I’ve been hosting wine tasting events for more than ten years now.
The best bit? Aside from supping some of the most delicious wines, I absolutely love introducing people to new grapes and bottles that they’ve never tried before.
I’ve found that generally, we can be a little safe with our wine drinking in the UK, so I like to try and break down some of those boundaries wherever I can.
There’s nothing quite like seeing that initial smile after the first sip of something new that just says “wow”.
Since we launched My Virtual Connoisseur, I’ve been amazed by the number of people who’ve asked me questions about wine from one particular country… South Africa.
As the shops have started selling more and more South African wines and drinkers have enjoyed what they’ve tried, interest in this beautiful country has inevitably grown.
And I’m delighted. I’ve adored South African wines for years now!
So now that more of our customers are asking about wines from South Africa, I’ve managed to get Torie to let me introduce a South African wine tasting to our repertoire of virtual events.
For some this will be the opportunity to try something new, for others it’ll be an opportunity to try more of the range and choice of wines that South Africa have to offer.
For everyone, it’ll mean understanding what it is that makes South African wines so delicious.
If you’ve already been lucky enough to journey to South Africa’s Western Cape and visit its wine growing regions, you’ll know there are few more astonishing sights than the Franschhoek Valley and the plethora of vineyards surrounding Stellenbosch town.
Both these areas would definitely be up there in a world vineyard beauty contest if such a thing existed!
The beautiful white facades of the 300-year-old Dutch homesteads with the backdrop of the table top mountains and vivid green pastures will literally take your breath away.
But the really fascinating thing about the wine growing regions of the Western Cape is how diverse the climate is.
Sea breezes from the Atlantic paired with a sweeping current from the Antarctic mean that it’s actually a much cooler climate than people realise.
And the variation in altitudes, topography and soils create so many microclimates within the Western Cape itself that all sorts of wine varieties can be grown in the various regions.
Put together, the different grapes can create something altogether sumptuous.
It’s fairly common to see bottles that just say “Western Cape” on the bottle, rather than naming the individual grapes used to make the wine inside. That’s because lots of wines often use a blend from the growing regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek to produce beautifully balanced combinations that take advantage of the variations in climate.
For example, the Granite-based, weathered soils also boast some of the oldest geology in the world which really helps to produce wines of the highest quality.
Why the best Chenin Blanc is from the Western Cape’s Stellenbosch region…
The region of Stellenbosch first became famous for its production of Chenin Blanc. Its characteristics are quite different to what we would expect from Chenin in the old world, where it’s generally much sweeter.
But the cooling influences in South Africa ensure that Chenin has a great acidity and freshness while still boasting more complex flavours of pineapple, nectarine and honey. For me, the best quality Chenin is their old vine variety.
The older the vine, the lower its yield, but the better the individual grape’s flavour. In a manner of speaking, the vine only has so much flavour it can give to each grape, so the fewer grapes, the more flavour each one will have.
Certain areas are cool enough to grow good quality Sauvignon Blanc too, but it’s the Chardonnay from the cooler spots that I particularly enjoy.
They have great potential and lend themselves well to some ageing in a similar way to those of Burgundy in France.
As you can imagine, there are so many other wines to try, so our tasting will also look at some of the lesser known grapes to be grown.
You see, South African wine makers have experimented successfully with Viognier as well as other French grape varieties like Roussane.
Because they literally have the climate to grow what they want.
Although South Africa became famous for its Chenin, it now grows just as much red as white.
Pinotage is their indigenous grape variety which was created by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Vine growers did this to ensure the Pinot Noir Grape could survive in a climate that can be slightly too hot for it to flourish.
As a result, these wines can vary from being quite light in body to quite oaked and full in flavour. The balance of climate and quality of soil lends themselves to produce some seriously interesting blends!
I particularly enjoy their take on the famous Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) and the Cotes du Rhone blend (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre).
And I honestly could never choose one over the other, as I believe both have their place. But it’s certainly very interesting to compare these wines to their French counterparts.
The warmer climate means the South African grapes benefit from more sunshine which seems to make the wines really burst more with the dark fruit flavours, whereas the old-world equivalents seem to have a more savoury palate. Perhaps you’ve noticed the same thing?
If not, then you should definitely join me to explore and enjoy some astonishing South African wines, just as soon as I’ve released the Wines of the Western Cape tasting experience.
If you want to experience diversity, variety and an utter treat for the tastebuds, make sure you join me – but until it’s ready, be sure to pick something South African up in the supermarket and give it a go!
P.S. Want to make sure you’re the first to hear when the Wines of the Western Cape tasting experience becomes available? Sign up here and I’ll add you to my list (: