By The Glass
South African wines show potential
When I went to South Africa eight years ago, the wine industry was in shambles. Trade embargoes and apartheid had left the country in the caveman days as far as wine-making skills went.
Most of the wine was pretty awful and was sold off to European countries really cheap. But I did notice that South Africa had enormous potential: lots of inexpensive land, a relatively cheap labor force, climate conducive to growing grapes and enough winery owners with the will to make better wines. In fact, many of the vineyards I visited were as nice as top vineyards in Napa Valley or even France.
Now that apartheid has disappeared, South Africa has become a nation in good standing with the rest of the world. As a result more inflow of foreign winemakers, marketers and business people are lifting up a once backward industry.
Recent vintages have shown that South Africa is tapping its immense potential. The better wines are impressive, made for today's American palate, at extremely reasonable prices, if not downright silly.
And the best has yet to come. South Africa is like the undiscovered frontier. Whereas the majority of prime vineyard sites in Napa and Bordeaux have all been discovered, planted and are already producing great wines, it is the opposite for South Africa.
Savvy importers will be able to find gems that are fairly priced, and that means the same for consumers. The names will be unfamiliar, but delving into South Africa now will likely pay off big dividends, if value is important to you.
2004 Kumkani Viognier ($12.99): Finding good viognier is hard enough, but finding inexpensive good viognier is near impossible. This one bucks the odds. Powerful aromas of lime zest, ginger and nectarine are well-supported by a rich, complex flavor of macadamia, white flowers and peach and a full lime and spice finish. A medium-light, refreshing wine. Try it with seared scallops with roasted red peppers in lime juice.
2004 Helderberg Steen ($7.50): What the heck is steen? We didn't know when we tasted this lovely wine. It offers pear, apple and a tinge of honey, with a creamy texture, smooth and balanced. We later found that steen is made from chenin blanc. Great with oysters, raw fish and ceviche.
2003 Eventide Cabernet Sauvignon ($15.99): Eventide is one of the stars coming out of South Africa, with powerful cassis and blackcurrant aromas. Densely structured, broad-fruited, with a long, expressive finish.
2003 Eventide Shiraz ($15.99): Raspberry and white pepper accentuated by hints of cinnamon and a velvety palate full of ripe cherry and blackberry with good structure and length.
2001 Biton Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.99): The bouquet beckons with ripe, dark berry fruits, tobacco, leather and sweet, spicy oak, all nicely meshed. The soft, yet full fruity palate rewards with layers of flavor backed by soft tannins. This is like a baby Lafite Rothschild.
Jay Kam is president of Vintage Wine Cellar.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org