The Event
South African Wine Tasting
© by Sheral Schowe
Wasatch Academy of Wine ventured into new territory this week with a tasting of South African wines. I can't think of a better way to learn about the history, culture, climate, and geography of a country than to research their wine industry, from beginning to the present.

We began the tasting with two white wines, both on the KWV label. KWV is South Africa's largest super-cooperative, which encompasses more than 70 local and regional cooperatives. Cathedral Cellar is considered to be the top-flight wine of KWV, but is not available in Utah.

The KWV Sauvignon Blanc 1999, $8.95, is a crisp, refreshing wine that has mouth bursting flavors of citrus, dried herbs, gooseberry, and a little melon as it warms up a bit in the glass. The finish is clean, with grapefruit flavors that linger on the palate. Here's an interesting twist; some advanced students also experienced some green strawberry and a little spicy green pepper.

The KWV Chardonnay 1998, $8.95 is also reasonably priced for a decent varietal wine. It is a simple wine but you will note plenty of round flavors of apple and melon with some noticeable toasted oak influence from fermentation in either French, American, or Hungarian oak barrels. South Africa is using all three types of oak, and with a cooperative as large as this one, it is hard to tell which one.

We evaluated four red wines in our South African flight. The Springbok Shiraz 1997, $9.95, was somewhat uneventful in contrast to the Australian Shiraz, French Syrah, and California Syrah which we have experienced in a similar price range. It is not nearly as full of rich juicy fruit as its counterparts, but does have ample body, a lot of spice on the nose, and an obvious amount of new oak.

The real claim to fame in terms of South African red wines is the Pinotage varietal. It is a hybrid cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, which was developed in South Africa in the 1930s. We tried two and enjoyed both.

The Springbok Pinotage 1995, $10.95 is full-bodied with a distinctive bouquet of dark cherry fruit, smoke, and a little chocolate.

The Middelvlei Pinotage/Merlot 1995, $12.40, is a blend of 60% Pinotage and 40% Merlot. Both varietal characteristics come through on both the nose as well as on the palate. It is the more complex of the two Pinotage wines presented. The grapes are grown on the Middelvlei Wine Estate in the Stellenbosch district, which has been in the Momberg family for many years. Their estate established a highly regarded reputation in the wine industry on the Pinotage varietal, and this particular blend is all the more successful. If you can ever find it, the Middelvlei estate also produces some excellent European varietal wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Shiraz.

The last red wine evaluated, Meerlust Rubicon 1994, $24.55, is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is from on of the Cape's most consistent estates, located in the Stellenbosch district, owned by Hannes Myburgh. However, this particular vintage was a relative disappointment for the money. It was somewhat hot and tannic on the palate without a lot of varietal characteristic or lush fruit. It was no surprise to see that it had been reduced on the State's wine list to $12.80 the next week. 1994 was an exceptionally hot and dry year in South Africa with some pretty extreme drought conditions. 1992 and 1993 would have been a much better reflection of what Meerlust is capable of producing.

The most exciting wine of the flight was obviously the Pinotage. With the low labor costs of South Africa, now is the time to enjoy these wines at extremely affordable prices.

April 4, 2000

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