E Wine of the Week- South African wines worth a try

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Hello Everyone,
This week we travel far away to explore a place whose wines have a familiar style.  It’s a sign of the ever shrinking world of wine, where quality abounds and so do bargains—at least for now. Bad weather in Australia and increased demand for California wines might make us appreciate alternatives in the future, so we’ll start preparing now.

If you’re in Little Rock, there will be a South American Wine Dinner at Caffe Bossa Nova in Hillcrest at 6:40 p.m. Tuesday. The menu and wine list are completed. Many of the ingredients have been shipped directly from Brazil. You can go to my web site burcecochran.com. to see the menu. For reservations call (501) 614-6682.

That’s it for this week. Taste something good this week!

South Africa Now

The first South African wines were made by Dutch colonists who, over 300 years ago, planted European grapevines on the southwestern tip of the continent, in the region known today as the Western Cape. Then came the British. Then came independence. The long wine producing history of this former spice route way station seems to place this particular former British colony somewhere between the Old World and the New. The wine styles of recent years reflect a similar evolution.

South African wines have long been popular in places like Toronto and London, but have spent years trying to break into the U.S. market. Initial offerings of their favorite red, a pinot-noir hybrid called pinotage, were unsuccessful. Americans tried it; they didn’t come back for more.

It is sometimes said that today’s South African wines combine the best of traditional Old World winemaking from Europe, primarily France, with the favorable weather conditions and sense of innovation from New World wine regions such as California and Australia.

Sauvignon blanc is the varietal that created the first big splash for South Africa wines, and many still think it is the white wine on which South Africa should hang its hat. It generally strikes a balance between sauvignon blancs from the Loire Valley in France and those of New Zealand.

As with their New Zealand cousins, just around the globe a little ways on nearly the same latitude, South African sauvignon blancs are often filled with hints of fresh-cut grass, citrus, melon and food-friendly acidity, as well as underlying minerals that give it another layer of complexity.  They can be especially good with seafood, and in a place whose nickname is “where two oceans meet,” you can imagine that there’s a plentiful supply of that.

Leidersberg South African Sauvignon Blanc was well received at this month’s eWine Sampling, and is a good example of the cape’s modern style.  It retails for about  $15.

For questions, comments, or to subscribe to the electronic version of E Wine of the Week, email Bruce at: bruce@brucecochran.com

One Comment

Peter May June 21, 2007 at 11:20 am

“but have spent years trying to break into the U.S. market. Initial offerings of their favorite red, a pinot-noir hybrid called pinotage, were unsuccessful. Americans tried it; they didn’t come back for more.”

The US is a difficult market to enter with its sheer size , different rules in different states and the three distribution tier system. But they’re coming :)

Pinotage isn’t a hybrid, it is a vinifera cross. Nothing unusual about that, many grape varieties are crosses including Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

Its true at the end of apartheid and the dropping of sanctions that a lot of bad wines came out of South Africa in response the demand from people wanting to drink South African, and since Pinotage is so associated with South Africa and that few people had tasted any from elsewhere it took a lot of the flak.

But Americans are taking to Pinotage, so much so that about 10 wineries in California and 3 in Virginia are growing and making Pinotage.

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