A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg
Unfortunately, no passport was involved in my recent trip to South Africa’s wine country, but it was an exciting journey nonetheless.
Last weekend I had the good fortune to attend “South Africa in Santa Barbara Day” at Les Marchands, alongside a slew of our region’s top wine and food mavens. Boy was it eye-opening! Our charming host Jim Clarke, Marketing Manager for Wines of South Africa USA, took us on a lovely trek through his home terrain.
We started our excursion as many great journeys begin, with some bubbly. In this case two sparkling wines: Noble Hill Method Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011 (from the Simonsberg-Paarl appellation of origin, which has made some of South Africa’s finest wines dating back to the late 17th century) and Colmant Method Cap Classique Rose NV, from the Western Cape Region.
Clarke seeded our “master class” with interesting tidbits about the history of the region, as well as the terroir. South Africa’s wine growing areas, situated in the narrow viticultural zone of the southern hemisphere, have a mostly Mediterranean climate and the mountain slopes and valleys form the ideal habitat for wine grapes. Long, sun-drenched summers and mild, wet winters contribute to the ideal conditions for viticulture.
With the end of apartheid and the advent of democracy, South African wine industry exports have more than doubled between 2005 and 2015. According to the wosa.co.za, “the annual harvest in 2014 amounted to 1 519 708 tons (1 181.1 million liters), of which 81% was used for wine. … As far as international wine production is concerned, Italy leads with 17.7% of the total, France is second with 17.2%, Spain third with 13.3% and South Africa eighth with 4.1% (2015 figures).”
Of the 20 (!) wines we tasted, there truly wasn’t a dud in the bunch. Among the many standouts that made my tastebuds zing was the Luddite Chenin Blanc. According to Clarke, South Africa is home to the most Chenin Blanc (Steen) plantings in the world and is the most widely cultivated variety in the Cape. He described the wine as “a nice middle ground between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay” and it, along with the Raats Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2013, and the Beaumont Chenin Blanc 2014, certainly pleased my palate.
Another highlight of the tasting was my first experience with Pinotage, a unique-to-South Africa cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (Hermitage). The 2013 Painted Wolf Guillermo Pinotage we sampled was an intense, rich, fruity flavor that paired well with the braai (South African Barbecue) meats we had for lunch. Two Santa Barbara wineries with South African winemakers—Dieter Cronje of Presqu-ile and Ernst Storm of Storm Wines—were also on hand to pour their wines and provide entertaining commentary about their homeland.
All in all it was a delightful journey to South Africa, minus the jet lag (although I could have used a nap after all of that wine tasting)! South African wines are becoming more and more available at our local retailers, including Les Marchands Wine & Bar Merchant, 131 Anacapa St., 805/284-0380.
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When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”