South Africa has successfully mastered the dual art of expressing in her wines the restrained tones of a European accent in the warming and generous body of the New World. The wines have been influenced by France’s classic wine regions: the Loire’s Chenin Blanc, Bordeaux’s Sauvignon Blanc, Burgundy’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and the Rhône’s Syrah/ Shiraz – defining stylistically wines more in character to France than the Americas or Australia and New Zealand.
First to arrive was Chenin Blanc nearly 350 years ago from northern France’s Loire River Valley. Chenin, known locally as Steen for centuries, is the most widely planted grape variety in South Africa. It represents a fifth of all vines planted. Initially, used for distillation into brandy by the Dutch settlers and also for inexpensive crisp and dry wines or Late Harvest/Stein sweeter wines. Current Chenin has two popular dry styles.
Either steel cool and citrus fresh or fermented or matured in oak barrels for a richer spicy character. Typical flavours of greengage plum, angelica and peach evolve into barley sugar and a honeyed almond nutty marzipan with age; but always with refreshing lemony acidity. Both styles feature here. Food matches that love dry Chenin’s lemon fresh acidity are platters of shellfish, grilled plaice or lemon sole, baked smoked haddock and creamy or cheesy sauces.
Sauvignon Blanc is a more recent arrival. In the Mediterranean-like climate, it has a gentler less pungent and intense character than its New Zealand cousin. Syrah/Shiraz is perhaps one of the more versatile black cultivars/varietals in South Africa, performing well in both hotter and cooler regions. Whereas, Pinot Noir particularly prefers the cooler coastal regions.
However, there is one truly original South African wine. Pinotage, a black grape variety created in 1925 from a crossing of parents, Pinot Noir and Cinsault (known locally as Hermitage at the time). Pinotage can be a bit of a wild-child if not kept in check displaying at worst, rasping acidity and the pungency of varnish. However, when tamed by reducing the amount of fruit produced by severe pruning or cultivating older bush vines, Pinotage can give a concentrated lush blackberry richness and a ripeness that charms. The first producer to create the “Expresso Pinotage” style is featured here, Diemersfontein with clever use of heavily toasted oak barrels to age the wine.
Showcasing that there is more to South Africa than its signature red Pinotage wine, a blind tasting of white, rosé and red wines from the Cape mirrors South Africa’s warm welcome of diversity and grape varieties.
1. Chenin Blanc 2018, Secateurs, Badenhorst Family, Swartland
In the leaner, pure fruity driven style. A palate of apple skins and white peach flesh, lifted by a salty mineral note, lively crisp acidity and grassy herbal notes.
Food friend: Perfect with baked monkfish on a bed of sliced fennel and bay leaves.
€16.95 at 64 Wine, Glasthule; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Dicey Reilly’s, Ballyshannon and JNWine.com
2. Chenin Blanc 2016, Spice Route, Charl du Plessis, Swartland
Exotic aromas of rich marzipan from fermentation in oak barrels and a classic note of oily lanolin. A full-bodied wine with juicy peach flavours spiked with white pepper and an almond nuttiness.
Food friend: Match with rich white meat – roast pork and apple sauce.
€22.99 at Baggot Street Wines; Fresh – The Good Food Market; World Wide Wines, Waterford and Wineonline.ie
3. Sauvignon Blanc 2018, The Project Sauvignon Blanc, Manifesto, Western Cape
Made in the more restrained style of Sauvignon Blanc. Delicate fragrance of elderflowers follow-on the dry palate with a gooseberry and green apple freshness. Cool, crisp and elegant.
Food friend: Try with smoked mackerel paté on sourdough toast.
€7.99 at Aldi stores nationwide
4. Missionvale Chardonnay 2015, Bouchard Finlayson, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay
A Chardonnay in the oaky Puligny-Montrachet style. The white pepper bouquet is matched on the palate with intense peppery and buttery richness, complemented by fruity melon and apple. A taste of the vineyard’s terroir gives the wine a local accent.
Food friend: Classic pairings would be lobster with melted butter; roast turkey or lemon chicken.
€33.95 in Dublin at Morton’s, Ranelagh; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; Searson’s, Monkstown and searsons.com
5. Rosebud 2018, Gabriëlskloof, Bot River, Walker Bay
Ripe strawberry and peach fruity aromas from an exotic blend of Syrah and up to 40 percent Viognier for feminine charm. A deliciously dry rosé with peach kernel and crisp freshness. Light-bodied and in the Provencal style of rosé.
Food friend: Loves pink food: prawns and ribbons of smoked salmon in a creamy sauce with tagliatelle and dill.
€19.99 at Deveney’s Dundrum; World Wide Wines, Waterford; Egan’s Food & Wine, Portlaoise; The Malt House, Trim and Wineonline.ie
6. Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2016, Bouchard Finlayson, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay
The valley’s name translates aptly into “heaven on earth”. This multi award winning wine has a perfumed savoury and red berry aroma. Concentrated and delicious with a silky texture and smooth tannins highlighted by a refreshing cranberry acidity complementing the savouriness.
Food friend: Try with seared tuna or grilled salmon.
€44.00 at Searson’s, Monkstown, and searsons.com
7. Pinotage 2017, Diemersfontein, Wellington
Smoky and meaty notes with expresso coffee richness. Rich and creamy texture with peppery spice and a black fruity core of black cherry flavours and semi-ripe plums.
Food friend: Enjoy with lamb chops and a rosemary and garlic breadcrumb topping.
€21.95 in Dublin: Martin’s, Fairview; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Morton’s, Ranelagh; Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com; McHugh’s, Kilbarrack Road; Drink Store, Stoneybatter; Donnybrook Fair; 64 Wine, Glasthule. 1601 Off Licence, Kinsale; The Parting Glass, Enniskerry and Worldwide Wines, Waterford.
8. Redhill Pinotage 2013, Simonsig, Stellenbosch
Rich and oaky spice with red and black berry character in a more restrained fruit style. Full-bodied and classy.
Food friend: The firm tannins demand an assertive red meat match – a peppered steak.
€25 in Dublin at Nolan’s, Clontarf and Morton’s, Ranelagh.
9. Chakalaka 2015, Spice Route, Swartland
Made from a medley of black varietals: Syrah, Carignan, Mourvedre, Tannat, Petite Sirah and Grenache. Aromas of warm and ripe dark fruits. The ripeness continues onto the full-bodied palate coupled with tarry black fruit and minty herbal tones.
Food friend: Try with roasted beef and wild mushrooms in cream.
€25.99 at Baggot Street Wines; Donnybrook Fair; Hole in The Wall; Fresh – The Good Food Market; Wine Well Off-Licence, Dunboyne; Cashel Wine Cellar and Wineonline.ie
10. Premium Fairtrade Shiraz 2017, Winemaker’s Selection, Swartland
Ripe blackberry fruity aromas. An intense, bright fruity core on the black fruit compote palate, supported by mellow tannins and a tang of black berries on the finish.
Food friend: Serve with Szechuan sizzling beef or equally at home at a braai/ barbecue.
€8.99 at Lidl nationwide
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as a judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.