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Posts Tagged ‘Cape Winelands’

Discover South African Wine

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South African Wine

Cape Dutch Architecture

Unique Cape Dutch Architecture

During the past 10 years, South African wines have gained a bit of shelf space in the wine shop. But, for the majority of American wine drinkers this country remains off the wine-drinking radar screen. That is a huge mistake because South African wine vintners produce some of the most value-driven, yet eminent wines in the world.

Storied History

South Africa is considered a New World wine region. However, European immigrants planted the first wine grapes back in 1652, launching a popular wine culture, especially in England and France. But as luck would have it, war, the opening of the Suez Canal and the presence of phylloxera led to an equally grand fall. Twenty years ago with the dismantling of Apartheid, major investments in the wine industry have spurred a reemergence.

Cape Winelands Surrounded by Mountains

Cape Winelands Surrounded by Mountains

The Cape Winelands region has many favorable conditions present for growing quality vines. With an accommodatingly warm Mediterranean climate, rich top- and sub soils, and adequate winter rainfall, this emerging nation has quickly regained a reputation for producing award-winning wines. It is also strikingly beautiful with Cape-Dutch architecture and picturesque wine estates set against mountainous backgrounds.


Popular Wine Regions

The more esteemed wine regions include the following:

Constantia Valley – Located a short 20-minute drive from Cape Town, this area is the birthplace of South African wine. Constantia, a same-named sweet Muscat wine was extremely popular among the English and French aristocracy. Today, Sauvignon Blanc, a cool-climate grape benefits from nearby ocean breezes off the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Stellenbosch – With more than 150 wine estates and grape producers, this region is the most popular with tourists, as well as locals.The short drive from Cape Town makes it an easy weekend getaway destination. The hilly terrain, compliments of the nearby Simonsberg, Drakenstein and Stellenbosch Mountains provides favorable soil conditions for growing world-class wines.

The University of Stellenbosch is the equivalent of University of California, Davis for viticulture and oenology studies.

Lunch at Moreson Wines in Franschhoek

Lunch at Moreson Wines in Franschhoek

Franschhoek – Famed for its amazing scenery and an outstanding culinary scene, the “French Corner” also produces some world-renown wines. About an hour’s drive from Cape Town, the valley produces international varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, as well as Semillion and Shiraz.

Paarl – If you enjoy fortified wines and spirits, (who doesn’t?), this is your ‘hood. Situated in the Berg River Valley, many of the wine farms also make cheese and grow olives.


Take a Sip

One of my goals for 2015 is to “drink outside the box”. Instead of reaching for my tried-and-true favorites, I have started drinking wines made from lesser-known grapes. The wines of South Africa certainly fit into this category. Also, I plan to drink popular varieties from atypical regions. Instead of pouring a Russian River Pinot Noir, why not give one a try from South Africa?  With a climate similar to parts of Sonoma County and rejuvenated winemakers, expect some pretty tasty juice.

Approximately 55% of wine production in the country is dedicated to white grapes including less-familiar wines such as Colombard, Hanepoot (aka Muscat of Alexandria) and Cape Riesling. Steen, the local name for Chenin Blanc is the most popular white wine. It is one of my favorite styles.

Pinotage South Africa's Indigenous Grape

Pinotage South Africa’s Indigenous Grape

A truly unique red wine grape is the indigenous Pinotage. The grape was invented by a University of Stellenbosch professor as a cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir. This is a wine you will either hate or tolerate; but very few people love it. However, you should taste for yourself.

Here are a few Pinotage suggestions to sample:

  • 2011 Fleur du Cap $12
  • 2011 Neil Ellis $18
  • 2011 Fairview Primo $28

Since South Africa is a southern hemisphere country, all vintages are six months older than wines bottled in the United States.

South Africa exports about 50% of its wine production. The United States markets have started to receive a larger allotment of these shipments. You’ll have to talk to your wine shop owner to help you locate most bottles. As yet, demand hasn’t risen to the point where you’ll find bottle after bottle sitting on shelves. However, when you come across a South African import, my advise is you should reach for a bottle because you will not be disappointed.


My Picks
Quality, Value-packed South African Wine

Quality, Value-packed South African Wine

Here are some other fine, reasonably price South African wines I think you may enjoy:


  • 2012 Graham Beck “Bowed Head’ Chenin Blanc $12 – Dried apricots, tree-ripened peaches, lovely long finish
  • 2013 De Wetshof “Bon Vallon”Chardonnay – Floral notes followed by stone fruit and Bosch pear flavors


  • 2012 Rust en Vrede Merlot $18 – Chocolate nose,  raspberry and black cherry flavors with a rich, raisin-like finish
  • 2010 Painted Wolf Guillermo Pinotage $19 – Soft blueberry and blackberry flavors
  • 2011 Starke-Conde Cabernet Sauvignon $24 – Dark cherry, blackberry with a lengthy finish
  • 2008 Meerlust Rudicon $27 – Earthy followed by berry flavors and Thanksgiving spices
  • 2012 Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block $32 – You may confuse it with with a like a northern Rhône Syrah with a chef’s heavy-hand of black pepper, coriander, nutmeg and juicy red fruits
  • 2011 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir $40 – Hibiscus tea floral notes, typical strawberry & strawberry flavors along with surprising savory spice notes


Let me know your take on any of these picks.



