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South Africa gets the seal of approval

NeilOwensEmbarking on the trip of a lifetime to South Africa for the World Cup, Neil Owens, Assistant Manager at Majestic Wine Norwich, needed a diversion from England’s inept performance. A tour of the Cape winelands proved just the (ahem) ticket, enabling him to enjoy the fruits of South-African style sustainability.

Green beans, cattle, grapes, wheat… is there an odd one out? The notion of grapes as an agricultural product seems strange somehow; it doesn’t fit with the romanticised image of a winemaker. Yet grapes are cultivated and harvested, just like any crop. While the environmental implications of industrial farming and air-freighted produce are well documented, how much consideration is given to the impact of wine making?

Until I visited South Africa last year, it wasn’t something I’d really contemplated. Located in the Cape Floral Kingdom, a World Heritage site that’s home to nearly 10,000 plant species, winemakers in South Africa have a unique appreciation of the environmental diversity that surrounds them. Since 1998, they have been developing a code of practice to minimise their impact on the environment, culminating in the recent introduction of the Sustainability Seal.

FinalsealThe seal means that the Wine and Spirit Board, appointed by the South African Department of Agriculture, certifies that:

  • The vintage, variety and origin that are shown on the label are correct
  • The wine has been produced sustainably, in an earth-friendly manner
  • The wine can be traced all the way from the vine to the bottle
  • It was bottled in South Africa

South AfricaIn an age where provenance is increasingly important, the Sustainability Seal offers an easy method of highlighting those wines produced in a manner most respectful to the environment. The key components of the Sustainability Pillar include minimising the use of chemicals, introducing natural predators into the vineyards and a commitment to protecting biodiversity. That commitment is laudable enough in itself, yet it also has positive implications for the wines produced. As one might expect in an area teeming with differing species of flora and fauna, there is a huge and diverse range of soils and climates within the wine producing regions. The Stellenbosch District alone possesses more than 50 different soil types. This variety opens up a range of possibilities for winemakers; focusing on a single site offers the opportunity to produce a wine that displays the unique terroir of its birthplace, whilst blending parcels of grapes sourced from geographically dispersed areas allows each component to add its own qualities to the finished wine.

The Western Cape and Coastal Regions are geographically broad appellations that allow winemakers to maximise the diverse range of climatic conditions and soil types – fruit from cooler areas such as Elgin and Walker Bay can be blended with that from warmer climes such as Swartland.

To find out more about the Sustainability Seal visit swsa.co.za

Bellingham Mocca Java Merlot 2010 Coastal Region  Bellingham Mocca Java Merlot 2010, Western Cape
£7.49 or £5.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Carefully selected parcels of fruit from low-yielding bush vines in the Swartland area are aged in new French oak for 12 months before bottling. The result is a full-bodied and crowd-pleasing blend of black fruit, mocha and coffee flavours.

Porcupine Ridge Syrah Viognier 2010 Western Cape  Porcupine Ridge Syrah Viognier 2009/10, Western Cape
£8.49 or £6.79 when you buy 2 bottles

A classic Northern Rhône blend given a South African twist by Boekenhoutskloof. A dash of Viognier adds a perfumed touch to the unmistakable Shiraz flavours of ripe blackberries, plums and black pepper. A great midweek treat with peppered steak.

Boschendal Sauvignon Blanc 2009 Coastal Region  Boschendal Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Coastal Region
£8.74 or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles

The zest-driven character of this Sauvignon Blanc is immediately apparent, bursting forth from the glass. Lemon, lime, guava and gooseberry are complemented by crisp acidity. A wonderfully refreshing accompaniment for locally caught Cromer Crab.

Where Cape meets Claret

Stellenbosch reds rank among South Africa’s best wines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot thrive on the granitic soils found on this region’s hillsides; these two varieties are combined to produce Bordeaux-style blends exuding a perfumed minerality that tends to manifest itself in the form of graphite and smoke flavours. The region also produces rich full-bodied whites that respond favourably to oak treatment.

Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2008 Stellenbosch  Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2008, Stellenbosch
£10.99 or £8.79 when you buy 2 bottles

Blackcurrant, plum and graphite aromas lead into a refined palate combining smoky minerality, crunchy black fruits and finely grained tannins. Complex yet approachable, this is a superb example of a Bordeaux-style Stellenbosch blend.

RM Nicholson 2009 Rustenberg, Stellenbosch  RM Nicholson 2009, Rustenberg, Stellenbosch
£12.99 £12.49 or £9.99 when you buy 2 bottles

This deep purple wine is crammed full of cassis, black pepper and crushed thyme. Persistent yet integrated tannins support these intense flavours, which fade slowly in a lingering, smoky finish. A fitting tribute to one of the Estate’s former owners.

Rustenberg Chardonnay 2008/2009 Stellenbosch  Rustenberg Chardonnay 2010, Stellenbosch
£13.99 £13.74 or £10.99 when you buy 2 bottles

Stone fruits and citrus peel intermingle with vanilla, toasted hazelnuts and almonds. The palate integrates the citrus fruit and oak flavours with aplomb, and a lengthy finish provides more evidence of quality. Great with honey-mustard glazed BBQ chicken.

De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc 2008/2009 Stellenbosch  De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc 2008/09, Stellenbosch
£16.99 or £13.59 when you buy 2 bottles

A fantastically rich example of South Africa‘s signature white grape. A plethora of tropical fruits combine superbly with honey and toast flavours that develop during 8 months of lees ageing. Pair it with langoustines drizzled with lemon and herb butter.

Rustenberg Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Stellenbosch  Rustenberg Peter Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Stellenbosch
£35.00 or £28.00 when you buy 2 bottles

Strong perfume and cassis aromas are joined by a hint of the herbaceous on the nose before a structured palate delivers an attractive combination of blackcurrant, cherry, cassis and oak of great complexity. It will continue to develop over the next decade.

Aim high with Franshoek

Franschhoek in the Paarl region thrives on its French Huguenot heritage and is renowned as the Gourmet Capital of South Africa. Though relatively small, it’s home to a number of acclaimed producers, including Boekenhoutskloof, Bellingham, La Motte and Boschendal. Situated north of Stellenbosch, the warm climate is tempered by the mountainous surroundings; many of the better vineyards are found at altitude.

La Motte Shiraz 2008 Franschoek  La Motte Shiraz 2008, Franschoek
£10.99 or £8.79 when you buy 2 bottles

Subtle plum and blackberry fruit combines with white pepper, liquorice and cloves on the nose. The palate is savoury and elegant with a spice-led finish that makes this restrained Shiraz extremely food-friendly. Roast haunch of venison tops my list!

For further information about South African wine, visit winesofsa.co.uk
Prices valid until 31 October 2011.

2 thoughts on “Country in the Spotlight: South Africa

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