South African wines: gorgeous wine, beautiful country. Pic: Klein Constantia.
South African wines in a Brazilian restaurant? Don't worry, it will all make sense after a Shiraz or two.
This blogger fell in love with South African wines after tasting a bottle from the Rust en Vrede estate at Geoffrey Smeddle's Peat Inn about twelve years ago.
It was delicious and that bottle led to several wine-focused holidays in the country. The incredible food and spectacular wildlife are also a big draw but it was the wine which first drew me there. And keeps me going back.
To this day, Rust en Vrede's estate blend remains my favourite wine treat.
Before my Peat Inn conversion, my knowledge of South African wine was restricted to cheap Pinotage. And that's the sort of thing that would put anyone off SA wines.
South African wines and Brazilian rodizio
This writer's crush on South African wines was given a fillip a couple of weeks back.
At the beginning of May, the 5pm Dining blog was invited to an Escape to the Cape lunch at Fazenda Brazilian restaurant on Edinburgh's George Street. The invite was from the trade body Wines of South Africa.
While tasting more than a dozen wines, Fazenda's waiters would bring us a seemingly never-ending supply of incredible beef, pork belly, lamb and chicken.
As we've mentioned before in the blog, Fazenda is a rodizio restaurant. Rodizio being the Brazilian custom of serving a variety of grilled meats carved at the table.
The meat keeps coming until diners display a red card on their table. A green card signals to the waiters that the customer would like service to resume.
Stories behind the wine
Often described as producing wines which are somewhere between New and Old World styles, the wine regions of South Africa have an incredible geographical diversity.
And this lends itself to not only a wide range of grape varietals and wines but also a huge numbers of stories behind the wines.
I could scribble out my tasting notes from the lunch but the stories behind the wines we tasted are much more interesting than my blethers.
For example, Journey's End make a Cabernet Sauvignon called The Cape Doctor. It takes its name from the prevailing wind which is said to clear Cape Town of smog.
Bouchard Finlayson make a wine that blends Italian and French grape varieties. Sangiovese, Barbera and Nebbiolo fly the flag for Italy while Pinot Noir, Mourvedre and Shiraz or Syrah wave the tricolore. The wine is called Hannibal after the Roman Empire who famously crossed the Alps with his elephants.
On a more serious note, we learned a little about the Indaba Education Fund, a charity which invests in early childhood development in the winelands of South Africa. The fund is partially funded by sales of Indaba brand wines. We tried their Indaba Mosaic, a very, soft, drinkable blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Social responsibility is one story which many South African wineries have in common.
We also liked the story of May de Lencquesaing. May owned the famous Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in France but decided that a South African vineyard was what she really wanted. So, in 2003, she established the Glenelly Estate at Stellenbosch from scratch. She was 78 at the time.
Creation winery: developed from scratch.
May de Lencquesaing is not the only South African winemaker to start a vineyard from the bottom up. Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin started their Creation vineyard in a remote corner of the Walker Bay Wine Region. Both came from families with several generations of winemaking experience but it was still no easy task.
In 2003, they planted vines on 40 hectares of undulating land on the lofty Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, part of the Babylon Toren Mountain. They harvested their first grapes in 2006. Twelve years on, they are known for producing complex wines with uncommon length and depth.
You can taste some of them at Fazenda on George Street.
Just be careful. You might just fall for South African wines and the next thing you know is that you're flying to Cape Town to start a crazy affair with your new wine crush...