As most of you know, Scott and I enjoy our monthly wine tastings through our local wine store, Manchester Wine & Liquors. March’s subject, South African Wines, proved to be the best yet. I admit that I had high hopes for this particular tasting. I was interested to learn more about the wines from this region and was really hoping to pick up a couple of good bargains. The little I knew about South African wines was simply that they are decent wines, relatively new to the market, but still have “undiscovered” prices (a.k.a. dirt cheap.) I am happy to announce that the tasting did not disappoint – I learned quite a lot about the area and even more importantly, found some wonderful buys (both white and red) in the $10.00 range!
A little history: The Dutch East India Shipping Company were actually the first to plant vines in South Africa in 1652. Established as a stopping point for ships on their way to the East Indies, the South African region became a colonial hub for the shipping industry. The first vines were planted in attempts to provide wine to combat scurvy for the sailors deprived of fresh fruits and veggies on their long journeys. From that point, wine in South Africa had a slightly troubled path. Influenced much by the current governments, and more specifically, current wars, the trade of South African wines were strictly limited, peaking during times of Apartheid. Luckily, with the end of Apartheid came a loosening of trade regulations and a shift of power back to the growers. Since the 90′s, growers have slowly regained their footing and are beginning to emerge on the international market as serious wine-makers.
On to the tasting. We sampled nine different South African wines and I was pleasantly surprised by most. All the wines were very balanced and approachable. Wines from this region tend to be released later than wines in the US, so by the time wine has made it to our table, it has already been aged. This means more subtle tannis and an all-over well balanced wine. It has a little of everything.
Man Vintners Chenin Blanc – This was probably my favorite wine of the evening. A crisp, fresh nose with some floral notes leads into an equally crisp, refreshing wine. It has good acidity and drinks similarly to a New Zealand Savauginon Blanc, but with slightly more balance. Since tasting this wine, it has taken the role of “every day white” in my house. For $8.99 you simply can’t do any better.
Neil Ellis Sincerely Sauvignon Blanc - This is a very minerally Sauv. Blanc. Grass was very pronounced on the nose and the pallet and produced a very different type of wine. It was well balanced with less acidity than you are used to finding in this grape, and finished softer with a change from mineral to a slight hint of sweet fruit. I have to admit, not my favorite, but an interesting wine nonetheless. $10.99
Fairview Pinotage – This easy-to-drink red boasts flavors of blackcurrant, casis, caramel, spice and smoke. It would pair great with BBQ and is very easy to drink. Again, with most of the wines from South Africa, the tannis were well balanced. $12.99
Boekenhoutskloof Wolf Trap Red 2008 – This Syrah-based blend was different and challenging. With a delicate nose with hints of leather and caramel, the wine opens to more pronounced flavors of leather, spice and smoke. After the wine opens, you get more berry and dying, but not hard tannis. The wine is aged in oak, which does come through. $10.99
Neil Ellis Left Bank Cabernet/Shiraz 2007 - This was the value of the evening! Berry and plum in the bouquet, and sweet & spicy notes on the pallet. The wine gives a slight hint of herb and simply continues to surprise. There is a lot going on in this wine. Again, very balanced and good tannis. Unlike other reds, this wine should only sit for a maximum of 5 years and is ready to drink now. This is our new “every day red.” $10.99
Graham Beck Gamekeepers Cabernet Sauvignon 2005- This wine opens with casis and cigar. It turns sweet on the finish, but the finish is not long. $15.99
Rust en Vrede Merlot 2007 – This wine comes from the “Napa” region of South Africa, “Rust en Vrede.” This earthy wine boasts caramel and chocolate and is well-balanced with hints of spice and blueberries. $16.99
Stark-Conde Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - An impressive wine, this is a smooth, light cab. Starting with a great nose, the wine opens to juicy berries with light tannis and a strong cherry finish. It is incredibly smooth and the finish lingers elegantly. This wine can age up to 10 years, but is excellent now. $26.99
Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Bock – This was the biggest wine we tasted during the evening, yet with no surprise, very balanced. It has a unique nose, with an even more intriguing taste. Soft and balanced, this wine finishes with hints of berries and white pepper. Very elegant. Age for a maximum of 8 years. $36.99
Interested in tasting? Contact Machester Wine & Liqours for reservations. Tastings are once a month at The Adams Mill Banquet Room and cost $5.00 per person. April’s topic: Treasures of Southern Italy