Thirsty work

Thirsty work

Thirsty work

First published in NewsXtra

Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris uncorks some stellar wines from South Africa.

 

Cape wine country

A successful union between Old and New World, South Africa's winemaking history can be traced back 350 years to Dutch settlers who first planted vines there; yet it's only in the past 20 years that the Cape's rich bounty of wines has emerged from its cellar doors.

With a young generation of winemakers making great strides in quality, improved viticulture in its lush vineyards and a wide range of easy-drinking styles to choose from, South African wines are receiving top honours on the international stage.

The sunny Cape Winelands and surrounding coastal regions stretch from the Olifants River region in the north, to Constantia on the southern slopes of Table Mountain, to Walker Bay in the south. The multitude of soil types and different micro climates are a blessing for today's vintners.

White varieties represent more than two-thirds of plantings and the country's signature chenin blanc is its top drop, followed by chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. For red wine lovers, the country's cabernet sauvignon, merlot and shiraz are the best.

But it is the chenin blanc that is South Africa's calling card. It is a Cape classic that's rich and tropical with crisp acidity at its very best, and this social butterfly manages to appeal to both sauvignon blanc and chardonnay drinkers.

For a brilliant value white, try Extra Special Fairtrade Chenin Blanc 2011, Western Cape (£6.97, Asda). Tangy, with pear and apple flavours, a grassy hint and a crisp, dry finish with mouth-watering acidity, it tastes as good with food as it does one its own - and it's an impressive example of a fairtrade wine for eco-conscious tipplers.

Another supermarket 'house' white that offers a refreshing change to international favourites such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio, Finest Swartland Chenin Blanc 2011, Swartland (£6.99, Tesco) is a pleasant, breezy white with apples, melon and spiced pear, a hint of honey and a clean, crisp finish.

The wine capital of South Africa, Stellenbosch enjoys a Mediterranean climate and has become a showpiece for leading producers, boutique wine estates and a host of talented winemakers such as Adrian Vanderspuy at Oldenburg Vineyards. He overseas a small production of red wines, and most recently added a chenin blanc and chardonnay to his premium portfolio.

For a creamy, elegant chenin blanc, try Oldenburg Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2011, Stellenbosch (£14.99, www.sawinesonline.co.uk). Fresh and pure with juicy pear and plums, plus an extra richness from a splash of chardonnay combined with zesty acidity, this chenin has it all.

Worth exploring for taste and style, chenin blanc was the most successful white variety at this year's Decanter World Wine Awards, but the judges also found favour with this bronze medal-winning sauvignon blanc. For a brisk white, try Crow's Fountain Traditional Bush Vine Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Stellenbosch (£9.99, Marks & Spencer). Characterised by bracing gooseberry, ripe grapefruit and passion fruit, flint and lime notes add to the wine's intense aromas.

South Africa also excels at chardonnay, and after tasting Eikendal Reserve Chardonnay, Stellenbosch (£11.99, Majestic), it's easy to see why some experts refer to Stellenbosch as "the new Napa." A Californian-style chardonnay, it's rich and inviting with honeysuckle and fresh citrus fruits, oak nuances from barrel ageing, and a long, graceful finish.

There's also excellent value to be found in the Cape's reds, with cabernet sauvignon and shiraz firm favourites ahead of pinotage, SA's speciality grape.

For a smoky shiraz that grows on you, try Wide River Shiraz 2011, Robertson (£6.40, www.tanners-wines.co.uk). It's a smooth, ripe red with a good core of crushed blackberry and boysenberry, and a pepper and a cigar smoke element ahead of the fine tannins.

More delicate palates may appreciate the gentle raspberry flavours, cherry fruit and subtle spice of The Garden Route Shiraz 2011, Western Cape (£7.99, Tesco). Minerally with fresh acidity and less tannic than some of the dense, powerful versions from Down Under, it's another example of how South Africa's shiraz offers quality and value.

World-class producers such as Vergelegen, Stellenbosch, speak for themselves, and celebrated winemaker Andre van Rensburg's polished cabernet sauvignons marry Old World charm with New World elegance. For a stunning red that's drinking beautifully now, but will reward cellaring for up to 10 years, try Vergelegen Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Stellenbosch (£15.25, www.jeroboams.co.uk). A Bordeaux blend, the cab sav is topped up with 5% merlot and 5% cabernet franc, and it's rich and lavish with alluring blackberry, plum and blackcurrants, grippy tannins and a silky smooth, exquisitely long finish.

Let's raise a glass to South Africa's flourishing wine culture.


:: Best buy

Z for zero alcohol... The latest designer soft drink and mixer, ZEO (£1.75, 275ml, www.thedrinkshop.com) contains natural extracts, herbs and spices. It tastes like a mild ginger beer with a pleasant spicy kick on the finish, and it's just as good served well chilled from the fridge with ice and a slice as it is in a cocktail. For more information, visit www.seekzeo.com


:: Liquid news

Best red for less than £10... Les Jamelles Mourvedre Reserve 2011, Languedoc, France (£6.99, selected Co-operative stores nationwide) has been awarded the Decanter wine trophy for "the top red Languedoc-Roussillon wine under £10". Along with a silver medal from the International Wine Challenge, and a bronze from the International Wine & Spirits Competition, there couldn't be a better value red wine to grace the table for Sunday lunch. Match the full-bodied, spicy flavours of Les Jamelles Reserve with roast beef, or steak with pepper sauce, and rustic cheeses.

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