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South African Chenin Blanc

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Chenin Blanc, a Great White Wine

Everyone can recall the first time they were kissed or the day they got their driver’s license. Those moments were your evidence to the world, or at least to your parents, that you were no longer a child.  For me, the day I fell in love with South African Chenin Blanc wine ranks right up there with these right-of-passage experiences. Ever since, I’ve been a convert of white wines, particularly South African Chenin Blanc.

South African Chenin Blanc after playing golf

South African Chenin Blanc after playing golf

I was sitting at lunch with my travel companions, two-foursome groups of devoted American golfers, sharing hole-by-hole stories of our earlier match on a top South African golf course. In typical golfer fashion, we had risen extremely early so we could have a quick breakfast before heading off to the course for some range practice and promptly make our tee times. The day had been an expectantly warm January summer day.

When we all met for our 19th-hole lunch, because of the heat, I didn’t feel like drinking a big, bold Cabernet or even a lighter-bodied Merlot, which were my typical go-to wines. I wasn’t sure what I’d order given the wine list was heavily swayed toward white wines, which I never drank. The server arrived and my table mates immediately ordered two bottles of white wine. I took this as an omen for me to pass on drinking wine.  So, I decided to hydrate myself with “a sparkling”, the name South Africans use for a glass of sparkling water.

What I didn’t know was that my wine-drinking world was about to be turned upside down. I was about to have quite a wonderful, eye-opening experience. The server brought glasses for all us and began pouring. Since I was caught in the conversation, I didn’t notice she had poured a glass of wine for me too. I figured I’d just give my glass to one of my teammates as the meal progressed but something strange happened. Everyone started raving about how good the wine tasted. I had played with Bill, an older gentlemen from New England who had shared with me that he was an avid wine drinker. When he joined the praise party, I took the bait and took a sip.

South African Chenin Blanc at Lunch

South African Chenin Blanc at Lunch

Wow! What a delight! I had just tried my first South African Chenin Blanc or Steen as it is referred to in Afrikaans. It was crisp, clean, had a hint of tropical fruit and a bit of lemon zest. I loved it. And this delicious Chenin Blanc paired wonderfully with the flaky fish served in a wine and caper sauce I had ordered.

During the remainder of my golfing adventure in South Africa, I sampled Chenin Blanc with every meal. It paired nicely with a starter salad. I had a glass of my new-found favorite South African Chenin Blanc with a cheese and fruit plate I snacked on in my hotel room. Never did it disappoint.

Upon my return from South Africa, I knew I had to confess to my red-wine-only drinking friends. We were sitting outside on a friend’s patio, drinking red wine of course, when I decided it was time to spill my dirty, little South African secret. Instead of trepidation, I felt confident that once they heard about my epiphany, they’d follow suit. I didn’t pussyfoot around; but instead I just came out and said, “Okay you guys. I have a confession to make. When I was in South Africa, I drank white wine. But it was really amazing and I think you all should give it a try.” After a few minutes of teasing remarks, I decided that with or without their approval, I was going to stop limiting myself to only red wines and I’ve never regretted that decision.

South African Chenin Blanc with Vichyssoise

South African Chenin Blanc with Vichyssoise

Today, some of my absolute favorite wines to sip at the end of a long day (okay, true for any kind of day) include Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño and Torrentes, which I firmly believe came about as a direct result of that glass of South African Chenin Blanc I drank on that memorable afternoon.  It was that experience that opened my eyes to the possibility that white wines can be good and should be taken seriously. I absolutely love white wines.  When we have friends over for a wine-pairing dinner, a South African Chenin Blanc is one of our top choices to serve with the first-course salad or the second-course soup.

However, you don’t have to wait for your own epiphany to start drinking truly delicious, quality white wines. Not only are white wines mouth-watering, but due to their acidity, they pair quite nicely with seafood dishes, cheeses and most meals served with a cream sauce.  As the holidays approach and you ponder what to serve with the myriad of dishes, may I suggest a South African Chenin Blanc?

If you’d like to experience South African Chenin Blanc firsthand, join Fine Living Enthusiast as we journey to southern Africa Sept.  2014 on a Wine and the Wilderness vacation. During this time, we’ll spend two amazing days in the Stellenbosch wine region tasting and learning about South African Chenin Blanc, Pinotage and other great wines of the Cape Winelands.





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