Apr 14 2009

South African Wines a Perfect Fit for Spring and Summer

At a wine bar on the North Side a while ago, I decided to try something different. I reviewed the specials, marveled at the value of a particular $6-a-glass New World red (everything else was priced at around $12 a glass), and placed my order with the bartender.

“South Africa?” My friend raised an eyebrow on the stool beside me. “And what’s a Pinotage?” The bartender set the drink in front of me.

“A grape,” I replied, swirling the ruby red glass of 2007 Bon Cap Pinotage, Robertson, South Africa before taking a big whiff. Pleased by the aromas of ripe plum and hints of espresso, I took my first sip… and fell in love. Figs, bacon, and a funky (in a good way) earthiness that I’ve come to associate with South African reds.

When I started at Just Grapes in February, I was so happy to learn that we carry the Pinotage that won my heart for South Africa. I also learned that Bon Cap is an organic wine, and at $17.49 a bottle, an even better bargain than I thought. I regularly take a bottle home with me. I’ve enjoyed it with ribs. I’ve enjoyed it with sweet, stinky cheeses. I’ve enjoyed it with friends. I’ve hogged it for myself. Last week, I made it my in-store staff pick.

Many Just Grapes customers have tried (and loved) our 2006 Excelsior Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, another South African red that no one can believe is only $9.99 a bottle. In this Cab, there are notes of tobacco, hemp, and that same deliciously funky quality that  I love in the Pinotage. Our wine buyer Maggie described it best: “A lot of South African Cabernets have this earthy funkiness to it that tastes like the old world and the new world came together and had a party.”

So why are these funky reds “a perfect fit for spring and summer,” as the title suggests? After all, wine drinkers tend to slowly gravitate towards roses and whites as the weather warms and the sweaters go into storage.

Here’s why: I dare you to find a better BBQ wine.

Really. Try. Bring the Bon Cap Pinotage to the next (or first) BBQ you’re invited to this year. Have it with anduoille sausage, or steak and bell pepper kabobs, a cheeseburger, or my personal favorite, ribs (or for vegetarians out there, try it with Gardenburger’s meatless riblets) . Try it against every other red you’ve ever thought would make a great BBQ wine. The smokiness in the Bon Cap and the smokiness in the meat and the pleasant weather will mingle in your mouth and have you dancing on down to Funkytown… or at least dancing on down to Just Grapes to buy another bottle.

South African whites are also rising in popularity, and with The Wall Street Journal naming our 2008 Ken Forrester Petit Chenin, Stellenbosch, a 2008 Best Bargain, it’s nearly impossible to keep our bottles from flying off the shelf. South Africa has taken the Loire varietal Chenin Blanc and put a New World spin on it. South African Chenin Blancs are crisp, clean, and citrusy as a result of the climate. For $10.99 a bottle, I can’t get enough of the Ken Forrester. To me, this is how a white wine should taste in the spring or summer time. We have two other fantastic South African Chenin Blancs in the store: the 2008 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc and the 2008 Man Chenin Blanc. All three present citrus and tropical fruit flavors ( the Ken Forrester has lovely green apple notes as well), clean drinkability, and exceptional value.

South African Chenin Blancs are perfect for sipping on the back porch as the sun sets or with a spring salad at a BYOB al fresco bistro. And year-round, they’re perfect with Thai food, sushi, white fish, and South American seafood and poultry dishes.

So go on, give South African wines a try. They won’t be a best-kept-secret for very long, and we should all enjoy these spectacular values before it’s too late!

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