Every so often I have visitors from South Africa come to stay with me – usually family or close friends. One of the benefits of having said visitors is that sometimes they can be persuaded to mule some South African produce over the Atlantic for me. Any ex-pat saffa will tell you how awesome it is to be presented with treats such as biltong, Nik naks, Snacker bars, Strawberry Whirls, Klipdrift brandy and the like from our homeland and while I love all of these, my personal preference is for a bottle or two of fine South African wine.
Anyway, about a month ago my sister-in-law and my little niece came to visit for a few weeks. By now, I’ve done the early morning Saturday breakfast run so many times that I’ve got it waxed so come 7:00 am, K and I were packed and en route to Heathrow to fetch them. It was great to see them again and spend some time with them and they were kind enough to bring me some awesome goodies from home: amongst other things, a parmesan-infused olive oil pressed in Cape Town, 2x Nomu spice rubs (delish!) and the pièce de résistance, two bottles of Cape Town’s finest.
Now those of you living in the UK probably don’t think much of South African wine, and I don’t blame you. Generally, South African wine in the UK tends to be targeted at the £3-£8 niche, a “3 for £10” offer on a budget bottle of saffa vino a common sight in a UK supermarket. These, while drinkable, are unlikely to impress anyone who appreciates fine wine. While it is possible to find a quality bottle of SA wine in the UK, it usually means visiting a fine wine shop and paying over the odds for one and unless you’re familiar with South African wine, most people aren’t willing to gamble.
Most people don’t know this, but South Africa has been producing wine for about 350 years. This is much longer than most countries designated as ‘New World’ and as such the wine produced is interesting in that it’s New World fruit, made mostly in the Old World styles. Cape Town, my home, is the heart of SA wine production with the oldest vineyards belonging to the Constantia region, just a few miles from my family home in Bergvliet (Southern Suburbs of Cape Town).
South Africa, being a wine-producing country like France, makes a LOT of wine (not all of it good) and in fact it’s extremely rare to find a bottle of wine that’s not South African in any wineshop / bottle store in South Africa. Rather, you’d be presented with aisle after aisle of indigenous SA wine with everything from budget blends to high-end aged reds and old-vine whites.
Anyway, the two bottles dutifully muled for me by my sis-in-law were picked out by my old friend, Fish, who runs Wasabi, a sushi / asian fusion restaurant nestled amongst the winelands of Constantia. I’ve known Fish for about ten years now and whenever I’m in Cape Town on holiday we catch the cricket together at Newlands, lord it up on the wine farms and eat out at the best restaurants as a matter of course. He often sorts out special bottles for visitors to bring over for me and on this occasion I asked him for a Semillon and an aged Pinotage (South Africa’s own grape). Fish is a restauranteur, all-round foodie and qualified sommellier, so when he sent me two bottles other than what I asked for, I trusted his judgement.
The first bottle he sent me was Meerlust’s Rubicon (2006), a truly iconic South African wine made from three varietals (Cab / Merlot / Cab Franc) in the Bordeaux style. The last bottle I had was a magnum (1.5L) of the 1998 vintage, shared around the Sunday dinner table with my mom, dad and brother a few years back. To have another bottle now brings back those fond memories and I can’t wait to share it with some good company.
The second bottle he sent me was Cape Point Vineyards’ Isliedh, a lightly oaked Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend. CPV is in fact one of the most awarded wine farms in South Africa, a producer that makes very small quantities of top-quality wine from small vineyards located on Cape Point – a windy, cool coastal area not far from the very tip of Africa. I have not tried this wine before, but it has consistently been awarded 5 stars by John Platter (South African Wine master wine authority) and is considered one of South Africa’s finest white wines, period. I may just keep this one for myself 😉
Now to think of some good food pairings… Suggestions?