With a rich winemaking history that dates back to the 17th century, it\u2019s easy to wonder why the oft-labeled \u201cNew World\u201d wine regions of South Africa don\u2019t have more of an \u201cOld World\u201d reputation. Despite its past, many consider the country to be relatively new to the vinicultural scene, especially when it comes to the ability to produce high-quality wines of distinction.\r\n\r\nThere are many potential reasons for such a disconnect, from phylloxera to apartheid to government intervention. However, recent years have brought a renewed interest to the country\u2019s wines, shining due light on their immense potential and merit.\r\n\r\nIncreasingly well-received bottlings, trendy tasting events and a wave of globetrotting young winemakers who share stories about the country\u2019s wine regions have all advanced South Africa\u2019s prominence and prestige.\r\n\r\nThese factors, coupled with a fantastic 2015 vintage, have created a flood tide powerful enough to finally crash on our shore, ready to break existing expectations and create a new, well-earned reputation for South African wine as a serious contender on the world stage.\r\n\r\nOffering extremely high-quality bottlings of prowess, complexity and longevity that represent tremendous value, now is the time to enlighten yourself and invest in the wines of South Africa.\r\n\r\n\r\nWhite Wines\u00a0\r\n\u00a0Storm 2015 Vrede Chardonnay (Hemel en Aarde); $55, 93 points.\u00a0\r\n\u00a0Keermont 2015 Terrasse (Stellenbosch); $27, 93 points.\u00a0Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\u00a0\u00a0L\u2019Avenir 2015 Single Block 30 Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch); $45, 92 points.\r\n\u00a0The Foundry 2015 Grenache Blanc (Stellenbosch); $26, 91 points.\r\n\u00a0The Blacksmith 2015 Vin Blanc Chenin Blanc (Swartland); $30, 92 points. Editors' Choice.\r\n\u00a0Rustenberg 2015 Five Soldiers Chardonnay (Simonsberg-Stellenbosch); $50, 92 points.\r\n\r\nA Five-Star Vintage for South African Wine\r\nThere\u2019s nothing like an exceptional vintage to bolster a winegrowing country\u2019s reputation and highlight its potential. South Africa has experienced a couple of these over the past decade.\r\n\r\nThe 2009 vintage was widely considered one of the best in South Africa\u2019s history, and its wines have easily stood the test of time. In many cases, though mature and beyond primary in character, they continue to age gracefully, especially cool-climate white wines, structured Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux-style blends.\r\n\r\nBut that was nearly a decade ago. Much has changed for the South African wine industry, from vineyard management to winemaking techniques and technological advances. Growers and winemakers better understand their vineyard sites and the potential challenges faced within certain terroirs or appellations.\r\n\r\n\u201cI think we understand the effect of the weather and climatic conditions now better than in 2009,\u201d says Rosa Kruger, a vineyard manager who works across a range of appellations with clients like Reyneke Wines, Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons and Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines. \u201cI see more farmers using methods to increase soil health and increase water holding capacity in the soils during the last three years.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhat followed 2009 was a string of solid, though not ideal, vintages. Then along came 2015. Right off the bat, the vintage was regaled. It\u2019s considered one of the best, if not the greatest-ever vintage for South African wine, earning a rating of 95 points on the Wine Enthusiast vintage chart, the highest rating a South African vintage has received to date.\r\n\r\n\u201cSouth Africa as a wine-producing country has evolved and grown immensely, in talent, technique, variety and experience,\u201d says Charles Williams, winemaker at De Toren Private Cellar in Stellenbosch, who has worked at the winery since 2008. \u201cTo me, the 2015 vintage is the perfect culmination of all that.\u201d\r\n\r\nTastings and reviews of 2015 releases corroborate that sentiment. They offer the most exceptional quality, purity and vivid expressions of grape and terroir that I have tasted across the board in any given year from the country.\r\n\r\n\r\nRed Wines\r\nSavage 2015 The Girl Next Door Syrah (Cape Peninsula); $63, 93 points.