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?
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!
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
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
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
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
Two Great Blends from South Africa2007 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.