Wine: A grape that sometimes gets a bad press

Picture: Neil Hanna
Picture: Neil Hanna
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FOR several years, South Africa has been recognised in the UK as a source of inexpensive but reliable quality wines.

That trend is likely to continue as more of the country’s wines are shipped in bulk – a process that limits costs, helping to increase even further the value for money available.

However, the quality end of the country’s market also has an encouraging tale to tell with dedicated (and sometimes niche) producers creating staggeringly good wines. Several recently marched into the Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa (PIWOSA) precisely to highlight just how good some of these quality wines really are.

Before we look at PIWOSA producers, however, let’s consider a couple of “stairway” wines that shine a torch on the way towards those top level examples. On the first step, you can find 2011 Duiker Shiraz Cinsault (down to £7.99 as part of a mixed case, Majestic, from 3 September) – a juicy and fresh, bramble-charged variant of a Rhone blend which adds a neat touch of nutmeg on the finish. Among the whites – and continuing the connection with southern France – I was very impressed by 2010 Bellingham The Bernard Series Roussanne (£10.99, Sainsbury’s), which combines vibrant acidity with a savoury-edged, mineral backdrop.

While we are talking about French taste-alikes, our first PIWOSA wine has clear similarities with mature claret. 2007 Journey’s End The Cape Doctor Cabernet Sauvignon (£16.30, has intense and leafy blackcurrant fruit, undertones of graphite and chocolate with magnificent smooth and supple tannins. Moving from Stellenbosch to Elgin, we encounter the younger 2010 Shannon Mount Bullet Merlot (£30, contact 01306 631155 for stockists) which is a meticulously made wine delivering complex yet concentrated, ripe, black cherry and vanilla flavours with excellent acidity, silky smoothness and just the right concluding tannic grip.

Sticking with Elgin but moving to the whites, revel in the complexity of 2012 Paul Cluver Chardonnay (£14.99 for the 2011 vintage, Abbey Wines, Melrose). After a floral and buttery nose, the opening centres on smooth vanilla and orange flavours which acquire hints of apple and brazil nuts before picking up a tangerine-based acidity on the finish.

Heading back to Stellenbosch, here is another well-made South African chardonnay. Burgundian-style barriques have been used for the fermentation of 2011 Jordan Chardonnay (£11.99 as part of a mixed case, Majestic) which no doubt explains the impressive vanilla influences that round out the wine’s delicate and integrated fruit – lemon, apple and peach all play a part there.

Of course, Stellenbosch also produces tasty versions of South Africa’s signature white, chenin blanc. Consider, for instance, 2011 Raats Old Vine Chenin Blanc (£14.49, Valhalla’s Goat, Glasgow). Here, the familiar banana influences are principally footnotes to the pear-like texture and the lively orchard-style flavours that come with it. Also in evidence is a spicy nuttiness and just a suggestion of chalky minerality.

Finally, let’s help rehabilitate a South African grape variety that sometimes gets a bad press. Undoubtedly, there are some poor, burnt rubber examples of pinotage about, but 2009 Welgegund Pinotage, Wellington (£13.01, down from £21.68, Exel, Perth) is fantastic stuff. It has smooth herbal influences to garnish its concentrated and deliciously aromatic dark fruit flavours, which cannot fail to impress.

Best buys

2011 La Patrie Gaillac Perle France, 12 per cent

An unusual white, made from the local grape Loin de l’oeil, and embodying the extra degree of texture synonymous with that area but overlaying it with clean green apple and grapefruit flavours enlivened by a neat and appealing spritzy prickle.

£8.99, Sainsbury’s

2010 Carta Vieja Reserva Limited Release Cabernet Franc Loncomilla Valley, Chile, 13 per cent

Although often an unsung hero, cabernet franc can produce some tremendous reds. Here, it delivers deep and concentrated plum and mulberry fruit but combines it with soft and supple tannins and a tidy, balanced, black pepper finish.

£8.95, From Vineyards Direct