"Andre Shearer with Shabnam Azedah and yours truly".

Coming off of the fabulous Magnum Opus dinner, I didn’t think my week could get much better.  But it did.  Andre Shearer of Cape Classics was in town and my friend Shabnam and I attended a tasting of South African wines (that’s the three of us at the event).  Andre is the founder of Cape Classics, the largest and most well known importer of wines from South Africa.  Arguably, Andre and Cape Classics have really put South African wines on the map, so to speak.  Most people are not too familiar with South African wines, or are even aware that wines are produced there.  But, in fact, there is a huge wine growing region there, and it is very diverse, and extremely beautiful.  If you have never been to Cape Town and the surrounding area, it is one of the most picturesque and amazing places in the world.  I have been there three times and I can tell you that anyone who has been there would tell you the same thing.  When you go there and you taste the quality and variety of wines that are produced, it is hard not to believe that there are world class wines coming out of South Africa.  Having been there and fallen in love with Cape Town and the wines, I have been a regular consumer, especially of Kanonkop Kadette.  It has been my everyday go to red wine for years.  I buy a couple of cases every year and have done so for many years now.  I think you would be hard pressed to find a more complex and drinkable red wine at its price point, which is about $12.99, though it comes down to around $10 when you buy it by the case and get the discount at Union Square Wines.  I reckon that South African wines will continue to become more well known, especially since the World Cup is being held there and a lot of attention will be drawn to the region.  At the tasting Andre discussed the wines of South Africa and shared a lot of really great stories with us.  It was a fairly intimate affair, there were three tables of about ten people each, and we were served a flight of seven wines, one white and six reds.  One of the things that Andre continued to highlight, was the great quality to value of South African wines.  I have to say I totally agree, and this holds true at all price points.  Some of the wines from the tasting lean towards the pricey side, especially these days, but I can tell you that they are comparable with wines that cost two and three times as much.  I was a believer before the tasting, and am doubly so now!   Here are the wines that were tasted.

Raats 2006 Chenin Blanc Estate $14.99

Chenin Blanc is the white grape of South African wine.  There are great Chardonnay’s and Sauvignon Blanc’s as well, but Chenin really sings there.  This one had a really great citrus nose, with notes of lemon zest and cantaloupe.  It was straw yellow in color, with good acidity and there were additional flavors of vanilla and parmigiano reggiano.  A great refreshing summer wine.  RECOMMENDED

Kanonkop Estate 2007 Pinotage $37.99

If you want an introduction to the signature grape of South African reds, Pinotage, this is a great starting point.  Or the Kadette, but that’s a blend, and this one is more than just an everyday wine.  This wine is still very young and it will probably age well for 10 years or longer.  It has medium body, good acidity and tannins, and there are flavors of fresh cracked pepper, smoked camp fire, dried Italian herbs, mint and cocoa.  RECOMMENDED

Rudi Schultz 2006 Syrah $34.99

The other grape that is doing amazing things in South Africa is Syrah, also known as Shiraz.  Syrah can be very different where it is grown well in the world.  Syrah in California, Syrah in the Rhone region of southern France and Shriaz in Australia are the most well known.  In South Africa it has its own voice as well, and an amazing one at that.  This is a wine that everyone should try, and it may be one of the best, if not the best Syrah out of South Africa.  Since 2002 every vintage has been rated 90 points or higher by Wine Spectator.  This one is no exception.  It is a medium bodied Syrah, with a hedonistic nose of chocolate, sweet spicy toasted wood, candied cherries, kirsch, and creme de menthe.  While the nose is huge it is not over powering in the mouth and even tasted a bit closed on the finish.  It may need a bit more time to finish coming together.  It is not overly jammy and does not taste cooked at all, which I find can be a problem with some Syrah’s elsewhere.  Wine Spectator rated this one a 93, I would say that we are pretty close in agreement.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Kanonkop Estate 2004 Paul Sauer $44.99

This is a Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.  Andre noted that it has a very left bank Bordeaux style.  I was thinking almost the same thing as it reminded me of a possible ringer for the 1994 L’Evangile I wrote about in my Five Decades of Bordeaux posting, though that is a right bank Bordeaux.  L’Evangile, by the way, can typically sell for a couple hundred bucks a bottle, or more, depending on the vintage.   Needless to say, I loved this wine from go.  It has an eclectic mix of flavors with that day after camp fire nose, wet earth, smoked game, chocolate and caramel.  There is great acidity, fine tannins, and a bright sweet red fruit mouth feel.  I bet this one is going to age very well.  Exotic and delicious.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

De Toren 2007 Fusion V $49.99

If the Kanonkop was the L’Evangile, then the De Toren was the Le Gay, at least in terms of how those wines paired in the Five Decades of Bordeaux tasting.  The De Toren was a slightly more balanced and restrained version of the Paul Sauer.  There is a nose of marzipan and starchy pasta water.  There is still a smokey dark fruit component and the tannins are balanced and fine.  Not as quirky and forward as the Kanonkop, but equally intriguing.  A pleasure to drink.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Thelema 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, The Mint $52.99

Now this is an interesting wine as well.  Similar to the Sauer and the De Toren, but also some other weird tropical stuff going on too.  The nose is brine, mint, and fennel.  But there are also aromas of coconut and banana, piña colada, and vanilla ice cream.  It’s medium bodied and the acidity is there as well.  The dark smokey thing is there and the mouth feel is silky.  Pairs well with the previous two wines.  Nice (Borat voice).  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Rustenberg 2005 Peter Barlow $59.99

The nose on the Rustenberg was a bit more closed than the previous wines.  But there are some interesting things in there never the less.  There is a wine barrel note, also ketchup and BBQ sauce.  There is cherry fruit and a shell fish component.  The wine is medium bodied and the acidity is also nice.  Probably will show better with a bit of age.  RECOMMENDED

Well, that wraps up this posting.  As you may have noted, a smokey quality is a signature flavor to many South African red wines.  I personally love it, but it may not be for everyone.  All the wines were great, some may be a bit more pricey, and even though I think the Paul Sauer, De Toren, and Thelema were the top scores, the Schultz Syrah represents great value to quality.  And the Wine Spectator ratings seem to stand behind this as well.  But hey, that still might be too much to spend.  So even though we did not taste it, try the Kanonkop Kadette as an intro to South African wines, at that price point I don’t think anyone could have any regrets.