Best South African wines at the SAQ
Last week I spent a full morning tasting some 36 wines from South Africa. The tasting was organized by the AQAVBS in collaboration with the organism Wines of South Africa ( WOSA). My experience with South African wines is quite limited so this event was a fantastic chance to taste new labels and refresh on new vintages of previously known wines.
With an wine history of about 350 years, the country now offers a good and interesting selection of wines, from whites to reds, from sparkling to fortified wines.With a new historical tradition of about 350 years, in South Africa wine was made before they started making it in California and in Australia, the country is now the eight wine producer of the world. The country has around 96,000 ha of vines , employing 290,000 employees and contributing a healthy $2.9 bn to the country’s economy.
The roots of the South African wine industry go back to the exploration of the Dutch East India Company when an station was established in Cape Town. Cape Town was then only a stop for ships and crew to pick up fresh produce during their journey along the spice route to India. Jan van Riebeeck was given the task to administer the station and grow grapes to produce wine; with the misbelief that drinking the wine created from them would prevent scurvy and other diseases between sailors during their long voyages. In 1659 the first South African wine made from French Muscadel grapes were successfully made.
The hub of wine production in South Africa is located in the so called “Cape”, in the southern part of the country, near Cape Town and Cape of Good Hope. The most important wine areas are without doubt Paarl and Stellenbosch, where most of the wine production takes place.The climate of the area benefits by the closeness of both the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean.
South Africa's most famous grapes are Chenin Blanc for white wine and Pinotage for reds. - South African Chenins are a different universe from those found in the Loire Valley - dry but ripe and full of flavour (often with a marked complexity that comes from the increasingly sought-after old-vine fruit). Pinotage, a South African curiosity, is for many wine drinkers a love-it-or-hate-it grape. I happen to like it; some of my wine buddies claim they do not, despite many of them voting in blind tastings.Pinotage 'parents' are Pinot Noir, which imparts its strawberry aromas and lovely texture in young wines, and more complex, farmyard characteristics in more mature examples, and cinsault, the southern French grape, which adds spice and body. It was developed in South Africa in 1926.
More important in South Africa than much of the New World (in particular New Zealand and Chile) are blends, which make selection more difficult, as the style of the wine is unpredictable.As in Australia and California, however, many of the best wines South African are blends - a sign of maturity in the industry.
Top picks of the tasting:
( Western Cape) SAQ Code: 11605734 $13.95
Aromas of acacia and jazmin leaves complemented by ripe pear. A touch of white pepper as well. Fresh with an intriguing minerality and lingering finale. Good Value for under $15.
Franschhoek autumn vineyards. Credit: Eddie Wilson,Wines of South Africa.