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Party wines from a hard-pressed nation

South African producers have had an especially hard time with Covid restrictions and deserve our support – hence this selection of great value party wines from their winelands.

Few countries have seen their wine industry harder hit by Covid restrictions than South Africa.

Not only was an initial ban imposed on exports but alcohol sales within the country were also prohibited – and for a longer period.

Even when exports did resume, retailers in some countries had already found permanent replacements for South African wine while deliveries to even the patient ones were often delayed by backlogs at the exporting country’s ports.

So, it is good to offer a small helping hand to producers there with this post on South African wines.

While the country produces excellent top-level wines, it is also one of the best providers of great value options – perfect, then, for a piece suggesting reliable party wines for the upcoming festive season.

Where possible, pictures and hyperlinks are added to my selections to help you pick them out quickly.

Attractive modern chardonnay

Stellenbosch – South Africa’s wine capital and a region that figures prominently here today  – has a great reputation for age-worthy chardonnay but, here, its winemakers have fashioned one of those very attractive “modern” versions that the new world, currently, does well.

Acidity goes up a notch, flavours tend more to citrus and orchard fruits than tropical ones and oak is handled with subtlety and a lightness of touch.

Soft and gently herbal, 2020 Taste the Difference Chardonnay(£10 at Sainsbury’s and 13%) provides pear, orange and subtle mango flavours supported by pithy grapefruit acidity with suggestions of toffee and honeycomb built into its light, crème fraiche texture. 

Onto a different variety.

Beyond its role in Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, the white mutation of grenache often seemed something of a journeyman – largely a blending grape in Southern France and its native Spain.

However, when you combine restricted yields, winemaking alchemy like low temperature fermentation and suitable terroirs in South Africa then lovely varietals like this emerge to provide quality, savoury edged white wine with a delightful intricacy. 

Bright and complex, 2020 Found Grenache Blanc (£8 at M&S and 14%) brings us smooth, medium bodied quince, melon and tangerine flavours partnered by zesty lemon acidity, fudge centred sweetness and contrasting savoury hints.

Next to Sauvignon

Although awesome sauvignon is currently made in Walker Bay, Elgin and other cooler parts of South Africa’s southern tip (where long “hang times” turbo charge acidity) our friends in Stellenbosch can still make tasty sauvignon, as we see here.

Pale in colour but with a collection of fruity aromas, 2021 Welmoed Sauvignon Blanc (£7 at the Co-op and 13% abv) features ripe gooseberry and orange flavours combined with rounded grapefruit acidity and savoury – pithy even – traces within a herbal finish.   

Now for a red

I imagine you expected to see pinotage mentioned next but – laudable as its examples can be – remember that cabernet sauvignon has been creating premium wines in South Africa for 100 years, especially around that Stellenbosch region that is also home to this guy.

In that time, advances in winemaking and the selection of vine clones and sites have significantly extended the styles cabernet can produced  – as this light but ripe example illustrates.

Dark and medium bodied, 2020 Best South African Cabernet Sauvignon (£5.50 – instead of £7.75 until 23 November – at Morrisons and 13.5% but supplies may be limited online) delivers minty blackcurrant and plum flavours embellished with touches of mocha, baking spice and a smoky savouriness – yet also with firm acidity and modest tannin as well. 

Sticking with Stellenbosch

However, certain parts of Stellenbosch have retained their reputation for more traditional Bordeaux blends and their associated classic characteristics – which certainly appear in this 50:50 merlot and cabernet blend.  

With depth and little more texture than that unblended cabernet, 2020 Stellenbosch Drive Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot (£6.75 at the Co-op and 13.5%) has damson, cherry and blackcurrant flavours accompanied by firm tannin but gentle acidity with cedar, aniseed and eucalyptus elements too.

Not forgetting fizz

An understandable determination to protect all aspects of the Champagne name,  means that the words “méthode champenoise” should not now be used with sparkling wine from elsewhere – even where its secondary fermentation is in bottle.

Consequently, South Africa has introduced the term Cap Classique to signify sparkling wine made in that “top of the range” way – and Graham Beck is an excellent producer of great value but quality Cap Classique wines.

Don’t be fooled by the apparently limited bubbles in Graham Beck Rhona’s Brut (£13 at M&S and 12%); this wine actually has effervescence aplenty to complement the apple, melon and tropical fruit flavours that form its foundation and the accompanying grapefruit centred vitality and counterbalancing biscuit influenced depth.

So, do keep these (or other South African) options in mind when you are seeking good value wines since, by doing so, you help to lay the ghost of “Christmas immediately past” that still haunts some of that country’s great wine producers.

STOP PRESS

Literally as I pressed the button to publish this piece came news that Tesco are starting “25% off when you buy 6” deals for Clubcard holders today (Thursday) where such arrangements are permitted. Check the Tesco website for the “legals” but I believe that the promotion runs through to 29 November. More details I hope on Monday.

See you again on Monday with my usual look at current promotions in major retailers and, of course, my current Top Tips.

On the subject of looking forward, don’t miss the “MidWeek Wines Mini Advent Calendar” that starts next Thursday.

For each of four weeks, it focusses on a chosen segment of Christmas wines with firm recommendations on what hits that elusive sweet spot where quality and value meet.

When the first window opens on 25 November it will pinpoint great fortified wine options and delicate sweet wines that will surely enhance your Christmas pleasure appreciably. Do not miss out – subscribe now if you have not already done so. It is absolutely free.

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2 Responses

  1. I wish you had of sent this last night!

    Couldn’t decide between a bottle of the Morrison’s Best Cab Sav vs their Best Shiraz (also on offer at the minute at £5.75), which I chose.

    Was underwhelmed by the Shiraz sadly.

  2. Sorry to be 24 hours late coming to the rescue, Mark! Morrisons is strong on South African reds, and I tried several before selecting this cabernet. A rival to rich and minerally Left Bank Bordeaux it is not; but for a dark November Wednesday night it fits the bill pretty well.

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