South Africa: Best Value Wines in the World
…and Worth the Drive to Pickering
by David Lawrason
Earlier this year I spent virtually the entire month of March in South Africa, on dual assignments. The same happened in 2014. So after spending almost 60 days in this fascinating land, I am getting nicely familiar, more so than with almost any wine producing country beyond Canada, and perhaps New Zealand.
I have even fantasized about taking advantage of the weakness of the South African rand to spend several weeks there each winter – running a sort of WineAlign field office as it were. Some Canadians are doing just that. Once you have ponied up the airfare you can live very well for very little – in a wine paradise.
The Cape winelands are alive with innovation, diversity, regionalism/terroir – and huge value. I often tell anyone who is interested that South African wines are the best value wines in the world at this point in history. Which should be joyous news to all who care.
But the issue of price – SA’s low price – is also creating difficulties for South African wine in Canada, and elsewhere. We all like a bargain, but when the overall price of a country’s wines is too low, low-grade expectations follow. And this creates an inability to have more expensive and even higher quality wines taken seriously.
Very few South African wines on the LCBOs General List are priced over $13.95, and several are under $10. And the thirty-odd South African wines that come through VINTAGES each year seldom break $19.95. The LCBO buyers will tell you it’s because no one will buy more expensive South African wines. (But they aren’t offered either). So dog dizzily chases tail.
While in South Africa I suggested the entire wine industry should unilaterally increase prices by 10% or even more. Just to equalize with the price/quality ratio with the rest of the world. Eyebrows arched! They could take that 10% windfall and put it into programs that help the winery and vineyard workers better cope. Their wages are dismal – by Canadian standards – which is a major reason that the wines are cheap in the first place.
In this article I don’t want to rehash the climate, geography, sociology and history of South African wines. Several WineAlign critics have travelled there recently and done a great job of this – as well as writing about the youth movement in the wineries and the “Swartland Revolution”. So I link you to the thorough pieces by Treve Ring: Cape Wine Discoveries and Michael Godel’s: South Africa’s Capelands. I also published a too-long treatise on pinotage – South Africa’s heritage variety – last year.
Worth the Drive to Pickering
I do want to make you aware that a new LCBO South African destination store is opening at 1899 Brock Road in Pickering east of Toronto on September 16. It will feature all the LCBO general list wines, any VINTAGES wines in the system, plus wines only otherwise available directly from importers. More importantly, these will also be available at the new LCBO.com website and available for home delivery. So you don’t have to drive to Pickering, although for instant gratification it might well be worth it.
This newest “Products of the World” store is a foot in the door for higher priced Southern African wines. And I just hope Ontario’s importers seize the opportunity. Indeed, they should be stampeding to do so. The value that can be found in all price ranges from $10 to $50 is terrific. And believe me when I say that I tasted dozens upon dozens of 90-point plus wines in South Africa in March, wines that deserve to be on your table and in your cellar.
Here are many of the fine producers I encountered this year, most that you are not encountering- but we might hope to see some day: Leeuwenkuil, De Trafford/Sijnn, Constantia Glen, Klein Constantia, David and Nadia, Fram, Stranveld, Black Oyster Catcher, Crystallum, Thorne and Daughters, Chris Alheit, Creation, Newton Johnson, Reyneke, Tamboerskloof, Keinrood, Keermont, Glenelly, Drift Farm, Journey’s End, Raats, Paul Cluver, Radford Dale, Cederberg and Boekenhoutskloof.
Even some of the larger wineries that are represented here from time to time – KWV, Fairview, Glen Carlou, Mulderbosch, Bellingham, Ken Forrester, Jardin (Jordan) and Hamilton Russell – have much larger, more diverse and high qualities portfolio to which we are not exposed.
Should wines from this bunch ever show up in the LCBO South Africa destination store, or at LCBO.com, I will let you know. Meanwhile, here is my hit list of a dozen great value South African wines available right now. Some are being promoted and discounted in Ontario until September 11. Yes, they are cheap, but the best are also great value. So why not capitalize?
Bellingham 2014 The Bernard Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region ($23.95)
Coming to the Pickering LCBO store, “The Bernard” is locally famous as being one of the finest chenin blancs of South Africa. Picked from old vines, fermented with natural yeast and barrel aged, it is indeed big (14%), but it carries itself well with confidence, even some elan. Expect lifted aromas of poached pear/peach fruit, lemon blossom, oak spice, cedar and honey.
