Saturday, April 26, 2008

All I Know About South African Wines – by Mac McCarthy

Which isn’t much, but here’s a little background. SA makes a wide range of wines but has only begun professionalizing and exporting in the last 10-15 years. They are best known for Shiraz, Southern Rhone-style Mouvedre blends, and the Pinotage grape, where they are a leader in this tiny segment. Prices range from pretty cheap – under $10 – to pretty pricey – the best stuff is $35 to $50. We have a range represented here. The only thing I know about the regions is that Stellenbosch is their Napa.

My tasting group BAWDY (Bay Area Wine Drinkers-and-a-Y, in the San Francisco area) tasted these wines in late 2006. More recent versions of each of these wines should be readilyi available at your local Beverages and More in the U.S.

1. Sauvignon Blanc Blend – NEDERBURG “LYRIC”, Saug Blanc 60%, Chenin Blanc 21%, Chard 19%, Paarl region, 11.5%, $13.
A pretty if unusual blend of whites. Turned out to be an interesting, full-bodied white.

2. Shiraz - FAIRVIEW JakkalsFontein region 2002 14.5% $35 discounted to $24
Wow; seems like a lot for a Shiraz, doesn’t it? But that’s okay – they knocked it down to only 3x what an Australian shiraz would cost. Is it worth the markup? You be the judge! It was good, but probably not $24 good….IMHO

3. Cabernet Sauvignon – LONG NECK, Western Cape Region, 2003, 14.0%, $7!
Seven bucks?? Definitely worth it. Full and round.

4. Southern Rhone Style – THE WOLFTRAP, Cape of Good Hope, Syrah 65%, Cinsault 19%, Mourvedre 11%, Viognier 3$, 14.0%, $10 – 91 points/Wong.
It’s only ten bucks, but BevMo buyer Wong gives it 91 points – jeez! Syrah-Mourvedre-Grenache is the basic Rhone starting point; this substitutes Cinsault for Grenache, and adds Viognier, a white, for aroma. We split on these two Rhones – half liked the Wolftrap, the other half liked the Goats DR, below! I liked the Wolftrap best, but I don’t think either of these had the classic Southern Rhone aromas and flavors, not fully, anyway…

5. Southern Rhone Style – 'GOATS DO ROAM – in Villages,' Paar. 2004 14.5% $11
Blend not given, but the pun on “Cotes du Rhone” suggests a Grenache-Syrah-Mouvedre (GSM) blend. Goats do Roam is a joke name, but this export brand sells a lot of Rhone-style blends in the US at low prices. Let’s see what it tastes like, especially compared to the equally inexpensive but highly rated Wolftrap.

6. Pinotage – LANZERAC, Stellanbosch Pinotage 2002 13.5% $25
Pinotage, not to be confused with Meritage in California, is a distinct French grape which has never gone anywhere, but some California and even more South African winemakers have been experimenting, convinced it can make a well-built wine. Let’s see if they’ve broken the code! Pinotages are pricey, though! This was nice!

7. Bordeaux Blend – UMKHULU -- “The Big One” – “Tian” blend, 2001, Stellenbosch, Cab 67%, Merlot 15%, Cab Franc 11%, Malbec 7%. Vino Venue approx $30.
Serious stuff, at serious prices; Umkhulu is Swahili for “The Big One,” and I don’t know what "Tian" means. Big indeed! This could easily have aged a year or three!

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