When discussing wine from the southern hemisphere of the globe, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina dominate the conversation while South Africa is usually left out. South Africa is the oldest “New World” wine producing country in the world.
Planting the first vines
Settled in 1652 by the Dutch as a refueling point, the Dutch East India Company planted the first vines in the country. The Klein Costantia winery was founded a few years later, in 1658. South Africa happens to be the half-way point on the trip from the Netherlands to India. South Africa is the most biologically diverse country in the world with over 400 million different species of flora and fauna. The climate in South Africa is generally Mediterranean and is moderated by the Benguela current coming north from Antarctica.
Hoping for a brighter future
The 20th Century was difficult for South African producers, with the KWV dominating production in the first half and Apartheid in the second half, ending in 1994. The 21st century is looking a lot better for the growers and producers. Foreign investment has poured into the country. Water access continues to be problematic in the interior of the country. The coastal regions of the country fare much better.
Steen / Chenin Blanc grapes
Chenin Blanc is the dominant white grape of the country where it is also known as Steen. Old vine Chenin Blanc is a hidden gem of the country. Premium examples are treated to new oak for both fermentation and aging. They will age well in the cellar.
Pinotage is definitely affected by climate
Pinotage is a polarizing varietal that was created in 1924. The idea was to take the best qualities of Pinot Noir and Cinsault and marry them together. Since it is thick-skinned and drought resistant, the vine was relegated to the hottest areas. This caused the wines to present a paint thinner or burnt rubber note. When treated like a Pinot Noir, planted in cooler spots with lower yields, its true character shines through.
What I am drinking
2020 Radley & Finch Chenin Blanc
This bright and fresh white is a great example of Chenin Blanc’s potential in South Africa. Brimming with aromas and flavors of fresh honeysuckle, pear, lemon and cereal grains, the wine is full-flavored, balanced and incredibly versatile. Pick it up for under $15
2018 Beeslaar Pinotage, Stellenbosch
This wine has an intense ruby red color, with plum cake, red fruit, and dark chocolate aromas, offering savory finish on the palate. Pick it up for about $60
South African and vineyard images courtesy Pixabay.com
Radley & Finch courtesy of mtouton.com
Beeslaar image courtesy of Beeslaar vineyards
Adam Arlen: “I am passionate about wine because it is history in a bottle.” He is the sommelier for The Peninsula Club in Cornelius, NC. Originally from Allentown, PA, he believes you should always branch out and find new things. His goal is to never stop learning and continuing to grow both personally and professionally. A fun fact about him: “I was a nuclear engineer on a submarine in a previous life.”
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