Friday, August 24, 2007

The Rainbow Nation

South Africa's had a rough go of it.

They've dealt with apartheid, an illicit diamond trade, and the jailing of Nelson Mandela. They were the ostensible home country of the bad guys from "Lethal Weapon 2" and their national rugby team can never quite match New Zealand's on the pitch. Life's not easy on Antarctica's doorstep.

Since the end of apartheid in 1990, South Africa gradually became more welcomed on the world stage. South African music and culture have made their way towards global recognition, as has its wine industry. South Africa currently stands as the 8th largest wine producer in the world.

Wine from South Africa is at the stage Chile and Argentina's were five years ago. When these wines first started appearing, they were more curiosities than anything, and prices were high. As the import pace picked up, and prices are now squarely in Vine range for many bottles.

South Africa grows all the major wine varietals but is best known for their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc among white wines, and a cute little critter called Pinotage on the red. Pinotage is an interesting hybrid of Pinot Noir and Cinsault. The latter is a blending grape used widely in France and makes a darned good rosé. Combined, their offspring produces a wine that's spicy, a little earthy, and medium bodied. Pinotage is best paired with basically any kind of game meat -- so if you've got venison, rabbit, boar, ostrich and the like -- you'll find a friend in South Africa.

Here are a couple of possibilities for you:

Mulderbosch 2006 Chenin Blanc -- Mulderbosch Winery is located in Stellenbosch, one of the prime wine growing areas in South Africa. Mulderbosch is especially known for Sauvignon Blanc -- they're some of the best around. They're also a little pricey for us, but I'd probably splurge on a bottle based on my experience with their Chenin Blanc. This is a very fresh, crisp wine. There are some nice floral and citrus scents that lead you into a surprisingly full body for a Chenin. There's a little spice to go along with a tart flavor, and a finish that was a little oaky, actually. If you'd given this to me blind, I'd have thought it was a Sauvignon Blanc, and I'd have it with any food that Sauvignon would pair with. $12-14.

Brampton 2005 Unoaked Chardonnay -- Brampton is the second label offering from Rustenberg, one of the older wineries in South Africa. The founder of the winery was German, but I would have guessed French. This Chardonnay is very much along the lines of white Burgundy. This is a very crisp chardonnay, full of peach scents that also head for the palate. There's also a nice little mineral and spice taste on the back end. This would be a wonderful chardonnay for a hot day or with some sweet corn, summer squash, or basically any summer vegetable. $9-11.

Ken Forrester 2004 Stellenbosch Petit Pinotage --A really nice example of what you'll find with a Pinotage. The nose is an interesting combination of berries and smoke -- not scents that you'll often find together. One review I read said they smelled "bacon." (I didn't get that, personally.) The flavor is soft and medium bodied, with an earthiness to it that will remind you of a French Syrah. The finish goes back to fruit and smoke. As I mentioned above, anything gamey is going to go really well here. I had this with roast lamb, and it worked extremely well. Another nice value at $9-11.

If you're looking for some slightly different flavors than you've found in the mainstream -- give these South African bottles a try. Much like the country, there are some very unique quaffs here. Certainly worth exploration.

As a side note, the column's title is a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe the multicultural nature of South Africa's emerging diversity. South Africa has become one of the more socially and politically progressive countries in Africa. For instance, the country recently became the fifth in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. The things you learn when you're researching wine…


Anonymous said...

Can't match up? Matey, South Africa beat New Zealand in the finals in 1995, the semis in 1999, and will crush them should we meet again! Springboks Rule!

(Oh, and on September 30, we will crush the United States like a bug.)

The Naked Vine said...

Heh. I'd place a wager with you and the rest of your boys if it weren't a sucker bet for me. We Yanks do a few things well -- rock and roll, national debt, and spectacle. Hanging with either you guys or the Kiwis on the pitch ain't in our wheelhouse...yet...

Give me points and we'll talk, tho...

Wiremu said...

First pass me that bottle of South African Chardonnay guys then you can go ahead and do what it is you do best, argue?...and as for me, Hell, pardon moi while I get wasted.