Best South African wines at the SAQ

Montreal Times - - News -

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.

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