South African Wine
During the past 10 years, South African wines have gained a bit of shelf space in the wine shop. But, for the majority of American wine drinkers this country remains off the wine-drinking radar screen. That is a huge mistake because South African wine vintners produce some of the most value-driven, yet eminent wines in the world.
South Africa is considered a New World wine region. However, European immigrants planted the first wine grapes back in 1652, launching a popular wine culture, especially in England and France. But as luck would have it, war, the opening of the Suez Canal and the presence of phylloxera led to an equally grand fall. Twenty years ago with the dismantling of Apartheid, major investments in the wine industry have spurred a reemergence.
The Cape Winelands region has many favorable conditions present for growing quality vines. With an accommodatingly warm Mediterranean climate, rich top- and sub soils, and adequate winter rainfall, this emerging nation has quickly regained a reputation for producing award-winning wines. It is also strikingly beautiful with Cape-Dutch architecture and picturesque wine estates set against mountainous backgrounds.
Popular Wine Regions
The more esteemed wine regions include the following:
Constantia Valley – Located a short 20-minute drive from Cape Town, this area is the birthplace of South African wine. Constantia, a same-named sweet Muscat wine was extremely popular among the English and French aristocracy. Today, Sauvignon Blanc, a cool-climate grape benefits from nearby ocean breezes off the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Stellenbosch – With more than 150 wine estates and grape producers, this region is the most popular with tourists, as well as locals.The short drive from Cape Town makes it an easy weekend getaway destination. The hilly terrain, compliments of the nearby Simonsberg, Drakenstein and Stellenbosch Mountains provides favorable soil conditions for growing world-class wines.
The University of Stellenbosch is the equivalent of University of California, Davis for viticulture and oenology studies.
Franschhoek – Famed for its amazing scenery and an outstanding culinary scene, the “French Corner” also produces some world-renown wines. About an hour’s drive from Cape Town, the valley produces international varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, as well as Semillion and Shiraz.
Paarl – If you enjoy fortified wines and spirits, (who doesn’t?), this is your ‘hood. Situated in the Berg River Valley, many of the wine farms also make cheese and grow olives.
Take a Sip
One of my goals for 2015 is to “drink outside the box”. Instead of reaching for my tried-and-true favorites, I have started drinking wines made from lesser-known grapes. The wines of South Africa certainly fit into this category. Also, I plan to drink popular varieties from atypical regions. Instead of pouring a Russian River Pinot Noir, why not give one a try from South Africa? With a climate similar to parts of Sonoma County and rejuvenated winemakers, expect some pretty tasty juice.
Approximately 55% of wine production in the country is dedicated to white grapes including less-familiar wines such as Colombard, Hanepoot (aka Muscat of Alexandria) and Cape Riesling. Steen, the local name for Chenin Blanc is the most popular white wine. It is one of my favorite styles.
A truly unique red wine grape is the indigenous Pinotage. The grape was invented by a University of Stellenbosch professor as a cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir. This is a wine you will either hate or tolerate; but very few people love it. However, you should taste for yourself.
Here are a few Pinotage suggestions to sample:
- 2011 Fleur du Cap $12
- 2011 Neil Ellis $18
- 2011 Fairview Primo $28
Since South Africa is a southern hemisphere country, all vintages are six months older than wines bottled in the United States.
South Africa exports about 50% of its wine production. The United States markets have started to receive a larger allotment of these shipments. You’ll have to talk to your wine shop owner to help you locate most bottles. As yet, demand hasn’t risen to the point where you’ll find bottle after bottle sitting on shelves. However, when you come across a South African import, my advise is you should reach for a bottle because you will not be disappointed.
Here are some other fine, reasonably price South African wines I think you may enjoy:
- 2012 Graham Beck “Bowed Head’ Chenin Blanc $12 – Dried apricots, tree-ripened peaches, lovely long finish
- 2013 De Wetshof “Bon Vallon”Chardonnay – Floral notes followed by stone fruit and Bosch pear flavors
- 2012 Rust en Vrede Merlot $18 – Chocolate nose, raspberry and black cherry flavors with a rich, raisin-like finish
- 2010 Painted Wolf Guillermo Pinotage $19 – Soft blueberry and blackberry flavors
- 2011 Starke-Conde Cabernet Sauvignon $24 – Dark cherry, blackberry with a lengthy finish
- 2008 Meerlust Rudicon $27 – Earthy followed by berry flavors and Thanksgiving spices
- 2012 Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block $32 – You may confuse it with with a like a northern Rhône Syrah with a chef’s heavy-hand of black pepper, coriander, nutmeg and juicy red fruits
- 2011 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir $40 – Hibiscus tea floral notes, typical strawberry & strawberry flavors along with surprising savory spice notes
Let me know your take on any of these picks.