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Re-post: Best Hidden Secrets of The Wine World: Wines of South Africa

January 24, 2013 12 comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed, but I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Hamilton_Russell_Pinot_Noir_2008Continuing the subject of “secrets” of the wine world (you might remember our past conversations about Rioja, Second Labels, Georgian Wines and more), let’s talk about wines of South Africa. If you are asking why South African wines should be considered a “hidden secrets”, please read below.

As one would rightfully expect, history of South African wines is tightly intertwined with history of South Africa as a country. Winemaking in South Africa started in 17th century, and for the long time, South Africa was making dessert wines, some of them still famous, like Constantia. Most of the wines were exported into United Kingdom. Similar to the most of the winemaking world, South Africa experienced Phylloxera epidemic in the 19th century, and lots of vines had to be replanted. The 20th century was marked by the political issues – as apartheid was a bad problem for the South Africa, the institute of wine regulations by KWV also became a limitation for the wine industry. Combination of the KWV restrictions with boycott of the South African goods, including wines, as a means to fight apartheid regime, lead to South African wines staying largely non-existent for the wine lovers around the world. With collapse of apartheid the situation changed, and then KWV monopoly was also broken, which lead to the great advances in the South African wine making. If you want to read more about the history of

A number of different grapes are used in winemaking in South Africa. First we need to mention Chenin Blanc, which is still one the major white grapes used in wine production (it is also known locally under the name of Steen). Similar to the Loire valley, where Chenin Blanc is shining, it makes whole range of wines in South Africa, starting from very dry and acidic, and going all the way up to the dessert wines. Next we need to mentioned Pinotage, which is unique grape, produced and cultivated only in South Africa. Pinotage is a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir grapes, and has a number of strange characteristics, such as being reminiscent of liquefied rusty nails in the glass. Then whole bunch of international varietals are also planted (amount of those plantings is increasing), and it includes Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and many others.

Thelema_Chardonnay_2007So why are we placing South African wines into the “secrets” category? Once you will try [good] wines from South Africa, chances are you will be blown away. It is important to note that South African wines are new world wines masquerading as an old world – which makes blind tasting with South African wines very challenging.

As our tradition goes, let’s open a bottle or two, and let’s talk about the wines. First, 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir. This wine is simply amazing – very restrained and polished, with beautiful restrained fruit, lots of smokiness and earthiness on the palate. This wine shows off as a classic Burgundy, and only when you look at the label you experience almost a shock – this wine is from South Africa, last place one would expect to produce classy Burgundy (you can read about our blind tasting experience here).

Then comes 2007 Thelema Chardonnay, again, very reminiscent of beloved White Burgundy – restrained, with balanced fruit, hint of butter and vanilla on the palate and good tannins – very elegant.

Cirrus_Syrah_2003Last I would like to mention 2003 Cirrus wine – a predominantly Shiraz ( 96%) with addition of small amount of Viognier (4%). On the palate, this wine mostly represents liquid smoke, but it really comes alive in a glass, with excellent tannins, toned down fruit and perfect acidity, well balanced.

I don’t know if I manage to convince you in the “secrets” status of South African wines. But if you will think about it, either way you have to find a bottle of South African wine – to either agree or disagree with me. Look for the one we talked about here – and judge it for yourself. Cheers!

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