A vineyard near Stellenbosch. Photo by Richard Fadeley
Without a doubt, South Africa is one of the most spectacular wine-producing regions in the world, and also a rising star in the wine hierarchy. The country is currently ranked eighth in total wine production behind Australia and Germany but ahead of well-known wine producers Chile and Portugal — though volume does not equate with quality. Wine has been produced in this region since 1659, when Dutch settlers planted vines in and around Cape Town, on the western edge of the southern end of the African continent. Some of the panoramas are the most breathtaking in the entire planet, and the wines can rise to the occasion if you know where to look.
We gathered more than 20 wines for this tasting, including sparkling, rosé, white and red, and were pleasantly surprised with the quality and drinkability since the last time we looked in on these wines 10 years ago.
Pinotage is still the signature grape in South Africa, but it is a difficult grape to grow and vinify and can yield off-flavors when under-ripe or mishandled. Nevertheless, the region is determined to keep this variety as its flagship grape, if not among its most prized wines. It is a cross between pinot noir and cinsault (also known as “hermitage”) hence the nouveau cépage “pinotage”. It has not become an international favorite — 98 percent of the grape’s plantings are in South Africa — but South African winemakers seem reluctant to give it up, constantly adding it to various blends and occasionally as a varietal wine. We found a few that we liked. It is sort of an acquired taste, and it does make a serviceable wine when handled properly. But it is theirs and theirs alone. You have to admire that perseverance and dedication; let them work out the details.
Reds from cabernet, shiraz, merlot, pinotage and blends thereof make up a nice assortment of very drinkable and food friendly red wines.
Chenin blanc (they often call it “steen”) is the country’s most popular white, but there are also tasty chardonnays and sauvignon blancs to tease your palate, and we found a new grape that could be a stand-in for chenin or Riesling.
In the final analysis, I would suggest you try a few of the whites and several of the reds. Probably the most compelling red was the Flagstone ’09 Dragon Tree, a blend of cab, shiraz and pinotage, remarkably complex and at the same time an easy drinking and compelling wine. This has to be one of the best red blends I’ve tasted under $20. There were several others and any mentioned here will not disappoint. The Mandela line of wines is new to the U.S. and seems to be worth a look along with anything from Fairview or the Flagstaff line.
Of course, you would use the whites as aperitifs or with a fish or chicken dish, and the reds with grilled meats, cheese or a good cigar, giving the reds a bit of a chill (20 minutes in the fridge).
South African wines are honest wines at honest prices, but who knows what will happen as the excitement builds. Now is the time to explore and familiarize yourself with what they have to offer. Good deals abound!
South African Wine Review score — notes — region — price Whites, Rosé & Sparkling:
Graham Beck NV Brut ★★★★ A Special Occasion Wine $18
Mulderbosch ’12 Rosé ★★★★ Very Tasty Pink $10
Fleur de Cap ’11 Chardonnay ★★★★ Lightly Oaked Chard $11
Doug Green ’12 Sauvignon Blanc ★★★★ Nice Crisp White $10
Royal ’12 Old Vines Steen ★★★★ Our Favorite Chenin Blanc $12
House of Mandela ’13 Chenin Blanc ★★★½ Another Interesting Wine $12
Cederberg ’12 “Bukettraube” ★★★★ A Stand in for Chenin or Riesling $15
Man Vintners ’12 Chenin Blanc ★★★½ Another Nice Chenin and Best Buy $10 Reds and Blends:
Flagstone ’09 Dragon Tree ★★★★ Our Top Rated Red Blend $17
Ernie Els ’11 “Big Easy” ★★★★ A Big Bold Blend $18
Graham Beck ’11 Game Reserve ★★★★ Another Pleasant Blend $17
Robertson ’10 Shiraz ★★★★ Very Drinkable Shiraz and a Best Buy $11
Graham Beck ’09 Railroad Red ★★★★ Interesting Blend, Good Value $14
Seven Sisters ’12 Dawn ★★★★ A Pinotage/Shiraz Blend $12
Fairview ’08 Shiraz ★★★½ Another Favorite $14
House of Mandela ’12 Pinotage ★★★½ Good Value Here $12
Our four-star rating system and how it might compare to the Wine Spectator 100-point scale: ★ Good (80-84), ★★ Very Good (85-87), ★★★ Very Good/Excellent (88-89), ★★★★ Excellent (90+). All ratings are only opinions of our tasters and not meant to detract from your personal favorites.
Make Your Own Beer and Wine!
Come get started on your “liquid hobby” and help us celebrate our 46th year in the Columbia area. Bet Mar Liquid Hobby Shop: 736 St. Andrews Road.
Brew Pub Site Available
3520 Augusta Road, West Columbia. Click for more information.
Happy Hour and Sushi Specials All Week
Red Bowl in Lexington now has great early bird and late night sushi specials 7 days a week, as well as 99-cent kids meals on Saturdays! Click here for special information and hours.
Accepting Applications for Shakespeare’s Kidz!
Students ages 10-16 are invited to join South Carolina Shakespeare’s new youth company, with classes running September 20th-December 11th followed by a final performance. Contact Katie Mixon with questions about scholarships and applications: PKatieMixon@gmail.com.
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Wing Zone is now hiring for experienced delivery drivers, cooks & cashiers. Apply in person @ 132 Assembly St. or call 803-933-9464.
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Pool Cleaning Full & P/T avail. Must have a clean driving record, organized and have a professional appearance. Starting Pay is $10.00/hr. Please bring a copy of your driving record and a list of all past employers with duration of employment listed as well as telephone numbers for references. Please call for an interview. 803-865-1200
Free Times is looking for a highly organized, detail-oriented self-starter to assist in gathering material from advertisers, coordinating between the sales and production departments, and handling routine clerical tasks. Must be proficient on a Mac, able to conduct business via phone, email, text, Dropbox, social media platforms and face to face while under deadline in a fast-paced, sometimes distracting work environment. The position requires the ability to multitask, excellent oral and written communication skills, and solid experience in quickly learning new computer programs. This is a full time position with benefits. Send a cover letter, resume and salary expectation to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Real Estate Spotlight
Mungo Homes. Celebrating 60 years of our family building for your family. mungo.com