You can comeback from South Africa with all sorts of things, it is an extraordinary place. It's highly likely you'll return with Rodriguez’s entire discography stuck in your head. How good was ‘Searching for Sugar Man?’ “I wonder, what this has to do with wine and I wonder, why I’m wasting my time;” perspicacious man is Sixto Rodriguez, like a Central American Dylan.
If you’re a special kind of person you might feel like returning from South Africa with a suitcase full of mounted animal heads - why would you want to decorate your house with animal heads? Clearly, these big game hunter’s personalities weren’t driving away visitors fast enough and required a short hand to inform guests that they’re ‘unbalanced’. Bet those heads talk to them at night; “bro, you know you look super fat in camo, like, fatter than normal;” murdered Buffalo have a real problem with body shaming apparently. If you are considering taking up big game hunting, just remember that you would be occupying the same spiritual space as Donald Trump Jr, a man so inept he’s managed to make Jared Kushner look competent.
Our buying team went to South Africa last year and instead of bringing back harrowing memories, they brought back incredible wines. They confirmed there’s been a bit of a winemaking revolution in South Africa over the past decade, the wines are less-oaky, less-extracted and not over ripe like South Africa of the past. Today, these Saffer wines offer some of the best value wines across the board. Here’s some of the South African varieties and winemakers that are well worth knowing about.
Chenin Blanc is the most planted grape variety in South Africa, often referred to locally as Steen. You may well have caught up with Chenin in the Loire Valley, where it will show off flavours of tart apple with waxy, mineral undertones. In the Western Cape, Chenin tends to be riper, presenting a profile of peach, tropical fruit, hay and floral aromas. The finest examples are reminiscent of Chardonnay in Burgundy or Viognier in the Rhone, with a succulent fruit profile, well-integrated oak and a smooth creamy texture. Check out Chenin from Paarl in the Western Cape like Wild Olive or the wines of Ken Forrester in Stellenbosch where the winemaking community refer to him as ‘Mr Chenin.
Pinotage is South Africa’s signature red varietal, which is actually a crossing between Pinot Noir and Cinsault (in SA it went by the synonym ‘Hermitage’ hence Pinotage). You might think; therefore, it would taste somewhat like Pinot Noir given the Pinot paternity but it seems Pinotage is its own grape and won’t be dinning out on its parents’ reputation. Nope, its profile is actually much more like Syrah with a relatively full body and a spicy, smoky dark fruit character. Pinotage does exceptionally well in Walker Bay like Southern Right wines and grows wonderfully well in Stellenbosch, like Ken Forrester’s Petit Pinotage.
Syrah is a wonderful grape for demonstrating the bridge between the Old and New World that South Africa offers. Even in just the name; some producers will, like the French, call the varietal Syrah while others will follow the Aussie line and call it Shiraz. It straddles the fence in flavour as well, often displaying a classically European savoury character; tobacco and mocha are common. Yet the voluptuous, unrelenting dark fruit profile of black cherry and blackberry is decidedly New World. The Lismore Blend form Greyton is a fantastic expression and must be tried, as is the Marvelous Red by Adam Mason if you’re looking for a more affordable South African Syrah blend.