South African fair play

02 June 2017

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THE shadow of Brexit seems to be over everything: wine has suffered par­­ticularly, because nearly all the wine that we drink has been priced originally in either dollars or euros, and sterling has fallen against both these currencies.

Where, then, should we look for some stability in wine prices? There is one country where the political situa­­tion is more confused than it is here in Britain: South Africa. When, after the fall of apartheid, the South Africans made a bid to launch their wines on this market, they made a significant error: they decided that the best route would be with low-priced Chenin Blanc.

Unfortunately, much of this wine was of dubious quality. Now the les­son has been learnt, and the super­market shelves bear a good range of appealing wines at attractive prices.

When I sat down to write this piece, I asked myself whether the image of a wine-producing country suf­­fered if it offered Fairtrade wines. I found no answer, but we are for­tunate that we can help by buying such wines. Mor­risons stocks a Fair­trade South African Shiraz Merlot for £4.50, and a Fair Ex­­change Colom­bard Sauvignon Blanc for £4.75.

Rather more upmarket in the Fair­­trade world are two wines from the Olif­ants River region, offered by Waitrose: a Merlot 2016 for £6.74 and a Chenin Blanc 2016 for £8.99. Sainsbury’s has a Fairtrade Pinotage for £6.

One wine that I first enjoyed some years ago, after a cricket match in the Cape, is Porcupine Ridge Syrah from the Boeken­houtskloof winery. Sains­bury’s has the 2015 vintage of this at £6, and Waitrose at £7.99. An­­other wine, whose name intrigued me, was the Trebuchet Char­donnay 2016 at £7.99, at Majestic (£6.49 mix-six price), be­­cause I knew a wine-producer in Burgundy, Louis Trebu­chet, and I won­­dered whether he had emig­rated. I was wrong: it ap­­pears that a trebuchet is a medieval siege instru­ment, some­what similar to a man­gonel, and the winery had built one as a tourist attraction.

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From the same family, I have also enjoyed Bees Knees 2016, a flavour­some blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier. This is listed at £9.49 (£8.54 as part of a dozen) with Laithwaites.

As in New World coun­tries, the majority of the wines come from a broad region, such as south-eastern Australia, or the Central Valley, Chile; the South African equivalent is the Western Cape.

It is interesting to seek out wines from tighter appellations, such as Stellenbosch. The winery at Rus­­ten­­berg, has, like me, Lancas­trian roots, and produces outstanding wines. Both Majestic and Waitrose have its John X. Mer­riman 2013 vintage: a Merlot-dominated blend, similar to a Saint Emilion. At Ma­­jestic, it is £17.99 for the single bottle, but £13.99 as part of six; at Waitrose, it is £14.99.

As a final suggestion, I would look to the comparatively recently planted area of Elim. This is close to Cape Agulhas, which splits the At­­lantic from the Indian Ocean, where the climate is ideal for my favourite Pinot Noirs. Try the Ghost Corner 2015: worth £19.99 from Waitrose.

South African wines have now come of age.

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