Monica from Balzac, who was goodly enough to let me try the Espiritu de Chile selections back in January, asked me to give my impressions of Golden Kaan wines, a new series of wines from the Western Cape of South Africa near Cape Town.
Golden Kaan 2007 Chenin Blanc -- South African chenin blanc is an entirely different animal than the light, crisp chenin that quality winemakers are doing in California, or the fruit-laden minerality of the Loire whites from France. South African chenins tend to be a little heavier, and the Kaan certainly is an excellent representation of this varietal. The nose is quite full of caramel and vanilla. The body is as full as I've tasted in a chenin, and contains a pleasantly complex mix of citrus, vanilla, and toasty oak. The finish is a nice, lasting balance of oak and melon.
The recommended pairing was a warm green bean salad (which ended up helping me discover a great way to put fresh, uncooked onions in a dish without having stank-breath after!) and I added a grilled grouper recipe from the Giuliano Hazan cookbook I mentioned once before. The pairing was spot-on. The bean salad had a lemon-based dressing which pointed up some citrus notes in the wine. The smokiness of the wine's flavors went very well with the grilled fish.
Golden Kaan 2006 Pinotage & Golden Kaan 2007 Shiraz -- The SPinC and I tried these two wines side by side, since the recommended food pairing for both was this tasty looking "lamb soasities" recipe. (In case you're wondering what in tarnation that is, it's lamb shoulder cut into chunks and marinated in a mixture of onion, lemon juice, garlic, and various curry-themed spices; skewered with green pepper, shallots, and dried apricots; and cooked over hot coals. Recipe here. Yum!)
We tasted the wines by themselves initially. We discovered that using the aerator that we brought back from California was a huge help for these wines. Both of them definitely needed some time to breathe, since they were both a) relatively young and b) varietals that can always stand a little bit of air to wake up the flavors.
Pinotage, for many people, is a "love it or hate it" varietal. Pinotage is a crossbreed of Cinsault and Pinot Noir, and is the wine South Africa is best known for. This hybrid produces a wine that's slightly heavier than many Pinot Noirs, with some very strong flavors. These wines are often very smoky and rich, and they can have any number of flavors that don't appear in many wines. Done well, these wines stand up nicely to grilled and smoked game and pungent spices.
This version, while possessing some of the characteristics you'd expect in Pinotage, is a reasonably approachable wine. The nose is full of tart cherries and chocolate with a strong smoky flavor on the palate. There's a slightly bitter flavor on the finish, almost like coffee, and it's dry. The shiraz is a light styled wine. The nose is of fresh cut wood and cherries -- more sweet cherry than the tartness of the Pinotage. There's a tobacco flavor as well, but the cherries dominate the palate from front to end.
With the food, I thought that the Pinotage was much more interesting. I thought it stood up to the spices in the marinade and the sauce, and the flavors in the wine itself stood out. The SPinC was of a different mind. She enjoyed the shiraz more, since there were already so many varied flavors in the food -- she felt that the shiraz allowed the food to take center stage and be a solid complementary taste. She said, "If it were January, I'd probably like the Pinotage more."
I think the Pinotage is an excellent "starter" if you're not too familiar with the varietal and you want to get a sense of it. The shiraz was OK -- but I think there are some better ones out there in the same price point.
All three wines retail for around $10 and are broadly available.
P.S. Vine reader Steve G pointed out my patently obvious missed opportunity for a Star Trek reference with the name of this wine. But after about a dozen "KAAAAAAAAAN!" exclamations with the SPinC looking at me sideways, I decided to let it slide. But please, feel free to unleash your inner Shatner after killing a bottle of one of these.