‘I Bless The Rains Down In Africa’

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At a recent tasting of South African wines, I was provided the opportunity to sample wines I’ve never tried, some of which are well worth sharing with you.

Average Josephine wine geek that I am, I didn’t know that South Africa produced world class wines, so I was eager to see what the colorful and mysterious continent had to offer.

The excitement of our tasting guide was palpable as she navigated us through the fascinating history of a land that has been producing wines 200 years before the California wine industry got started. With the end of apartheid in 1994, vintners were relieved of government constraints and began enjoying free trade. She believed that South Africa was the most exciting wine region in the world and that it would soon be the new Australia. The next ten years could prove amazing as we see what South Africa does without government meddling.

Let’s begin our safari of the five wines presented:

Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc ($14) – Grown in the Walker Bay region, this wine is named after the Southern Right whale that frolics in Walker Bay. Winery owner, Anthony Hamilton Russell, donates a portion of sales to the conservation of whales and was named one of the ten best family-owned wineries in the world. (I think I like this guy.) Sauvignon Blanc is about acidity and this one is not done in that classic Sauvignon Blanc style. Rather, you’ll find hints of tropical fruit, mango and pineapple. I only checked “Good” on my tasting card, but if you like helping to save whales, pick some up.

Fairview Viognier ($20) – The Viognier grape hails from France’s Rhone valley and is being planted around the world. I say move over Chardonnay! Golden yellow color with honeysuckle, peach and apricot aromas. Creamy mouth with a long, concentrated finish. Chardonnay drinkers will want to give this lovely wine a try. Vintner Charles Back gave an eighth of his farm to workers, trained them to be bakers, built them housing and a church and gave them their own winery. (I think I really like this guy.)

Goats do Roam Red ($12) – Another Charles Back concoction, the name parodies wines of the Côtes du Rhône region of France. Back is also the largest producer of specialty cheeses in Africa, with his forte being goat cheese. He has approximately 2,200 goats on property – which are roaming I suppose. Goats do Roam is a Rhone style blend made with Grenache and Syrah. Not meant to be big red, Goats is a fun, whimsical jaunt you’ll want to enjoy with a herd of friends.

Fairview Pinotage ($14) – Back in the ’30s, a scientist crossed a Pinot Noir grape with a Cinsault (Hermitage in Africa) grape and the Pinotage was born. It is indigenous to South Africa, and Pinot Noir and Merlot drinkers will love it. Spicy black fruit with soft tannins.

Rust en Vrede Estate Red ($40) – They always pull out the big guns last, and did this wine ever set the room on fire. The name translates to “rest and peace” and Rust was the first wine in all of Africa to make Wine Spectator’s Top 100, and the last five vintages have remained on the list. It was so incredible, I could have sworn I was drinking a Silver Oak Cabernet, after which I learned Rust is a Cabernet blend. I checked “Awesome” on my score card and lunged for the waiter as she passed by again with the bottle. Truly, this is a wine of great finesse.

Like other imports, South African wines offer good value for the dollar. You can find them at Midtown Wine & Spirits. While there, sign up for wine tasting e-mail invites and attend these fun events yourself. However, please do not submit any wine write-ups to our publisher. I hope to keep this job for myself.

Cheers.