South Africa has a long history of wine making and today its wines offer a fantastic value.
When it comes to wine, most people consider everything produced outside of Europe New World. Although there’s no denying that wine making in Europe dates back centuries, there’s nothing really ‘new’ about wine making in South Africa.
Wine has been produced in South Africa for more than 350 years, and while much of the world shunned products of the country during Apartheid, wine lovers are rediscovering the quality and value of South African wine.
Blackbeard’s wine specialist Jeremy Corday, a confessed fan of South African wine, spoke about some of his company’s expanding portfolio from the country over lunch at the Brasserie.
Chenin Blanc is the most heavily planted grape in South Africa, accounting for almost 20 per cent of all vineyard plantings. Native to the Loire Valley in France, the high-acidity grape is versatile, able to produce sparkling wines, sweet dessert wines and refreshing dry wines.
“It may be the most underrated grape on the planet,” said Robert Bradshaw, president of wine importer Cape Classics at the Cayman Cookout earlier this year.
Corday especially likes the crisp, bright and round Chenin Blanc produced by Raats Family Wines.
“It’s such delicious wine,” he said. “The thing about an unoaked Chenin like this, it’s super diverse. It goes really great with food, especially seafood – even sushi.”
The wine paired well with the Brasserie’s mussels in lemon grass broth and with seared fresh tuna.
Corday said the two most popular white wines in Cayman are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, and he thinks people who like those wines will really like Raats Chenin Blanc, especially with its affordable $16.99 retail price.
“This is a wine that is made for this island,” he said. “This will be Grand Cayman’s new favourite white wine.”
Blackbeard’s also imports one of the true South African all-star Chenins, Ken Forrester’s ‘The FMC’, which was featured at the Gala Dinner at the 2011 Cayman Cookout.
“Round, sexy, gorgeous and delicious,” Corday said.
The FMC is a hard-to-get wine, however, and will only be available at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
South Africa’s signature grape is Pinotage, a crossbreed of elegant Pinot Noir with rustic Cinsaut
– known as Hermitage in South Africa. It was created in 1925 by a University of Stellenbosch professor named Abraham Perold, who was trying to create a grape that exhibited some of the elegance of Pinot Noir in a vine more robust and easier to grow. The result was a wine with delicate tannins and good acidity like Pinot Noir, but fuller in body and flavour.
Unlike other South African wines, which tend to reflect Old World wine styles, Pinotage is distinctly New World. Although it has its critics – there have been many mediocre and even bad Pinotages made over the years – there are some wineries making high-quality, affordable Pinotage.
One such winery is Spice Route (retail $22.99) which produces a medium body Pinotage with velvety tannins and flavours of dark fruits like plum, blueberries and brambles.
“This is a killer barbecue wine,” said Corday, adding the wine paired amazingly well with the Brasserie’s Kobe burger. “It’s a match made in heaven.”
Pinotage is a food friendly wine in general and one of the few red wines that can pair well with spicy foods, making it a good match for Caribbean cuisine. In addition, Pinotage is a red wine that can handle a little chilling, making it good for Cayman’s climate. Many South Africans swear that well-chilled Pinotage and fresh oysters are a beautiful pairing.
Almost every wine-growing region in the world plants Chardonnay grapes, and South Africa is no exception.
The Indaba Winery’s Mzokona Mvemve has the distinction of being one of South Africa’s first black wine makers, but Corday said the wine has its own distinction.
“It drinks like a Chard you’d pay twice as much for,” he said of the wine priced $16.49 in Blackbeard’s stores. “Mind boggling value, as [noted wine critic Robert] Parker says.”
The wine has tropical fruit flavours with a hint of butterscotch and a little oakiness. Corday loves the balance of the wine, along with its round, creamy texture.
If it’s not Pinotage and it’s a red wine from South Africa, there’s a good chance it’s a Bordeaux blend
– which means the wine is a red blend containing the classic Bordeaux grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The Bordeaux blends produced in South Africa tend to be made more in the style of the Old World than say the way they are made in California.
One top producer of these red blends is De Toren, which makes two wines: the Merlot-driven ‘Z’, and the Cabernet Sauvignon-driven Fusion V. Corday is a fan of both. At $32.99 a bottle retail, the 2004 Z is a great value wine.
“Black currant, blackberries with leather, tobacco and graphite ala Old World,” he said. “Everything done by hand and gravity; each component vinified and aged separately before being blended.”
The award-winning Fusion V uses intricate, modern techniques to maximise quality and has flavours of dark chocolate, blackberries and liquorice, Corday said.
“Another great blend of New and Old World components in a very well-made and complex wine.”
This one is another hard-to-find wine that is only available at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
Best of all is 2008 MR De Compostella, which was given 96 points by Robert Parker.
“It’s the highest rated wine from South African by any wine publication,” he said. “Big but sexy with refined, well integrated tannins. Each component is made to stand alone as a great wine itself. It all goes to the Ritz, so that’s where you have to go to experience this gem.”
Many wineries in South Africa grow Cabernet Sauvignon– a central ingredient in Bordeaux blends – but not many produce noteworthy pure Cabs.
One good exception, however, is Rustenberg Peter Barlow, a 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon made by one of the oldest wine farms in South Africa.
Corday said in a blind tasting he attended of South African wines versus the world, every person in the room chose Peter Barlow over California’s cult favourite Silver Oak.
“It has amazing dark fruits but with Old World hints of earth,” Corday said. “It’s a little bit Napa Cab and a little bit left bank Bordeaux.”
A wine with great structure, the 2004 could easily age another seven or eight years, showing that some South African wines can and do age well.
With the Brasserie’s strip loin steak, Rustenberg’s Peter Barlow ($52.99 retail) was a perfect match.
One red variety making strides in South Africa is Shiraz, which tends to made in a style more resembling Rhone Syrah than Australian Shiraz.
During the 2011 Cayman Cookout, Food & Wine Magazine’s Ray Isle said Shiraz was a variety to watch in South Africa.
“To me, they are going to be the really exciting wines in South Africa in a little while,” he said.
Corday said that one Shiraz, Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz ($15.99) was already on fire in the US market. Light bodied, jammy with flavours of cherry pie and ripe berries, Corday said the wine was best served slightly chilled and that it made a good accompaniment to desserts that aren’t too sweet.
“Cayman will love this wine based on flavour and price,” he said.