South African Red Wines

Syrah, Cabernet, Pinotage and Beyond

 


Well, all eyes are on South Africa these days as the world wonders who will win Sunday's exciting match-up between Spain and the Netherlands. I've already made my allegiance clear on that front, so today let's take another look at some wines to enjoy during the World Cup finale.

What could be better or more appropriate than some reds from South Africa? I'm sure more than a few of you winced at the mention of South African reds, but it's not all Pinotage, and it's not all bad. In fact, there are many terrific red wines coming from South Africa these days, and they seem to have found several ideal spots to plant everything from Syrah to Pinot Noir.

Today, for the most part, I want to take a look at wines that represent sort of a vinous view of South Africa: The Cape Blends. Cape blends are simply wines that include Pinotage in the mix, generally partnered with the classic red Bordeaux varieties. By creating these blends, South Africa's winemakers are able to produce a wine with their own signature grape forming the backbone of a mix of flavors and styles, not unlike the country itself.

Of course, the question remains: Are they any good?

Drinking South Africa

Don't miss part one of our World Cup Wines series, South African White Wines, or our tour through some of the top South African Vineyards.
Well, the truth is these wines are pretty good. The classic Bordeaux varietals are ideally suited to the mild, short growing season South Africa enjoys. The great terroirs of South Africa impart their own signature to these wines. There is frequently a distinct smokiness found in South African wines, and the Pinotage kicks in aromatic notes of banana and rubber bands.

While many cape blends feature Pinotage, not all of them do. Leaving it out is a stylistic choice than many winemakers are opting for, but those wines do lack that certain South Africaness that the Pinotage adds. It's not a grape for everyone, but neither are the South African reds in general, or any wine for that matter. South African wines are generally very fresh and bright. The country has a warm, but very rarely hot climate, and the growing season is quite compressed. Due to these factors it's not unusual for South African reds to show a bit of herbaceousness alongside the rich, ripe fruit.

It's a style that melds some old-world traits -- that herbal character and fine, assertive structure -- with a certain richness and lush quality that three months of wonderful weather contribute. It's a great style, one that distinctively straddles the line between two styles, and yet appeals to admirers of both. They are worth a shot, so I hope you get the chance to try some of my favorites!

2006 Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 13.5%

This has a lovely, slightly peppery smoked meat element on the nose with a gentle suggestion of dried herbs and gentle cedary accents. This is so smooth and well-balanced, if a bit on the bright side. It’s not a very big wine but has plenty of power and really showcases ripe plum and black currant flavors on the mid-palate. The tannins offer excellent support without becoming intrusive and the wine nearly sides down the throat with a wonderful touch of tannin on the back end and layered, elegant flavors of cedar, earth, mint and black currant fruit and a chocolate finale. A really lovely effort that would be nice with a nice grilled Filet Mignon. 92pts

2007 De Toren Z 14,5%

Merlot 47%, Cabernet Franc 29%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%, Malbec 8%, Petite Verdot 6%

This is really lovely on the nose with a touch of wood spice under rich, slightly briary fruit and the loveliest inflection of ripe green herbs and a touch of vegetal broccoli, in a good way! On the palate this displays assertive acidity and rich, soft tannins that support fairly powerful flavors of dark, earthy fruit with spice and vegetal accents. The finish shows nice purity and definition. This is really an all-around nice Bordeaux-style blend. I want a good steak to pair with this wine. 91pts

2007 Rustenberg John X Merriman 14.5%

Cabernet Sauvignon 47%, Merlot 39%, Petite Verdot 4%, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec 3%

This really is quite vegetal at first with classic smoky tones, and a slightly rubbery edge. It develops some nice dark fruit yet retains a vegetal edge framed in nuanced wood tones. This is a powerful wine in the mouth with medium full weight and a fairly heavy tannic load. There’s plenty of rich, ripe fruit, including red currant, wild berries, and earth with a nice black licorice backing tone that leads to a moderately long, slightly drying finish that shows off the wood tannin. This needs some time in the cellar to blossom, but if served today would do well with something fatty to temper those tannins, like some lamb chops. 89pts

