South Africa gets liquid, part one


For a few years I became less forgiving about wines I would buy for everyday drinking. At least I thought that’s what I was doing when I upped my usual price range to the $15-to-$25 universe. The theory was I’d be weeding out the marginal selections, the third-tier labels of mass producers. At those prices, I kept my quality standards decently high, so I presumed. I’d even go beyond occasionally, with a splurge on a recent great-vintage Bordeaux or a boutique-label California cab. On a whim, I once backed up my allegiance to all things South American with a purchase of a bottle of Cheval des Andes for upwards of $70.

But now that austerity rules, in my household at least, the new ceiling is $15. Based on early tastings, I’m liking the self-imposed limits.

My current source of delight is my mini-tour of inexpensive South African wines. My primary source for these bottles is the venerable Sherry-Lehmann, known for its near-encyclopedic Bordeaux inventory but
offering plenty from the best wine-growing regions around the world. (Tip for non-New Yorkers: watch for Sherry’s periodic free-shipping-anywhere offers.)

No matter where you live and shop, though, South African wine offerings are becoming more plentiful, boosted by good harvests and – for us bargain-hunters – a weakening rand.

What I’ve liked over the past few weeks includes these two reds:

Rustenberg, “1682” Red Blend, 2012 – This Stellenbosch wine estate dates back to 1682, a reminder that this country is no ingénue in the fine-wine scene. This wine is a blend of Shiraz (40%), Cabernet Sauvignon (37%), Merlot (13%), Grenache (7%) and Petit Verdot (3%). $13.

Rupert & Rothschild, “Classique,” 2010 – I liked the first glass but loved the second, consumed the following night (after Vacu-Vinning, which mellowed the immediately strong earthiness). Like Rustenberg, Rupert & Rothschild is produced on a historic wine property founded in 1690. Since 1997, the Ruperts and Rothschilds, established vintner families of South Africa and France, respectively, have jointly owned the estate. This red is also a multi-grape blend reminiscent of Bordeaux yet distinctive to the African terroir: Cabernet Sauvignon (49%), Merlot (34%), Shiraz (8%), Petit Verdot (5%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and Pinotage (1%). $15.

Besides the reds, I’ve discovered several Sauvignon Blancs that drink just right for summer. I’ll talk about those next time.

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