South African Wines

by Eunice Fried

Jun 1, 2016
2016

A country whose wine history stretches back to 1659, South Africa enjoyed an oenological rebirth in the mid-1990s after the death of apartheid and the birth of democracy. Today it boasts nearly 600 wineries, with 247,000 acres planted in vines, and produces a range of wines that catch the attention of wine lovers throughout the world. Recently I tasted a group of new releases of South African wines in the United States — some from well-established wineries, some from wineries just entering the international market. Highberry Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($21) represents both. It hails from a new winery owned by three men with long wine experience, one of whom is Jabulani Ntshangase, the preeminent black South African in that country’s wine world. Its first release is a delicate, subtly flavored, pale-shaded wine offering excellent balance and evoking flavorful citrus fruits. New on the international market, Virgin Earth Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($19) calls to mind freshly mown grass, a basic aroma of its grape. It also offers a floral essence and a rich array of tropical fruits. With 18 percent of its vineyards planted to Chenin Blanc, South Africa is the world’s largest producer of the grape. And Terre Brulée Chenin Blanc 2014 ($16) proves an interesting example of the many paths the grape can take. The winery’s owner, from France’s Loire, produced a smoky, spicy wine with good acidity and hints of honey and citrus. Pinotage is a grape created in South Africa in the 1920s. Radford Dale Frankenstein Pinotage 2014 ($35) captures the essence of the grape with its dark color, an aroma that recalls plums and other red fruits, and a lingering finish. Thelema remains one of South Africa’s most dependable wineries, and its 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($35) continues that reputation. A smooth, stylish, complex wine, it displays dark fruit flavors and a long finish. Ken Forrester Renegade 2011 ($20) offers a blend of Syrah and Grenache and melds the flavors of both — the spice and black olive of Syrah and the earthier flavors of Grenache. They add up to a distinctive, well-structured, full-bodied wine.

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