It’s always tempting to lump South Africa in with what we sometimes rather aimlessly term the New World producers. But the truth is, winemaking in this corner of the globe has a long and varied history. It was the Dutch – or more specifically the Dutch East India Company – that got things started.
By Liam Tait, Manager of Majestic Wine Wilmslow
When Simon van der Stel landed at the Cape supply station to become Commander of The Cape Colony, one wonders if he had any notion of the viticultural legacy he would leave behind. Having first founded Stellenbosch (modestly named after himself), Simon went on to establish one of the world’s most celebrated wine estates, Constantia, in 1685.
Over the next two centuries, Constantia’s wines graced the tables of the great and the good around the world, from Frederick the Great, Louis-Philippe and Napoleon to Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Alas the golden years would not last forever: misfortunes including the dreaded phylloxera blight eventually led to the flagship property Groot Constantia being sold to the government in 1885. But now, nearly 300 years after the death of their founding father in 1712, Constantia and Stellenbosch once again bear the flag for quality South African wine.
Stellenbosch is the viticultural heart of South Africa – a region balancing tradition and innovation like no other in wineries old and new. The warm Mediterranean-like climate makes high quality reds the order of the day. Chief among these are classically styled Cabernet Sauvignons, offering crunchy blackcurrants and a fine tannic backbone, and South Africa’s home-grown varietal Pinotage, produced in a range of styles. At the same time, the cooling marine wind known as the Cape Doctor flows in from False Bay to assist the production of some very classy whites.
Housing only eight producers within its small boundaries, Constantia is dwarfed by most other South African wine regions. Quality, however, is universally high. In this relatively cool part of the Cape, sea breezes allow the grapes to ripen slowly and retain their pure fruit characteristics and mouthwatering freshness. The results are some of South Africa’s very best Sauvignon Blancs, along with Chardonnays of almost Burgundian elegance. You’ll also come across some impressive food-friendly reds, from cassis-laden Cabernets to delicately spiced Shiraz.
Buitenverwachting Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Constantia
￡10.99 ￡9.99 or ￡7.99 when you buy 2 bottles*
Benchmark South African Sauvignon: really lively and verdant, with punchy lemon and gooseberry aromas, plus cut grass and kiwi notes. Bursting with citrus fruit, the palate displays a fresh, precise acidity that makes it the perfect apéritif.
Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Constantia
￡11.99 ￡10.99 or ￡8.79 when you buy 2 bottles*
Classically styled, combining vibrant gooseberry and tropical fruit with delicate notes of basil, spring flowers and currant leaf. The clean-cut palate has impressive depth: zesty pink grapefruit and tangerine flavours plus a steely mineral streak.
Klein Constantia Chardonnay 2009, Constantia
￡9.99 or ￡7.99 when you buy 2 bottles*
A brilliant barrel-fermented Chardonnay offering vivid lemon and apple fruit aromas, with subtle oak notes of oatmeal, cream and toast. The elegant palate is fresh with soft citrus fruit, beautifully balanced acidity and a gentle creamy hazelnut finish.
Eikendal Chardonnay 2008/09, Stellenbosch
￡10.99 or ￡8.79 when you buy 2 bottles*
This is a big Chardonnay with rich aromas of toasted brioche, coconut, apple pie and cream. Extended time on lees results in a soft creamy texture and rich flavours of poached pear, red apple and butterscotch.
Beyerskloof Pinotage Reserve 2007, Western Cape
￡9.49 ￡8.74 or ￡6.99 when you buy 2 bottles*
Deep aromas of woodland berries and clove spice combine with the telltale aromatic vanilla toast of classy French oak. The palate is rounded and plumy with elegant herbal and spice notes.
KC Cabernet Merlot 2007/08, Klein Constantia, Coastal Region New!
￡9.99 or ￡7.99 when you buy 2 bottles*
A classic example of modern winemaking with glorious ripe blackberry and loganberry aromatics plus spicy oak notes of cinnamon and toast. A soft, velvety palate follows with creamy vanilla-edged black fruit, before the long and delicately spiced finish.
Characteristic mulberry and cassis aromas leap from the glass, joined by more subtle notes of white pepper and violets. The full palate is richly fruited with lots of crunchy black fruit and savoury notes of leather, pepper and black olive.
John X Merriman 2006/07, Rustenberg, Stellenbosch
￡12.99 ￡12.49 or ￡9.99 when you buy 2 bottles*
Starts with a really fine nose: plum and cassis fruit overlaid with subtle cedar, sandalwood, blackcurrant leaf and vanilla. The palate shows great elegance with fresh blackcurrant and spiced cherry fruit. The cinnamon, chocolate and toasted oak finish is long and warming.
Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Stellenbosch
￡25.00 or ￡20.00 when you buy 2 bottles*
Less than thirty years ago Thelema was a fruit farm. Now it’s one of South Africa’s premier producers. There are loads of ripe blackcurrants and complex coffee bean, eucalyptus and vanilla aromas on show here, leading to a palate laden with dense blackberry and elderberry fruit, plus more than enough structure to keep improving in the cellar for a few years.
*All prices valid until 1st November 2010 unless otherwise stated.