Taste: Spirits: Out of Africa

Little-known South African wines are a big value

When we picture Africa, baking-hot climates come to mind. But South Africa’s coast is temperate, cooled by Antarctic currents. The region’s long wine history and unusual geography produce distinctive, delicious wines that defy standard categories. Their ripeness is unmistakably modern, sharing the bold fruit flavors of other Southern Hemisphere wines. However, their earthy edge and food-oriented balance betray their “Old World” European heritage.

Since economic sanctions were lifted in 1991, South African wineries have made great strides in exports. An ambitious program to diversify vineyard ownership is under way, and the first few wines under black empowerment project labels are hot commodities. As with Chilean and Australian wines a decade ago, value-priced wines are being promoted to help build South Africa’s credibility as a fine wine source.

Delicious wines at low prices catch the eye of restaurants first, and many area wine lists feature glass pours from South Africa. The whites are bright and clean, with vibrant purity of fruit. Try Fleur du Cap’s zesty sauvignon blanc on Washington Square’s patio, or Bradgate’s refreshing chenin blanc blend at the Freight House in Doylestown. South African reds are more intense, with juicy fruit and spicy aromas. Taste Zonnebloem’s delightful merlot at the Founders Dining Room atop the Park Hyatt, or sip Excelsior’s cabernet sauvignon at Zanzibar Blue. Such French varieties dominate in South Africa, but the nation’s most talked-about red wine is pinotage, with an unusual smoky, meaty flavor, ideal for barbecues. Sample Indaba’s pinotage at Savannah Soul Food Bar in the Art Museum district.


PLCB Pick of the Month
Mount Langi Ghiran “Cliff Edge” Shiraz, Victoria, Australia, 2001; $14.99
Australian shiraz can be as soft and fruit-forward as merlot, yet the best versions have the depth and intensity of a fine cabernet. Mount Langi Ghiran is a classic producer, known for the power and finesse of its old-vine shiraz. Regularly $25, it’s loaded with blackberry jam and chai spice flavors. Try it with home-grilled cheeseburgers or lamb kebabs.