Tortuga offers South African gems

South Africa has a centuries-old wine-making tradition that is producing fine wines at great prices. Tortuga Liquors Fine Wines & Spirits conducted a tasting of five wines from two top-quality South African wineries – Vergelegen and Mulderbosch – paired with food from Ristorante Pappagallo.

When most people hear about South African wines, they think ‘New World’. Although compared to certain parts of Europe, South Africa is the new world when it comes to wine making, it is hardly a new activity there.

Take the winery Vergelegen in Somerset West, for example. ‘Anno 1700’ is printed on every bottle of Vergelegen because that is the year when vines were first planted on the estate. Over the centuries, the property has gone through many changes and challenges, including a devastating bout with vine-killing phylloxera in the late 1800s.

In 1987, a company called Anglo-American purchased the estate and refocused on creating high-quality wines. In 1992, Baron Eric de Rothschild, owner of the famed Chateau Lafitte winery in Bordeaux, France, built and opened a modern winery on the estate, setting Vergelegen – which means ‘situated faraway’ in Dutch – on the path to producing award-winning wines that are some of South Africa’s best.

For the tasting at Ristorante Pappagallo, three of Vergelegen’s wines were sampled, one white and two red. The white, 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($16.99), was crisp and refreshing with strong aromas of fruit, green pepper and cut grass.

Tortuga’s Wine Division head Massimo Consolini thought Vergelegen’s Sauvignon Blanc was a perfect wine for Cayman’s hot climate.

“It’s light with a nice flavour,” he said.

The wine was also perfect paired with smoked wahoo carpaccio, a signature appetizer at Ristorante Pappagallo.

One of the red wines was 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot ($16.99), a blend of 45 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 37 per cent Merlot, and 18 per cent Cabernet Franc. This was an easy-drinking red wine with soft tannins and aromas of ripe berries. On the palate, it exhibits a complexity that belies its price point, with flavours ranging from chocolate and coffee to ripe fruit.

The wine was served with Pappagallo’s Wagyu Beef Carpaccio – thin slices of raw Wagyu beef served with a torchon of foie gras and a black truffle vinaigrette – and it had the complexity of flavour to match the strong flavours of the dish.

The other Vergelegen red was 2006 Cabernet Reserve ($25.99), a wine made of 90 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 per cent Cabernet Franc and 5 per cent Merlot that received 91 points from one prominent wine critic.

This full-bodied, dark red wine has aromas of dark berries, chocolate and coffee and a complexity of flavours including ripe plum, spice, and pepper. This wine paired with Pappagallo’s Beef Agnolotti, a rich and earthy dish of pasta filled with shredded beef, prosciutto and Swiss chard, and topped with a Marsala beef ju and more shredded beef.

The other featured winery, Mulderbosch, was founded in 1989 with the intention of creating world-class wines. Mulderbosch’s Sauvignon Blanc, with its distinctive striped label, caught the fancy of wine drinkers internationally and even made inroads to the tough American market.

Our tasting included Mulderbosch’s 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($23.99), which has lively citrus and tropical fruit aromas. Supplementing similar flavours is a complex array of minerality with hints of grass and herbs. This is a wine that gets better with food, and certainly paired well with the smoked wahoo carpaccio, but also had the body and minerality to stand up to Pappagallo’s unique Black and Yellow Linguine – freshly made pasta with shrimp, scallops, tomatoes, basil, olive oil and white wine.

Also tasted was Mulderbosch’s 2006 Faithful Hound ($25.99), a red blend made from the classic Bordeaux grapes, with 41 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 36 per cent Petit Verdot, 10 per cent Cabernet Franc, 9 per cent Merlot and 4 per cent Malbec. Normally, Bordeaux blends – and usually this wine – do not have such a high percentage of Petit Verdot. The amount of the grape in this vintage helps give the wine a unique character with lots of spice, firm tannins and intense flavours of blackberry, cherry, coffee and tobacco. Wine Spectator gave this wine 90 points.

It paired wonderfully with Pappagallo’s New Zealand Rack of Lamb served with garlic whipped potatoes and black currant red-wine sauce.

Consolini thought that the price of this wine, measured against its maturity and high quality, made it the best value of all the wines tasted that day.

In 2010, Mulderbosch was purchased by Terroir Capital, a California-based investment group headed by American Charles Banks, former partner of Screaming Eagle Winery, an iconic cult Cabernet producer in Napa Valley. That will probably bode well for future vintages of Faithful Hound, and indeed the winery’s other reds as well.