The Wolftrap 2014 White, Western Cape ($13.95)
Blending Mediterranean varieties like viognier, grenache blanc and South Africa’s chenin blanc, this an exotic white with a generous nose of tropical green melon, pineapple fruit, a floral note (lily) and vaguely herbal complexity. It’s medium weight, fairly soft and warm but maintains a nice sense of freshness. Marked down to $11.95 until Sept 11
Boschendal 2015 The Pavillion Chenin Blanc ($11.00)
Yours for $9.50 until Sept 11th, this certainly offers piles of flavour for the money. There is trace sweetness start to finish despite its dry designation. Look for generous aromas and flavours of banana, elderflower, lemon and gentle nutmeg-like spice. It’s quite full bodied, soft yet has just enough acidity and alcohol to balance.
Nederburg 2015 Winemakers Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Coastal Region ($12.95)
This is mid-weight, fresh and lively sauvignon with pleasant cool climate aromas of fresh dill, snow pea, diced green pepper and a touch of guava. It does have refreshing acidity but alcohol heat rises on the finish.
Bellingham 2015 Homestead Sauvignon Blanc, Tygerberg ($16.95)
Sauvignon Blanc is a strong suit in coastal regions. Coming to the Pickering store, this grassy, peppery sauvignon hails from small appellation near Cape Town. The nose is loaded with fresh dill, some green melon/guava and mustard flower. It’s medium weight, fleshy yet enlivened with just enough acidity.
Porcupine Ridge 2015 Syrah, Swartland ($14.95)
In the 2015 vintage this great value VINTAGES EssentialS becomes a Swartland DO wine, sourced from the warmer inland region that produces such great old vine syrah. This is terrific for $15 – a dark, smoky, very peppery, smoked meat syrah with background violets and dark spiced cherry jam fruit. Fine depth and class for the money.
Spier 2014 Signature Merlot, Western Cape ($12.95)
From an historic Stellenbosch winery just arriving in Ontario, this is very good value, especially while discounted to $10.95 until September 11. It’s a quite fine, complex merlot that crosses Euro and New World lines and delivers some elegance. There is certainly ripe fruit with baked plum, chocolate, leather and herbs on the nose.
MAN Family 2013 Bosstock Pinotage, Coastal Region ($13.95)
This is a modern Stellenbosch winery making nicely pure, gentle and juicy wines. This very well priced pinotage catches the essential strawberry, earthy and slightly meaty character of South Africa’s heritage grape. Not highly structured but it offers good intensity and amiable drinkability. At Vintages while it lasts.
Kloof Street 2014 Red, Western Cape ($19.95)
From leading new wave winery called Mullineux, this syrah-led Rhonish blend is not showy but it is nicely balanced with well integrated but not very intense plum, earth, pepper aromas and flavours, with some licorice and vague Cape tar. I like the palate tension. At Vintages until stocks deplete.
The Wolftrap 2015 Syrah Mouvedre Viognier, Western Cape ($13.95)
One of the great values in modern South African winemaking, Wolftrap is a bargain brand from the Boekenhoutskloof winery that has specialized in and elevated Rhone wines in South Africa. This rings with great syrah authenticity for under $15 – steeped in smoky oak, cured meat, olive brine, dark cherry and almost soya sauce like notes.
Boschendal 2014 The Pavillon Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon, Western Cape ($12.05)
From one of the largest and best estates of the Cape, this is very good value in a shiraz cabernet blend that nicely positions both varieties. Not hugely aromatic but the shiraz pepper and subtle meatiness works nicely with cabernet’s currants, plus a well placed touch of oak spice.
KWV 2014 Roodeberg, Western Cape ($12.95)
The first vintage of Roodeberg – one of South Africa’s most well known reds – was made in 1969. Today it is a cabernet based (43%) blend of seven varieties, that spends 12 months in French and American oak. It is a fairly complex, quite meaty, spicy, peppery red. It is full bodied, a bit hard and hot with some cab greenness on the finish. But there is bang for the buck, especially at $10.60 until Sept 11.
Good luck and keep searching.
VP of Wine
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