In the scheme of things, South African wine production is not much. While it has a New World inclination, it doesn’t have the profile of South American or European countries.
South Africa sits on the southernmost end of a continent with a scant wine industry. The nation attempted to get traction with unique wine varieties — the pinot noir hybrid pinotage and the great white grape chenin blanc. They might have been distinctive grape varieties, but they didn’t offer an entry point.
I tried some everyday-priced South African selections, though, and they were excellent.
South Africa is a wine-producing country taking chenin blanc seriously. Half a century ago, South Africa (like just about every other wine country) was growing productive grapes for inexpensive wine or for distillation. The famed white grape of Loire, chenin blanc, fit the bill. While chenin is a bit of legacy, today’s winemakers know and care about it as a fine wine variety.
A particularly awesome deal, Tania and Vincent Careme “Terre Brûlée” 2018 Chenin Blanc ranked near the middle of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2019. The fact that they still can’t sell it at $10 is a sad testament to an unacknowledged effort of the South African wine industry and under-appreciated varieties such as the wonderful chenin blanc. The wine is great without trying too hard. An elegant wine with lime and apple character, this wine is very well structured and built for food. $10. ★★★★ 1/2
Pinotage is very controversial; people either love it or hate it. Personally, I enjoy off-beat wines, and pinotage is among them. MAN Family Bosstok 2016 Pinotage spins a lighter, more accessible style of pinotage with cassis and raspberry character with a spicy edge. $11. ★★★ 1/2
You will have no problem finding the international varieties in South Africa, such as cabernet sauvignon, riesling and sauvignon blanc. Constantia is a region in a cooler area, ideal for crisp white wines. Bayten Constantia 2018 Sauvignon Blanc smells of pineapple and kiwi, delivering a bit of sweetness up front that balances the touch of herbaciousness. Fans of New Zealand sauvignon blanc should find this enjoyable. $10. ★★★★ 1/2
GRADE: Exceptional ★★★★★, Above average ★★★★, Good ★★★, Below average ★★, Poor ★.