So many of my friends have visited South Africa I feel as though I’ve been there—almost:) Even though I have never stepped foot in Stellenbosch, South Africa’s Napa Valley, South African wines have long been in my wine racks.
For me they are a staple,more so in these recessionary times now that I’m eating at home and turning to wines that are both food and wallet friendly.
Just a few months ago South African wines bested all comers at the world wide wine competition sponsored by Decanter, the European based wine magazine. South African wine makers walked away with awards for Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Chardonnay.
But for me South African wine conjures up the image of the two varietals most associated with the country---the red Pinotage and the white Chenin Blanc, what the South Africans call ‘Steen.
Not long ago I mentioned my fondness for South African Chenin Blanc to a wine steward. He wrinkled his nose and said, “for me there can never be anything but a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France. “ Believe me, French Chenin Blanc is a good sip. It’s tart with a snap crackle acidity. But I also love the crispness and melon citrus accents of South African Chenin Blanc, wonderful with seafood or a creamy pasta salad. It must be popular with lots of folks. Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape in South Africa, no doubt that’s why I have no trouble finding a lot of it, even in my grocery store! My latest favorites: Ken Forrester, and Seven Sisters Yolanda, and Man Coastal Region, all 2007.
Pinotage (pronounced Pin oh taage) is unique to South Africa, a blend of Pinot Noir and Cinsault. This medium bodied wine can be found on the shelves of most any wine store, and yes, in my grocery store. Pair this wine with grilled foods--South Africans drink it with grilled shrimp, and barbeque, but I think most grilled foods—including vegetables—would be a tasty compliment.
Some of my wine drinking pals complain about what they describe as the earthiness of the wine, but that doesn’t bother me. Pinotage is a good table wine, the kind you serve at a big family gathering. Anyway, at these prices, why not try it for yourself? In my wine rack right now, a 2007 Fairview that is widely available for about 12 dollars as is the 20007 Ken Forrester and 2007 Graham Beck. The 2007 Southern Right tips upward price wise to about $22. And some vintners are bottling high end Pinotage at 30 dollars and up. Pre recession, I’ve enjoyed Chocolate Block, and Diemersdal.
Whenever I finally get to South Africa, I know exactly what I’ll be sipping.