The Value Wines Of South Africa

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - July 28, 2006
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I’m in constant pursuit of the next great value wine, just as much as everyone else. I’ve found plenty in many of the “Old World” classic regions like France and Spain, and Australia seems to continue to rule the roost in the “New World.” But hot on its heels is another Southern hemisphere country - South Africa.

I’ve had a beautiful string of terrific value wines from this region that rival the very best from anywhere else. There are plenty of reasons to look to South Africa for great values.

Certainly the one that affects our pocketbooks the most is the monetary exchange rate. The U.S. dollar is still quite favorable to the South African rand. This obviously helps us by keeping the bottom line closer to the bottom.

Also, the wines are easy to understand - in more ways than one. They are labeled with the grape name just as in California and Australia. They have an appellation system called Wine of Origin that mentions where the wines come from. But the wines also list grape names to make it easy for everyone to pick out a Chardonnay from a Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz (they call it Shiraz too) from Cabernet. The style of the wines is also very easy to understand. Because of their abundant sunshine and typically Mediterranean climate, the wines have an exuberance of fruit and flavor akin to wines from California and Australia. This makes them easily approachable for the novice and connoisseur alike.

But in the end the value must come from quality. That quality comes from the passionate top winemakers and estates like Charles Back of Fairview, Spice Route and Goats Do Roam; Jannie Engelbrecht of Rust en Vrede; Anthony Hamilton Russell of Hamilton Russell, and Jose Conde of Stark-Conde that have put their money, heart and soul into pushing South Africa to make the best possible wines they can from the best possible vineyard sites.

Post-apartheid economic growth and reinvestment into the vineyards and wineries has given these winemakers the finances and ability to improve their technology in the wineries as well as refine their techniques of grape growing in the vineyards.

Quality also comes from a diverse array of quality wine-growing regions. There is the cool and airy Walker Bay region around the town of Hermanus that specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and benefits from the cool wind blowing northward from Antarctica. At the other end of the spectrum there is the warm, hot and arid region of Lower Orange located along the Orange River, which lends its life-giving water in irrigation and temperature moderating effect to one of South Africa’s largest and most productive areas known for producing Big Reds. And there is everything in between that allows for a varied selection of styles and grapes from zingy and zippy Chenin Blanc (aka Steen in SA) to the earthy and leathery Pinotage as well as jammy good Shiraz.

It’s impossible to say that everything from a whole country is good, but there is plenty of wine in South Africa to please almost any palate. So if you haven’t already tried wine from South Africa, you should definitely check them out. They may be just what you’re looking for, especially if you are looking for excellent value.

Tops on the quality for money scale: Man Vintners, a new project from a team of SA’s top winemakers (Charles Back, Jose Conde and Tyrell Myburgh), is a really exciting find. At about $7 per bottle, these wines over-deliver for the price you pay! The 2005 Man Vintners Sauvignon Blanc has a pretty, soft nose of flowers and grapefruit with a friendly, easy drinking fruity flavor on the palate. The 2005 Man Vintners Chenin Blanc offers a hint of minerals and plenty of bright citrus notes with more complexity on the palate that made me keep tasting the wine until it was gone. And the 2004 Man Vintners Shiraz has almost jammy, chocolatey black and red fruit essences with a smooth and plush texture that will have you buying more than one.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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