\r\nMvemve Raats 2015 MR de Compostella (Stellenbosch); $85, 95 points Cellar Selection.\r\nDavid & Nadia 2015 Pinotage (Swartland); $30, 92 points. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\nA.A. Badenhorst Family Wines 2015 Raaigras Grenache (Swartland); $53, 91 points.\r\n\u00a0Stark-Cond\u00e9 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Stellenbosch); $27, 91 points.\r\n\u00a0Eikendal 2015 Pinotage (Stellenbosch); $20, 91 points. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nThe Magic of 2015\r\nThere are many factors that made 2015 such a majestic vintage. It saw generally mild daytime temperatures and cooler evenings, which is key for slow and even ripening of the grapes. It also benefited from consistent winds during the growing season, without any blistering or overly forceful influences to damage the vines.\r\n\r\n\u201cWind is a misunderstood factor in many winegrowing areas,\u201d says Bruce Jack, winemaker and owner of The Drift Farm, Bonfire Hill and a new namesake brand to be launched this spring. \u201cIn South Africa, it is the main co-conspirator with the mountains to screw with one\u2019s generalizations about a vintage. South Africa is easily the windiest winegrowing country in the world, both in terms of average wind speed and volume of wind.\r\n\r\n\u201cVines spend 50% of their energy growing skyward. Even with trellis frames to support this ambition, a vine which is continually pounded by the wind turns from vegetative focus into fruit ripening as soon and as decisively as possible. This is one of the reasons South African vineyards produce such nicely concentrated, chemically balanced grapes at lowish sugars.\u201d\r\n\r\nAnother factor for the vintage\u2019s success was ample water reserves, or the soil\u2019s readily available water (RAW) levels. These stores from previous years kept the vines healthy, despite 2015 being one of the driest vintages in recent years. (Ultimately, that dryness would be trumped by the 2016 and 2017 vintages.)\r\n\r\n\u201cThe 2015 vintage was one of, if not the best, vintages from a viticultural point of view I have ever seen,\u201d says Kruger. \u201cMany winemakers started picking earlier in 2015, as compared to 2009. That helped a lot with freshness and expression of terroir in the wines.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhile it\u2019s difficult to generalize vintage assessments for a country with wine-growing regions across a variety of climates and soil types, 2015 was unique in that it was one of the most consistent and high-performing vintages for South Africa across nearly all registered appellations (called WOs, or Wine of Origin) and varieties.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201c[It] was an unusual year, not just because it was a seminal quality vintage in Stellenbosch, but because it was good in many subregions, from the Swartland to the Overberg Highlands,\u201d says Jack. \u201cOn our estate, we achieved tannin ripeness at low sugar levels, which equated to naturally high acids, and low malic-acid levels. This allowed us to pick when fruit was really vibrant.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cEven in great vintages\u2026we\u2019ll do some fruit sorting, if necessary,\u201d says Chris\r\n\r\nAlheit, winemaker and co-owner of Alheit Vineyards, along with his wife, Suzaan, also a winemaker. \u201cIn 2015, we did virtually none. The grapes were really pristine.\u00a0I would say that all the districts that we work with, namely Citrusdal Mountain, Swartland, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and the Overberg, all had very good vintages in 2015.\u201d\r\n\r\nMany 2015s show masterful balance and elegance, with ideal interplay between ripe fruit characteristics, good natural acidity, pleasant textures and ample structure across both white and red wines. This harmony results in wines that are easy to appreciate in their youth, while simultaneously having the elements required for positive medium- to long-term aging, capable of evolving further into more complex, layered wines of finesse and character.\r\n\r\nView more ratings for 2015 South African wines.\r\n\r\nOne wildcard for the 2015 vintage was timing the harvest, which some winemakers struggled to properly gage. Though the growing season was largely consistent and even-keeled, warm weather during August (late winter in the Southern Hemisphere) resulted in earlier bud break. That was followed by more warm, dry and moderately windy conditions through the summer, which ultimately accelerated ripening by about two weeks for most winegrowers.