12/09/08 – ending our South African sanctions

By Jesse on December 8, 2008

Jason’s gonna hate me for this one.

The Young Winos’ last foray into South African wine has become the stuff of legend. So underwhelmed were we by the wines we tasted those two and a half years ago that we haven’t returned to the region since. Some of our long-time members still harbor extremely negative opinions about South Africa’s contributions to the wine world, and aren’t afraid to say so.

However, in the interceding years, several decent South African bottles have sneaked their way into various other tastings, and it might just be time to re-think our unofficial sanctions. After all, it’s the holiday season — a perfect time to put aside old grudges. This week, we drop our “bah, humbug” attitude towards Cape Town and give those Boer wines another go.

Illustrious wine blogger Alder Yarrow visited South Africa earlier this year and tasted a few hundred wines. His reaction (which you can read in all it’s glorious detail here) was basically that there’s still a lot of unremarkable wine being made there. However — and this is key — there’s also some excellent wine being made, and being sold at very affordable prices. Therefore, when you’re doing your shopping for Tuesday’s meeting, please ask your wine merchant for a recommendation. Ask them for a South African bottle they’ve tried personally, or that’s well-liked by other customers. Apparently, just grabbing a bottle blindly off the shelf is something of a crap shoot.

What to buy? Feel free to bring anything: white, red, sparkling, or dessert wines all qualify. On the white side, the country makes a lot of Chardonnay and also some Sauvignon Blanc (which Alder thought were quite good), but their “signature” white grape is Chenin Blanc, sometimes referred to as Steen by the locals. Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 wrote a nice blog post about Chenin Blanc and reacted positively to a South African bottle.

On the red side, there’s Cab and Merlot (and some blends of the two), as well as some interesting Shiraz. The ringer, however, is Pinotage, a true South African original, the result of an attempt in 1925 to cross Pinot Noir with the Rhone grape Cinsaut, referred to as “Hermitage” by the South Africans (who apparently didn’t care that Hermitage is famous for Syrah, not Cinsaut). Pinotage is grown almost nowhere else in the world, so it’s sort of like our Zinfandel in that way. Gary Vaynerchuk recently tasted three bottles of cheap Pinotage and was pleasantly surprised by the results; you can watch his wonderfully short-and-sweet episode by clicking here.

We’ll be meeting at Jason’s apartment in historic Brentwood. The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions). Priority is given to long-term members but seats are also reserved at each and every meeting for new people. If you’re denied entry due to a meeting exceeding capacity, don’t worry — you’ll be at the top of the list the next week.

Once you’ve received your confirmation e-mail, go out and find yourself some South African vino (or bring a crisp $10 bill). We’ll see your delightful faces on Tuesday at 9pm.