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South Africa Wines: Why to Buy

The planet's top soccer players are convening in South Africa this month for the World Cup. To join them (in his own way), F&W's Ray Isle shares some South African wine wisdom.

3 Rules: 1. Seek Out Shiraz  |  2. Look for Values  |  3. Go for 2009 Bottles  |  Plus: Pinotage Artist Charles Black

1. Seek Out Shiraz

Many of South Africa's top red wines—along with many of its best values—come from this intense, spicy variety.

2008 DMZ Shiraz ($15)

De Morgenzon is primarily known for its wonderful, oak-aged Chenin Blanc. But in the 2008 vintage, the owners added a second, more affordable brand, DMZ. The best bottling is this green peppercorn–inflected Shiraz.

2007 Darling Cellars Onyx Shiraz ($16)

Bright blackberry fruit with a hint of smoke is the hallmark of this exuberant red. It comes from the Darling district, on the country's western coast.

2008 Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block ($39)

Though not solely Syrah—the wine has small amounts of Grenache, Cabernet, Cinsaut and Viognier—this inky red brilliantly shows South Africa's strength with Rhône grape varieties.

Video: What Does Wine Taste Like?

2. Look for Values

South African white wines are phenomenal deals.

2009 Excelsior Chardonnay ($10)

This refreshing, lime-scented bottling is from a Robertson Valley property that is also one of the country's most famed thoroughbred horse farms.

2009 Fairvalley Chenin Blanc ($10)

Profits from this mandarin orange–scented Chenin help build houses and a community center for the Fairvalley Farm Workers Association.

2008 Kanu Chenin Blanc ($10)

Creamy and melony, Kanu's affordable bottling is on the full-bodied side of South African Chenin Blanc, with a light herbal note in the finish that lasts.

2009 Backsberg Sauvignon Blanc ($13)

Grapefruit peel and chalk notes are at the heart of this peppery Sauvignon from a winery founded in 1916.

3. Go for 2009 Bottles

South Africa's 2009 vintage was stellar. The white wines are here now; look for reds to start arriving later this year.

2009 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc ($14)

Chenin Blanc is one of South Africa's premier white-wine grapes. Despite its moderate price, this Mulderbosch Chenin is complex and luscious.

2009 Sincerely Sauvignon Blanc ($14)

Vineyards in both the Groenekloof ward and the Stellenbosch region produced the grapes for this racy, grapefruit-scented white from noted winemaker Neil Ellis.

2009 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc ($15)

Scents of lime peel and chalk define this zesty white. It's sourced from low-yielding vineyards near Stellenbosch's Helderberg Mountain.

2009 Warwick Estate Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc ($19)

Three months on lees (the spent yeasts from fermentation) give this Sauvignon more body and richness than many, though its citrus flavor stays bright.

Courtesy of La Capra Pinotage
Courtesy of La Capra Pinotage

Plus: Pinotage Artist Charles Black

Many people find South Africa's Pinotage grape an acquired taste, to say the least ("horse blanket" is occasionally used to describe its aroma). But Charles Back, one of South Africa's most talented winemakers, has a knack for bringing out the variety's lush, savory, blackberry character, while dialing back that in-your-face funkiness. His 2008 La Capra ($10) is a case in point.

More Wine Tips:

Published June 2010
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