. Winemakers like Eben Sadie, Chris & Andrea Mullineux, Adi Badenhorst, the list goes on. Cooler Elgin is also making world class wines not to mention David Trafford's new venture over at the mouth of the Breede River Valley making Sijnn wines at Malagas.

Chris Reboksays:

November 5, 2013 at 11:47 am

There are too many great wine estates in South Africa to make a top ten list, it always depends on what your are looking for. The best wines, great architecture, amazing views or the best wine and dine experience? If you plan a trip through the Winelands of South Africa ask someone who knows them all. But these are the personal TOP TEN of, good choice but not mine ;-)


November 2, 2013 at 3:30 am

Yes great idea Gen, I'm looking forward to the list of 50 wineries! Like the others said, sadie's family makes really a wow wines and I think Warwick as well to be included... Good luck :)

Lee Buitendagsays:

November 2, 2013 at 12:02 am

Well done Ken Forrester - the wines are incredible and the estate is just beautiful , the picture shown is testimony to that !!

susan holadaysays:

November 1, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I'm fond of the Pinotage from Doolhof and from Nederburg


October 31, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Thank you all for reading our blog and for all of your helpful comments! It is indeed hard to pick only 10 wineries in a country with so many great wine regions and fabulous wineries! We should have made a top 50 fave wineries post! In fact we love and recommend your wines at La Motte as well as Waterford (sorry, more Stellenbosch!), Spice Route, Painted Wolf Wines, Kanonkop, De Toren, Lammershoek and to name but a few more gems....what other fantastic wineries do you all recommend for our viewers?

Hein Koegelenbergsays:

October 28, 2013 at 8:57 am

It is misleading to talk about the best estates in Stellenbosch, and then call it best in South Africa.

Hein Koegelenbergsays:

October 28, 2013 at 1:47 am

What about the Best of wine tourism list from the Great Wine Capitals of the World? You have listed just Stellenboch wineries and Hammilton Russell. Surely you focus your tour business on Stellenbosch only .

Cathy White.says:

October 27, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Good choosing agreed on that but I can think of a totally different Top Ten without blinking an eyelid! Some are legends it's true but think you've missed some of the best.


October 27, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Clearly writer is yet to see other amazing cellars in the Durbanville area, Swartland, Bonnievale, Robertson and, and........ Leave the main roads and discover jewels - not because of their huge marketing budgets but because they have wines of unbelievable quality and atmospheres and service that make any visitor feeling special!


October 27, 2013 at 3:13 pm

I agree, great estates, however you left out the Robertson Wine Valley! My favourites there would be De Wetshof, for their amazing wines; Van Loveren - great wine tastings; Viljoensdrift - boat on the river; Rietvallei - LOVE their Muscadel & Springfield - once again amazing wines!


October 27, 2013 at 3:03 pm

And what about Franschhoek? Two of the (VERY) best wineries of the Cape are located there. Boekenhoutskloof and Chamonix (the last one is the first with 4 times 5-star (dry) wines in de the Platter's guide ever! And awarded as Winery of the Year). And if the choice is only based on quality, Eben Sadie is the star! For me the most amazing winemaker of the Cape! This list can be better!


October 22, 2013 at 10:37 am

Good point, Darren! What wine estates do you love in the Swartland?

Darren Brogdensays:

October 22, 2013 at 10:35 am

Some great estates yes, but a top ten of South African wines and no mention of the Swartland.......

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