Long time, no post! I've been taking a little break from drinking to train for a marathon while my South African wines recover from their international flight, but I haven't stopped spreading the SA love. On this past trip I deliberately made an effort to visit farms that export their wines into the U.S., and specifically farms that we carry at the store. My goal was to write more about wines people back home could actually try—and to expand and improve my Wines of South Africa class! Our store offers these excellent classes on everything from zinfandel to wine and chocolate, and I teach several, but the South Africa class is my favorite because I can share pictures and memories from my trip and give students a sense of the "story" behind the wines we taste. Like my first Wines of South Africa class, this one was booked to capacity in advance. One couple even drove 45 minutes to attend; they are considering a wine-oriented vacation in South Africa and were interested in sampling the wines first. Needless to say, they were sold! 🙂
I regret not having been able to visit Graham Beck's Robertson farm this year, as we just expanded our Graham Beck lineup to include delightful cab, pinotage, chardonnay/viognier, and syrah. Nevertheless I bookended my flight with Graham Beck, starting with the demi-sec "Bliss" Methode Cap Classique and ending with 2006 The Ridge syrah. They were stunners, with the bubbly pleasing both sweet and dry lovers and the syrah wowing everyone with its stunning blueberry, spice and mineral notes. The fruit in that wine is absolutely gorgeous, with restrained extraction and a delicate grace, and it nicely punctuated my assertion that syrah is, in my opinion, South Africa's greatest red grape. My students were inclined to agree.
It seems sacrilege to not pour a chenin blanc in a Wines of South Africa class, but our best and most well-stocked example is Graham Beck The Game Reserve and I poured that last time (and I didn't want to give the appearance of a brand-sponsored class, which is what happens when we have guest instructors who work for importers or distributors). Instead I went with the South African white I'm most excited about lately: Glen Carlou 2008 chardonnay. We sell it for $9.99 and it's a rock star, overdelivering with rich, creamy character, lovely lime and orange peel notes, and a hint of chalkiness. Having spent a good deal of time with winemaker Arco Laarman discussing his formula for great chardonnay, I was pumped to use the wine as a teaching tool. It was quite popular; the words "yum," "buttery," and "creamy" were top descriptors.
Next we transitioned into reds with Warwick 2007 Old Bush Vines pinotage, which I served slightly chilled as Mike Ratcliffe recommends. It was just about everyone's first pinotage, and initial reactions were mixed—but after a few sips people were amazed by how much they warmed up to it. I think at first pinotage is so unlike what many American drinkers are used to, with its bizarre spices, chocolate notes and up-front plum flavors, but this particular pinotage is an outstanding and clean example and its quality won people over. Unfortunately, I can't serve food in my wine classes; one student remarked, "I bet this would be great with spicy food." I told her she was spot-on (Chinese food is my usual recommendation) and also suggested folks try it with game dishes, such as buffalo burgers or Cornish hens. I had to stop before braai daydreams got the best of me.
Wine number four was a showstopper for the old world palates in the class: Uva Mira 2006 Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon. With its rustic, bloody Italian feel, supple, gritty tannins, and sour cherry fruit, it won hearts all over the room. I nearly got choked up tasting this amazing wine while showing the class pictures of the mountainside Helderberg farm; truly Uva Mira is one of the class acts of Stellenbosch. I think students were really amazed to get such character and complexity for $17.99. (I didn't even need to discuss SA's ridiculous quality-to-price overdelivering; the class noticed right away that all wines poured were under $20 and many remarked on the value.)
Nothing feels better than teaching a class on my "wine home away from home" and getting such a great response. There you have it: another example of the appeal of South African wine here in the States!