Naudé Wines of the Western Cape

My village wine club recently invited me to their annual ‘best supermarket wine’ blind tasting. It’s a successful club with 80 members, but in truth is much more a social club than serious wine club. Few members would class themselves as ‘experts’.

We tasted a dozen wines and I quickly homed-in on my ‘wine of the night’. At the end of the evening the result of our votes for best to worst wines was announced. My #1 turned out to be a Marlborough Pinot Noir, but when the voting from all attendees was totted up it was bottom of the pile: in last place out of 12 wines.

When I talked to people afterwards, it was the pale colour that put them off initially, then the aromas and flavours which many classed as under-powered or ‘watery’. It was certainly very different to the night’s winning wine: an Argentinian Malbec.

I was asked to say a few words. I explained that the Pinot was supposed to be that colour, and the fruit was supposed to be delicate, like rose-hip and cherry. I am not sure how many were convinced, but I hope I made at least some reconsider that a deep colour, high alcohol and rich, jammy fruit is not necessary to make a great wine.

Naudé Family Wines

Photo of Ian Naude in vineyardWhat does this have to do with South African winemaker Ian Naudé? Well, his wines walk a very distinctive line that my fellow wine club tasters above may well have dismissed.

His is a singular style: low alcohol, with minimum extraction but maximum intensity. Reds are pale, almost deep rosé; whites are taut, un-showy and mineral. Alcohol ranges from just 11% to 12% by volume.

These are ‘natural wines’ without the baggage that term attracts. They are delicious, but arguably need to be understood before they can be fully appreciated.

The Story so Far

Ian trotted the globe as an apprentice winemaker, alternating harvests in the northern hemispheres and South Africa. Thirty years of experience are distilled into his own label, Naudé Family Wines. These are wines that are all about the vineyard, not so much about the winemaking. To that end he buys fruit from vineyards across the Western Cape, much of it certified as Old Vine, so the vineyard at least 35-years old.

Ian often works with Old Vine guru, Rosa Kruger, and for him it is fruit quality that drives the wines, which are painted in subtle shades. As he himself says: “The grapes on these vines are storied, complex and unique. Each year they represent something different – whatever nature allows them – and with any luck, I don’t get in the way.”


His modesty does not disguise the fact that it takes a singular vision to make wines such as these, that might confuse the average wine-drinking Joe or Joanna. I last met Ian in Stellenbosch in 2019, when I wrote: “I loved the finesse and delicacy, the freshness and luminosity,” of the wines. Indeed ‘luminous’ is such an apt description. Mr Naudé is always restlessly looking for new sources of the best fruit, so his portfolio is something of a moveable feast. But taste any one of the wines and you begin to understand what drives the whole philosophy. It was great to catch up with these six wines.

White Wines

(2024) It's fair to say that Colombard is not the world's sexiest grape. A staple of Armagnac and Cognac production, but rarely seen as 'fine wine', Ian found a 1983 vineyard planted on sand, in the far north of coastal Swartland and has treated it with the care afforded all of his wines. It opens with a delightful peach and Ogen melon suggestion of fruitiness, even hints at lychee and mango, but there's a leesy element and layer of saline that keeps that in check. The palate has real texture given the 11% alcohol, an orange undertow of acidity supporting those creamier, fruity characters. Delightful.
(2024) This wine, as much as any other in the Naudé portfolio, struck me as the essence of 'natural' Chenin, with neither the flinty reductive quality of some hip examples, nor the enhanced fruitiness of more commercial bottlings. Fruit comes from vineyards in Swartland, Durbanville and Stellenbosch, fermented naturally in oak and aged six months. It's a wine with an unforced concentration, only 11.5% alcohol, but the dry, savoury precision of the 50-year-old vineyard fruit, like yellow plum and greengage, just teasing at something more luscious. It is textured, but sharpened by a fine acidity.
(2024) From West Coast vineyards way up in the north of Swartland, Chenin Blanc is 83% of the blend along with Colombard. It does not see oak, but was left on the lees "for as long as possible," according to Ian. The nose has a mealy, slightly almondy character, balanced against delicate lime and blossom and a hint of leafy dill. In the mouth it is fresh and saline, again lime and crunchy yellow apple, hinting at fuller peach but always stopping just short of anything too obvious. Long, focused, the natural feel of the wine yielding to fresh acidity in the finish, even a hint of delicate spice.

Red Wines

(2024) Last time I tasted this wine was the 2014 vintage and indeed, the wine was not made again until the 2019 vintage when Ian could once again access the fruit. Pale in colour and featherweight with 11% alcohol, there's a definite rose-hip and redcurrant lightness to the aromas and on the palate. A little creamy and vanilla nuance from old barrel ageing is way in the background. Firm, small and savoury red fruits with a herbal nuance on the palate dominate in this savoury, dry and light wine with very fine tannins and sour cherry acidity to balance.
(2024) This gossamer-light, 12.5% alcohol Cinsault comes from a 1968 vineyard in Darling. It is a superb example of balanced, delicate wine-making but never at the expense of aroma, flavour or complexity. Pale garnet edging toward tawny in colour, it is so aromatic: florals are the top notes, violet, old rose, almost patchouli-like for a fleeting moment, then a core of crushed mineral salts, cherry and rose-hip and a fine dusting of cedar aided by 12 months in older oak complete the compelling picture. The palate is dry and savoury, all of that aromatic lift translating to fresh, mouth-watering lightness on the palate where the red fruits mix with stony, mineral characters from the acidity and very fine, lightly sandy tannins. The finish is long, with a little spice and truffle character, in a fabulous wine that might well cellar in the style of a serious red Burgundy.
(2024) Ian Naude named this wine after his grandfather and references Cape wines of the 50s and 60s as its inspiration, 82% Cinsault being blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and a little Cabernet Franc. Having been lucky enough to taste such old wines, largely thanks to Michael Fridjohn, I get it immediately. Fruit comes from a 1968 vineyard in Darling and it is aged in older French oak barrels. It's a dry, cranberry, herb and rose-hip scented wine of light colour and low alcohol. And yet the palate has such intense, inherent sweetness of cranberry and redcurrant, with some of the tartness of those berries and a background of warming clove spice. I have absolutely no doubt that this ultimately delicious wine will age well for decades.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *