In South African Wine
on 25 Jan 14

It was only a matter of time before I exposed my fantastic new wine-loving friends to my South African wine obsession. When I got the chance to pick the theme for a recent get-together, I was both excited to get the chance to share some great locally available South African wines and curious as to what sort of variety we'd find on Madison shelves.

Wasted tasting Indaba chenin blanc Kloof Street mourvedre

I needn't have worried. Of around 15 attendees we didn't have a single repeat bottle, and the diversity was fantastic: Cap Classique, chenin, sauvignon blanc, rose, mourvedre, Bourdeaux blends, and pinotage were in attendance, and there wasn't a single bottle unemptied at the end of the night. A few highlights stood out, but overall, the tasting was a delightful reminder of how accessible, high-quality, and delicious South African wines are, and how much more available they are now than when I first became interested in wine several years ago.

We kicked off the tasting with Methode Cap Classique Brut Reserve from Colmant, a delightful 54% pinot noir, 48% chardonnay bubbly from Franschhoek. Round and yeasty, it was a great pairing for the cheese and charcuterie spread before us. Another early highlight was Indaba's 2012 chenin blanc; this great-value white with bright tropical notes caused several attendees to remark that they don't drink enough chenin.

Two rosés, including an excellent bottle from Badenhorst's Secateurs, showed off the full-bodied yet food-friendly balance that SA rosé strikes so well. As we moved into the reds, my friends who were hosting the tasting served up an amazing dinner of mushroom bourguignon––an earthy, savory canvas for the big reds to come.

Of these, two standouts linger in my memory. Mullineux Kloof Street 2012 Mourvèdre, a stunning Swartland offering that was all orange peel and leather strap on the nose and menthol, graphite, and delicate tannin into the finish, was easily my wine of the night. No matter how many wines I try, this grape remains my spirit animal. And 2007 Engelbrecht Els from Ernie Els, the last bottle of which I found hiding in obscurity at one of our largest liquor stores, was a treat to discover and enjoy. Like a bloody battle on a sandstone hill, this blend of 55% cabernet sauvignon, 22% shiraz, 8% merlot, 5% malbec, 5% petit verdot, and 5% cabernet franc was surely at its peak, and a lovely memory of my visit to the farm.

I feel so lucky to be living in a city with so many great South African wine options available, and to have met such a wonderful group of people with which to share and enjoy them!

Julia Burke reviews South African wine and writes about social justice, the South African wine industry, and her own adventures in winemaking.