South African delights
Until recently my only experience of South African wine had been with the indigenous Pinotage grape. I recognise the regions of Stellenbosch, Constantia and Walker Bay on a label, but that is about all. Having said that, the DeMorgenzon Chenin Blanc from Stellenbosch did make it into my top 3 wines of 2012 so it is definitely due a closer look.
Pinotage is a bit of a Marmite wine amongst wine drinkers. The grape is actually a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, “bred” by Professor Abraham Izak Perkid at the University of Stellenbosch in 1925. Personally I am a big fan and have never encountered the “ripe banana”, “cheesy” or “metallic” descriptions that often appear in reviews of the wines. I find the wines to be intense and savoury, with low tannins a velvety texture. Where I do draw the line, however, is with “coffee Pinotage”, which really does do what it says on the (coffee) tin. If I never taste one again it will be too soon!
The wine region of South Africa is situated at the South West tip of the country, where the cool current from the Atlantic creates a cooler Mediterranean climate, and perfect conditions for wine growing. Many of the wines you will find on the supermarket shelves are made using international grapes so there really is nothing to be frightened about!
Regions & Grapes
The hub of the South African wine industry is the area centred around Stellenbosch. The region is producing excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and good quality Pinotage on the red front, and Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc on the white side. A bit further north is the region of Paarl, which produces good quality and good value Chenin. The Constantia region is one I always associated with Pinotage so was very surprised to read that Sauvignon Blanc represents a third of the regions vines, followed by Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Swartland is quickly gaining a reputation for quality Syrah (often blended with other Rhone varieties) and Chenin Blanc from old vines. One of the southernmost and coolest regions is Walker Bay, which is starting to produce some very high quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (similar to the growing reputation of Tasmania in Australia).
Groot Constantia Pinotage 2010, Constantia (£12.85 Wine & the Vine)
Very dark and brooding colour, with red fruit on the nose and just a touch if earthiness. Quite big bodied with fresh fruit on the palate and a good earthy, chocolatey finish. 87 points
Glenelly Lady May Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Stellenbosch (£20.79 Wine Direct)
Blackcurrant, blackberry fruit, lots of smoky oak aromas and just a touch of minty freshness – very enticing. Good concentration but not huge body, the fruit is upfront and the oak is nicely integrated with a good, strong tannic structure. Nice smoky finish, just cuts off a bit short. 89 points
DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2011, Stellenbosch (£16.75 Wine & the Vine)
The 2010 vintage made my wines of 2012 and the 2011 is even better! Really exciting nose of melon, peaches, nuts, and marzipan. Lovely fresh zing in the mouth, lots of ripe melon fruit and a wonderful nutty, long finish. If you are bored of Sauvignon Blanc and want something a bit more subtle, this is the wine for you. 92 points
Jordan “The Real McCoy” Riesling 2011 (£11.45 Wine & the Vine)
I love Riesling, whether from Alsace, Germany or South Australia. This delivers something from everywhere! Lots of limes and green apple plus a dash of tinned pineapple on the nose. Crisp and fruity and just a bit smokey on the smokey, lots of freshness and just a hint of sweetness. Seriously good and just over a tenner. Brilliant with my Friday night curry! 91 points