The release of Nelson Mandela from prison on February 11, 1990, after 27 years of incarceration, was the most visible milestone in the crumbling of the brutal apartheid regime in South Africa. It was a day of hope and a crucial step forward for the Rainbow Nation. In South Africa’s new democratic era, the nation’ s wine industry has blossomed, becoming the world’s ninth-largest producer of wine, the greenest wine region in the world, and the best region to explore for delicious great value wines.
Don’t for a second think South Africa is the new kid on the block in the wine industry! South Africa has been producing wines since 1659, when parts of Bordeaux were still salt marshes. However, the modern era of South African winemaking began with the end of apartheid, and no other wine region in the world has gone through a more dramatic evolution over the past 20 years.
I first travelled to the Cape Winelands in 2005 and was immediately entranced by South African wine and culture, not to mention the sheer beauty of Cape Town and Stellenbosch (at the heart of the main wine-growing region). Imagine tasting wine in vineyards that overlook False Bay as Great White Sharks breach for a snack of seals, or sipping a glass of Chenin Blanc while slurping down a platter of oysters on the Southern Atlantic coast in the shadow of Table Mountain, across the bay from the prison island where Mandela was once held. But what really hooked me was the incredible generosity, kindness, and passion for life of everyone I met.
Keen to show me why South Africa is one of the most amazing places in the world, my new friends made sure I ate like a king and drank lots and lots and lots of wine. I fell in love with Sauvignon Blanc from Stellenbosch and Constantia: crisp and minerally with balanced acidity, a welcome respite from the oceans of boring New Zealand SB’s out there. I gulped Shiraz (or Syrah) that was more elegant and refined than anything I had ever tasted from Australia. These wines were giving the Rhône Valley in France a run for its money! And, I had a chance to taste how great Chardonnay can be when it’s treated with a lighter hand.
What I realized is that South African wine is defined by diversity. There isn’t one dominant style. In South Africa you will find that reds and whites are produced equally well, and that top quality wines are affordable. South African wines are a perfect balance of Old World sensibilities and New World risk taking.
In selecting the wines this month, we have tried to bring you the bottled passion that offers a taste of this incredible country. I hope when you pop the cork on the Balance Boldly Brut you will toast the beginning of your journey into South African wine with a group of friends over a great meal!
South African wine is not meant to be enjoyed in solitude. It’s about slowing down, taking a moment to savor your company and having fun. These six bottles are just the beginning. South African wine rewards exploration and, with many small importers focusing on bringing these fantastic wines to the US, there has never been a better time to start this adventure.
PS: You will notice that we are not featuring a Pinotage this month. Pinotage – South Africa’s homemade cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault – may be what many people associate with South African. Feel free to forget that. The country has so many other fantastic varietals to offer you can banish pinotage from your memory.