2008 Kanonkop Kadette 14%

Pinotage 45%, Cabernet Sauvignon 29%, Merlot 17%, Cabernet Franc 9%

This is smoky on the nose with a strong vein of spicy cigarbox running through it. It’s got an earthy, dried blackberry element going on and a bit of toast drifting in the background. On entry this is round, fairly full of soft, juicy red fruits, and bright. With a dark background note and spicy red fruits up front this has the flavors and weight of a more, for the lack of a better word, serious wine, but the mouthfeel is easy and rich. There is a buttery, rubber band note up top from the Pinotage but it works as an element here. The acidity is really bright and gives the finish a clear, brisk feeling. This would be perfect with a grilled game bird or duck, matching the wine's gamy edge. 88pts

2008 Brampton Shiraz 14.5%

This has a really pronounced black pepper note on the nose over lightly smoky and spicy oak with light, black berried fruit. On the palate this is medium-bodied with a fruity feel to the mid-palate. There is plenty of acid here and a nice gentle edge of soft tannins helping to give this some shape in the mouth. It’s a fruity style but nicely fresh and balanced with a gentle vein of astringency running through and onto the short, fruity finish. I’d like to try this with grilled black pepper tuna steaks. 87pts

2008 Sebeka Cabernet Pinotage 13.5%

Cabernet Sauvignon 65%, Pinotage 35%

This is rather soft on the nose with nice, somewhat indistinct and candied dark fruit and dark plum notes. There’s a hint of Pinotage banana and some gingerbread tones adding some depth and complexity. On entry, this is sweet. There is a noticeable residual sugar here giving this a soft fruitiness, but there is enough balancing acid and stiff little tannins to prevent it from becoming cloying. On the palate this is fruity with baked cherry fruit that stays consistent through the moderate finish. It's a pretty simple and easy wine, with that little bit of sugar staying with you so pair this with a nice rack of BBQ pork ribs. 84pts

2007 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5%

This is a little lean on the nose and pretty smoky with a hard edge to the lightly brambly black currant fruit. This is noticeably sweet up front with relatively pure and simple black berry fruit over light toasty accents on the mid-palate. It’s a simple wine, well made and easily styled. A nice wine for simple barbeque. 83pts

Two Great Blends from South Africa

2007 John X Merriman
This is a powerful wine in the mouth with medium full weight and a fairly heavy tannic load. There’s plenty of rich, ripe fruit, including red currant, wild berries, and earth, with a nice black licorice backing tone that leads to a moderately long, slightly drying finish that shows off wood tannin.

2007 De Toren Z
On the palate, this displays assertive acidity and rich, soft tannins that support fairly powerful flavors of dark, earthy fruit with spice and vegetal accents. The finish shows nice purity and definition. This is really an all-around nice Bordeaux-style blend.


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Comments

  • Snooth User: snapalot
    349569 7

    As a South African wine n00b it is great to get this objective overview of the state of South African wines.

    Although I do have a few expensive wines in my collection, I do enjoy the "everyday people's wine" sold at the supermarket.

    It is remarkable how wine is catching on in the rest of SA (and indigenous cultures) while it's commonplace at the South Coast.

    Jul 08, 2010 at 7:47 PM


  • Snooth User: kentrosi
    511324 22

    I love the Vegellagen wines from S.Africa.

    Jul 08, 2010 at 8:51 PM


  • Fair Trade Certified South African Fairhiils Chardonnay and Merlot will be available on July 11th at Soldier Field for a celebration of the last World Cup game. http://transfairusa.org/blog/?p=3943 (Also available at Whole Foods Market)

    Jul 08, 2010 at 10:24 PM


  • So, if I wanted to taste a red wine that is definitive of South Africa and commonly available what woud you folks suggest I buy? Although I have purchased a few South African wines I have no idea if they were typical of the area. I'd prefer one of the better wines.

    Jul 09, 2010 at 2:27 AM


  • Snooth User: Vino Mad
    527285 1

    SA wine is fantastic. From value wines like Arniston Bay to the elite wines like Meerlust etc.
    Cheers to SA and SA wines!

    Jul 09, 2010 at 3:46 AM


  • Snooth User: LorenF
    363704 1

    i did not see a bilton wine or one made by zelma long

    loren . forrester@sbcglobal.net

    Feb 17, 2011 at 2:28 PM


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