A LITTLE BACKGROUND | A guide to what the locals drink, by Radford Dale Imports

A LITTLE BACKGROUND | A guide to what the locals drink, by Radford Dale Imports

by Dalene Fourie, first published by News24 - 21/10/23


  • Radford Dale Imports stock around 1 400 wines from Australia, New Zealand, France, England, Austria, Italy, Spain, and the US.
  • Their import portfolio has grown organically since 1998, proving the growing appetite for international wines in South Africa. 
  • Curated by English-born Burgundian Alex Dale, the portfolio consists of an organic selection of wines based on his network of international relationships and insatiable vinous curiosity. 

"You have to follow the producer." - Alex Dale. 

In 2018, I sent Alex Dale a list of questions on Burgundy. His Burgundian background qualifying him as guide. One of the questions was: "How much time do you need to successfully DO the Burgundian wine route? His answer: "There is no such thing, but a lifetime. It is infinitely complex, and you can visit it as completely as you can the night sky."

I feel the same about South Africa, though, the night sky has developed black holes, wormholes, and complete new galaxies, tasting through the wines on show at Radford Dale Imports' recent trade tasting. Each wine providing deeper context, not just to its provenance, but to South African wine's place in the galaxy. 

*My space terminology is only informed by 90s action movies like Armageddon, Apollo 13, and Deep Impact. Especially Deep Impact. Oh, and Star Trek... SABC 3 on a Saturday night, but I digress. SpaceXers look away. 

A natural selection

Since 2018, their international portfolio has expanded exponentially, the trade tasting on the day consisting of 75 wines from six countries, 24 wine regions, and about 60 producers (from what I could count), though Alex says they stock around 1 400 wines in total.

I asked him incredulously (given the cost and effort of such an undertaking and considering their sizeable investments in producing South African wine) how their imports have grown so radically over the years. He smiled: "Because it's working!"

The Radford Dale Imports portfolio is not made up of producers and wines with big write-ups or ratings, but are the result of "visiting the regions, tasting in person, vineyard walkabouts, meals, feasts, memories, late nights & friendship", as Alex writes in the foreword to the catalogue.

His theory holds true. If you trust the producer, the wines will inevitably deliver - granted to varying degrees and sometimes highlighting intriguing nuances, but the style and principle remain a set point on the horizon for you to follow.

Thus, a portfolio of underdog wines, the wines the locals drink, and representative of its place, not its place in a supermarket, wine shop, or auction catalogue, but its PLACE as informed by the soil, the vines, and its people.

Given the limited opportunity to taste such a natural selection (pun intended) of international wines on South African soil, I saw this as an educational excursion not to be missed.

The least underdog of the underdogs

On arrival, I asked Tom Prior, their business development manager, what I should taste. He looked around and said: "Try the ones you don't know and see what you like."

Thus, a Barossa Valley Semillon, a South Australian Riesling, Méthode Tasmanoise (yes, Tasmanian bubbles), New Zealand Syrah made by the previous winemaker of Rustenberg (before Adi), old vine Cru Beaujolais, revolutionary Bordeaux (single varietal wines & alternative maturation vessels), the ultimate French underdog - the Loire in all its diversity, the forgotten Malbec of Cahors, the new generation of Rhône Valley producers, "Grower" Cru Champagne, still wine from England (yes, the tides are turning), Austrian Grüner Veltliner (Somm wine), and remarkably, Gamay from the Sierra Mountains bordering California and Nevada(though not really that remarkable given RD's love of the variety - see our article Gamay: The Antidote).

I did not forget the Burgundy - but it would require its own article - suffice to say Alex's longtime relationship with Martin Prieur of Domaine Jacques Prieur is as much grounded in friendship as it is in sheer quality and reputation - arguably the least underdog of the underdogs.

Owning some of the rarest mosaics of terroirs in Burgundy, in the greatest appellations of Côte de Beaune & Côte de Nuits, and the Grand Crus of Chambertin, Musigny, Clos Vougeot, Echézeaux, Corton & Montrachet, Domaine Jacques Prieur, is a terroir connoisseur, and the wine proof of this. 


The grand number of miles travelled, friendships forged, and business relationships established to bring wines from Australia, New Zealand, France, England, Austria and the USA to Africa without really knowing if there would be a market for them speaks of a burning passion, plain daring, and curiosity.

Though Alex says, if worst comes to worst, they'll drink it (the Radford Dale team). Unfortunately for them, this is an eventuality they won't need to make good on, given that in addition to their own sales, establishments like Culture Wine Bar now stock up to 180 international wines from the Radford Dale Import Portfolio, forming what they call "The Wanderlist", and Matt Manning says he simply can't keep up.

When I spoke to him at the tasting, he had just sold a  Jacques Prieur Musigny for R16 200 the day before and stock Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tache 2001 {ironically not imported by Radford Dale, but still illustrating the point} for R120 000. He quotes Alex to me: "If you didn't stock it, they wouldn't have bought it."

Demonstrating the appetite for international wine in South Africa and the fact that we now HAVE it, acting as a gateway to the world for South African consumers and to South African wine for international tourists. Both now able to taste South African and international wines side-by-side and draw an informed opinion as to quality and preference. 

The Golden Thread 

As South African wine drinkers and winemakers get access to more and more of these international wines, you can detect a form of cohesion in the styles - a focus on sustainability (SUCH a buzzword, who KNOWS what it really means, but in all its incarnations intended to add to the environment and the longevity of the winemaking practice), a true reflection of site, thus employing natural winemaking techniques where relevant.

The majority of the producers are organically certified, though Alex says not in response to the market but because it's the right thing to do. And mainly, just intriguing bottles of wine meant to spark conversation and involve raking a phone closer to find out more about the producer and terroir.

One of the wines that stood out to me was the Merlot dominant Bordeaux, Château Mangot Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé 2017, one of the first producers to achieve organic certification in Saint-Émilion. It was a pleasure to experience what Merlot SHOULD taste like, blended with Cabernet Franc, a complete departure from our SA reds. More classic in style, meaning round and medium-bodied, with ripe fruit balanced by good acidity and refined tannins. It's a flavour profile I've filed away for future benchmarking. 

Having made my way around the room and picked up conversations with complete strangers and well-known favourites, Alex and Tom, popping up to deliver titbits of information, I walked away feeling like I had had a quick trip around the world. Inspired and eager to take my newfound knowledge on the road.

To explore their portfolio, visit the website here. I'm told the online shop is imminent, or you can reach them via Instagram @radforddaleimports to request the full portfolio. 

And for those in Gauteng, they'll be hosting a Beaujolais Fest at Father Coffee on 18 November, featuring 37 wines from 15 producers. Find out just why Radford Dale thinks Beaujolais is the wine of the future... it rhymes with Zamay.  Tickets are R549 per person and available here

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