There has been quiet a renaissance in South Africa over the past few years. A new generation of well-educated winemakers, who have travelled extensively, started creating wines with passion and conviction. Their wines win international awards in London, Paris, Verona and Brussels regularly. In each South Africa’s major export markets, this country’s wines are gaining market share fast, both in volume and value.
South African wines
are sophisticated, accessible, and above all they represent good value. The country produces much more than the population consumes. Wineries must export to survive. For this reason prices are kept at lowest possible levels.
Ever since the first Dutch settlers set foot on South African soil in 1652, vines thrived. French Huguenots in 1688 helped improve fruit quality and from 1950 onwards winemakers were influenced by modern German and Italian techniques and equipment.
In 1973 legislation was introduced to recognize and protect the distinctiveness of South Africa’s soils and climates.
All growing regions have been classified and broken down into smaller districts, wards and single sites. The Wine and Spirits Board, appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, administer the law.
A special seal on each bottle guarantees the reliability of all the information on the label.
Over the past 30 years, South Africa’s red grape vineyards grew dramatically and now represent close to 40 per cent of the total. The most widely planted grape varieties reflect worldwide demand; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault developed by professor I. A. Perold of the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa).
Well-made South African red varietal wines always have a deep, pleasing colour, excellent aromas of ripe berries, smoke, tobacco, are full-bodied with a fine balance, and possess multi-dimensional taste profiles. They are soft and finish well with a lingering taste. They require some cellaring but not as long as traditional Bordeaux wines, though they have a shorter shelf life.
For white wines growers prefer Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc (here called Steen), Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier, and Riesling. A few other German grape varieties are planted fore experimental purposes.
White wines are always soft and balanced. Aromatic grapes such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc grow well and reflect both climate and soil well. Practically all are medium to full-bodied require no aging and in the mouth offer deep, satisfying flavours. All finish well, with pleasant, lingering flavours.
The country has five regions, divided into 14 districts, each of which is sub divided into wards and single vineyards
Constantia, Durbanville, Elgin, Walker Bay, Stellenbosch, Simonsberg, Helderberg, Paarl, Wellington, Franschoek, Orange River, Klein Karoo, Swartland and Tulbagh are the 14 districts.
Yields are deliberately kept low to obtain deeply flavoured fruit.
Harvesting in most vineyards occurs manually, and often at night in an attempt to protect grapes from excessive sunshine during the day. Quality oriented vineyards managers employ small plastic crates to accommodate no more than 20 Kg. of fruit to prevent bruising.
White wines are fermented at low temperatures in air-conditioned wineries. Small wineries cannot afford this expensive luxury. Fermenting in temperature controlled cellars yields fruitier white wines.
Red wines, on the other hand, are fermented at high temperatures for good colour and flavour extraction. They are aged in deep, cool cellars, most dug into hills and mountains that maintain constant and appropriate aging temperatures.
South African wineries, specially family-owned small operations, have always been quality-oriented. They are by European standards large, and practically all own and manage their vineyards to control quality.
KWV the largest winery of the country, and of the biggest in the world is now publicly owned. It has contributed significantly to the improvement of viti-and viniculture through research, and active involvement with growers. KWV exports to many countries including the United Kingdom, the U. S. A., Canada, and many European countries. It produces a number of lines and has been at the forefront of quality improvement of South African wines.
Here are some the best South African wineries: Beyerskloof, Glen Carlou, Grangehurst, Hamilton Russel, Jordan, Kanonkop, Klein Constantia, Le Bonheur, Meerlust, Morgenhof, Mulderbosch, Neil Ellis, Saxenburg, Spice Route, Stellenzicht, Thelema, and Veenwouden, Vergelegen .
Climate remains relatively constant; therefore vintage quality variations tend to be minimal. This, however, depends on vineyard location and winemaking techniques as well and must be taken into account when making purchase decisions.
In the 1980’s most importing countries including Canada except B C and the U K imposed trade sanctions on South Africa. Well-established brands lost important markets and after the sanctions were lifted when N Mandela was elected president, South African wine marketers have been struggling to re-establish their wines. Many wineries decided to price their products competitively in an attempt to regain market share.
Most liquor control boards in Canada offer a selection of South African wines. Ontario,
British Columbia and Alberta offer the best selections, followed by Quebec, and Manitoba.
However Ontario and British Columbia wine agencies specialize in “consignment“ wines offering a much more interesting and often rewarding selection.
During apartheid, South African wineries had a difficult time exporting to Canada (Only B. C. allowed South African wines in), and the U. S. A. Long-standing, popular brands lost their appeal, and overall South African wines lost market share.
South African wines are crafted in European style. They are appealing, less alcoholic,succulent, and aromatic with excellent balance.
Presently the LCBO general listings are limited but a number of agents offer consignment wines that represent very good value.
The Vintages division of the L.C.B.O. offers from time to time a selection of South African wiens produced in limited quantities.
Recently a release featured the follwoign that I found rewarding and well priced.
Fair Maiden, 2008, Bellingham
Composed of roussanne, chenin blanc, verdelho, Grenache blanc, and viognier this mellow, aromatic, medium-bodied wine has a pleasant finish.
Roulette Blanc, 2008, Lammershoek
Aromas of green apples and citrus dominate. The blend consists of chenin blanc, chardonnay, and viognier and offers a pleasant acidity with a long aftertaste.
Dragon’s Lair, 2006, Bellingham
Deep ruby colour. Layers of blackberry, ripe cherries, smoke and spice provide the backbone of flavour. Full bodied and intense with silky tannins. An ideal food wine.
006892 $ 19.75
Black Rock, 2007 The Winery of Good Hope
A lively, fruity, medium bodied effort. Shiraz, carignan, grenach, mourvdre and viognier are successfully blended to result in a harmonious and balanced wine to complement roast loin of pork, lamb meatballs, kebabs, and even roast turkey
0068502 $ 18.75
Serentiy, 2007, The Wines of Kevin Grant
This wine seduces you through scent and fragrance. Smoky, with mineral undertones and spice notes dominate. Full bodied with polished tannins. An excellent and lingering aftertaste.
0148601 $ 24.95