While South African wines are enjoying some long-overdue recognition in the wine world, most of them remain virtually unknown to the casual wine drinker.
But whenever a wine flies under the radar screen, value hunters should take a closer look. In the case of South African wines, you can find distinguished sips at bargain prices.
More good news: The country's winemakers do great things with Chenin Blanc, Sauvingon Blanc, and Shiraz -- all perfect patio sips as barbecue season hits full swing. And as the dog days of summer approach, you'll really appreciate the whites on those sticky evenings when it's too hot to think about firing up the grill. That's when a salad and one of these bright, refreshing wines will be just the ticket.
In general, South African wines lean more towards Europe than the New World when it comes to style; that means most won't be heavily fruit-forward or overly oaky -- expect a little more subtlety in your sip. Also, reading the label's fine print can pay off: Regions to look for include Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Constantia.
If you've ever tasted a flatly fruity Chenin Blanc and said "not for me," you should give this grape another go in its South African expression. While these bottles offer plentiful melon and tropical fruit flavors, their underlying mineral notes add sophistication. Lively and refreshing, they'll go well with fish on the grill -- especially if it's sparked with a little lemon and herbs. This wine will also make a lovely aperitif to sip before dinner with a few nibbles; try a glass with slices of melon wrapped in thin slices of prosciutto.
Although Chenin Blanc is historically the white-wine grape of South Africa, it's the country's Sauvignon Blancs that are especially making a splash among the world's wine lovers. This grape is particularly well-suited to the climate and terrain, and winemakers are coaxing it into bottles that brim with lively herb and citrus notes.
More easygoing than all-out zippy New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but more lively than French versions from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, South African Sauvignon Blancs offer a great balance of acidity and fruit. For a sublime summer pairing, grill up a colorful array of summer vegetables to serve alongside a fresh tomato salad, a selection of cheeses (goat cheese and Gruyerè will go especially well), and plenty of crusty French bread from the Publix bakery.
Shiraz is on the march in South Africa, leaping from sixth place in overall vines planted in the 1990s, to second place (after Cabernet Sauvignon) in 2005; indeed, the wine press considers this grape to be the red-wine variety to watch. South African bottlings produce beautiful dark-fruit qualities, plus hints of chocolate, spice, and a warm, earthy appeal. Yes, you get a lot of bang for your buck with these!
Attention meat lovers: This is your pick with burgers, chops, sausages, and steaks hot off the grill. The wine meshes especially well with anything flavored with garlic, onions, and herbes de Provence.