\r\n\r\n\u201c[The 2015 harvest] caught most people by surprise by being the earliest vintage in decades,\u201d says Alheit. \u201cEarly ripening and moderate temperature meant quite good acidity at full ripeness in the white wines. If anything negative can be said, it\u2019s that some folks were caught off guard and ended up picking a bit later than they should have, resulting in quite rich wines. However, most of these are still very impressive and not really overripe\u2026many of the good white wines show great natural concentration, while the reds I\u2019ve tasted are structured and serious.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cThe 2015 vintage has all the trademarks of a classic wine,\u201d says Williams. \u201cIt is expressive, yet restrained. It has power, yet complete elegance and sophistication. It showcases the vintage and place, and has vibrancy that will transport the wine over many more years to come. The 2015 vintage will reaffirm and cement South Africa\u2019s position as one of the world\u2019s most exciting wine-producing countries.\u201d\u00a0\r\n\r\n\r\nMore Red and White Wines\r\nDe Toren 2015 Book 17 XVII (Stellenbosch); $330, 96 points. Cellar Selection.\r\nMullineux 2015 Schist Roundstone Syrah (Swartland); $140, 94 points.\r\nAlheit 2015 Radio Lazarus Chenin Blanc (Stellenbosch); $100, 93 points. Cellar Selection.\r\nPaserene 2015 Chardonnay (Elgin); $30, 92 points.\u00a0Editors' Choice.\r\nThe Drift 2015 There Are Still Mysteries Pinot Noir (Overberg); $75, 92 points.\r\n\r\nMoving Forward\r\nIt\u2019s clear that 2015 is a vintage to buy without hesitation. While white wines have begun the transition to the 2016s at retail, you can still find some top 2015 bottlings, like those from Alheit Vineyards, Mullineux and Paserene. The red wines are widely available, with some just starting to hit the shelves. Stocking up to enjoy now or to cellar for later shouldn\u2019t be an issue.\r\n\r\n\u201cIf well-stored, they\u2019ll be drinking very well within about four\u00a0years\u00a0after vintage,\u201d says Alheit.\u00a0\u201cI think that 2015, 2016 and 2017 will easily last for 15\u201320 years or more before they begin to fade.\u201d\r\n\r\nBut where do we go from here? Should South Africa fade out of mind once the 2015s are gone?\r\n\r\nAbsolutely not. Despite warm and very dry conditions, the outlooks for 2016 and 2017 are opimistic, though slightly moreso for the latter.\r\n\r\n\u201c[The 2016 season] was very dry and warm\u2014early picking was essential,\u201d says Alheit. \u201cThe wines will be less fleshy and a bit tighter than 2015.\u00a0I think 2017 will be remembered as a really stellar vintage, especially for white wine.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201c[Last year] was a more typical strong vintage,\u201d says Jack. \u201cWe held crop levels back on purpose, dropping a lot of fruit at veraison\u20142017 may prove to be as good as 2015 as a result for us.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s an extremely exciting time to be involved in Cape wine.\u00a0If you like 2015, you won\u2019t be let down by 2016, and then 2017 will come along and blow your mind.\u201d\r\n\r\nBut there\u2019s a lot more beyond advantageous vintage conditions happening in the South African winespace. Innovation and drive have fueled the push to produce wines of site expression and exceptional value. The quality and excitement for these selections will only increase in the years ahead.\r\n\r\n\u201c[The growth is] helped along by the many new winemakers, young and old, that make site-specific wines, and wines that express the place it comes from,\u201d says Kruger. \u201cWines are made differently by different winemakers, now more than before. It really shows the diversity of soil and climate and landscape of our country.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cWhat is happening now in Cape wine is much bigger than one good vintage,\u201d says Alheit. \u201cThere is a semi-fanatical movement taking place right now in the Cape to make the highest possible quality wine with very low intervention, or zero intervention.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s an extremely exciting time to be involved in Cape wine.\u00a0If you like 2015, you won\u2019t be let down by 2016, and then 2017 will come along and blow your mind.\u201d\r\n\r\nWe\u2019re ready for it.