Importer wines from an exotic place, with classic varietals showing superior quality and with most modest pricing. Sound like something too good to be true, not so, for that is exactly what we found when we attended a seminar and tasting of wines from South Africa.
The event took place at the Marina City Club and the seminar was conducted by Jim Clarke, marketing manager for Wines of South Africa. Included was the tasting of three of the region's best known white grape wines and three of the red varietals that are from vineyards located at the very southern tip of the sprawling huge African continent.
Leading white varietal in Chenin Blanc and indeed South Africa enjoys the largest number of Chenin Blanc vineyards of any wine producing country worldwide. The Fram Chenin Blanc we tasted from Pascal Schidt Selections was a 2014 vintage from the Citrusdalo Mountain region. It earned high points on our score card. The Sauvignon Blanc grape does particularly well in the Sanctuary Peak region which enjoys the influence of the southern ocean. We liked the Downes Family 2014 Sauvignon Blanc from this region for its lush aroma and flavors. The third white wine we tasted was Colmant Brut from Kysela Pere Et Fils. Ltd which also offers a Colmant Brut Rose.
Growing grapes and making wine has a long history in South Africa. Grapes arrived with the first European settlers in 1659. In that era South Africa was most important as an provisioning port for ships moving on to the East Indies and the spice trade. Then in the 17th century Stellerbosch began the production of red wines. Today 54 per cent of the vineyards are planted with white grapes, the most popular Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay and Colombard.
With 45 per cent of the vineyards in red varietals the leaders are Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinotage and Merlot. The cabernet sauvignon we tasted at the seminar was from the Stellenbosch, Jonkershoek valley region, a Neil Ellis 2013 vintage. The age showed in this wine with softer tannins and silky smoothness on the palate.
We were particularly taken with the Ken Forrester Renegade which is a blend of Shiraz, Mourvedre and Grenache. We tasted the Renegade 2012 Red Blend and found it remarkable in its light aroma, soft tannins and a lasting finish. We might add that the first Forrester vineyard dates back to 1659.
We noted as we moved through the tasting that South African vintners are not in a rush to bring vintages to market. Many enjoy years of cellar and bottle aging. Also remarkable was the fact that the highest price for any wine we tasted was $21 retail, many in the $10 to $15 range.
Twenty wineries or their importers were represented at the tasting. On conclusion of the seminar an excellent buffet luncheon was served. We were very impressed with the facilities offered at the Marina City Club in Marina Del Mar. It proved an excellent choice for the South Africa wine event.
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