A review of some South African wines courtesy of the “Drink Well, Do Good Tour.”
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers May 26, 2010
As host of this year’s soccer World Cup, South Africa is showcasing its first-rate vineyards and wineries.
The South African wine industry traces its beginnings to its first harvest and crush in 1652. Not long after the British acquired the colony, production surged; the wines were popular in 19th century Great Britain. But a change in British trade regulations devastated South African wine imports and the industry remained essentially moribund until the end of apartheid. The subsequent lifting of trade embargos and ending of consumer boycotts renewed interest in South African wines, resulting in increased investment and modernization of facilities and techniques.
Most wine-producing areas are in the Western Cape area, not far from Cape Town, near the confluence of the Indian and Atlantic oceans. The climate is Mediterranean: ample sunshine and dry heat, modulated by cooling ocean breezes.
The best known South African varietal is Pinotage, a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault created there in 1925. While many different styles exist, most Pinotages have deep red fruit flavors and an underlying earthiness accented with bananas. There are many fine ones, but other varietals — Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon — are what truly make South African winemaking shine.
The overall quality of South African wines makes it worth a visit to your favorite retailer’s shelves. Pick one up to enjoy while watching a World Cup match. Here are my recommendations.
South African Chenin Blanc (also known as Steen) offers great value, especially the Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch Petit 2009 ($10) made from 30-year-old vines, hand-harvested and cool-fermented to produce a clean floral scented wine with melon, citrus and apple flavors. The Man Vintners Coastal Region Chenin Blanc 2009 ($10) has peach, grapefruit and apple flavors, while the Vinum Africa Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2008 ($11) has more noticeable minerality along with its lovely honey, citrus and spice notes.
South Africa also makes tasty Sauvignon Blancs such as the Rustenberg Sauvignon Blanc Western Cape Brampton 2009 ($11), with grassy overtones that accent the crisp grapefruit and tropical fruit flavors. The Sauvignon Blancs from the Mulderbosch Winery are highly prized, including its tropical fruit scented Mulderbosch Western Cape Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($19) that displays well-balanced lemon, lime and gooseberry flavors.
The lush Neil Ellis Elgin Shiraz 2007 ($20) has deep red fruit, pepper and dark plums that lead to a long finish. The big and soft Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2008 ($9) shows spicy roasted meat flavors, licorice, black pepper and raspberries. Tobacco and dark fruit aromas characterize the Rust en Vrede Stellenbosch Shiraz 2006 ($25), along with currants, coffee and plum notes. From golfer Ernie Els’ Stellenbosch winery, the Ernie Els Proprietors Blend 2007 ($35) is terrific, with dark plum, chocolate, tobacco and leather notes on an elegant frame. The Rust en Vrede Stellenbosch 2006 ($39) is a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend that exhibits dark currants, blueberries and spicy cherries, with cocoa, tobacco and anise at the end.
The Drink Well, Do Good Tour, which visited the Washington, D.C., area on May 15, is promoting South African wines in 14 U.S. cities with combination wine and music festivals. The goal is to diversify the ownership and management of the local wineries by establishing a viniculture educational center for black South Africans. For information, visit www.isawfoundation.org.