Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wine Tasting

Wine tasting here was one of the things we looked forward to on this trip and we were not disappointed. We knew were would be staying close to South Africa's wine country and had tried a couple of South African wines in the US which we enjoyed so we expected good things.

We have of course been drinking South African wines since we got here and finding them quite good and inexpensive. Our first tasting came when we went to Cape Agulhas, the southern tip of Africa where we could see the Indian and Atlantic Oceans fighting each other. We stopped at a small wine shop before leaving the area and tasted two nice wines there. South Africa is known for its Chenin Blanc and we found a nice one there. On our drive back we stopped in Bredasdorp at Envirowines, a collective of environmentally produced wines. For a winery to be able to use the Envirowine label, they have to pass three years of inspections that include the wine making facility and the tasting room. Just like in our conversations in Durban with Brian, we have to expand our definition of environmental here. The host agreed to let us taste some of his excellent wines so we sat out on the deck while he served us and explained the system. He also told us he had spent nearly a year in New York City spending an inheritance when he was younger. The inheritance is gone, but he has no regrets about the time in that great city.

We have been wine tasting three other days. The first was in the Hermanus area, the second in Franschhoek and Schellenbosch, and the third in Swartland. In all three areas we have found some excellent Chenin Blancs and some wonderful fruity reds. Given how inexpensive wine is here, it will be hard to return to US prices. Most wineries have wines under $10 and many have had some very good wines at less than $5. It is too bad it is so hard to find South African wines on the west coast. Shipping costs are almost prohibitive even for the cheapest of the wines to get from South Africa to the east coast and then by truck or rail to Washington.

In general, we have found wine tasting to be quite civilized here. Most places will seat you at a table and serve you with fresh classes for each new wine. It helps that usually we have been the only tasters. The exception was in Stellenbosch where there were much larger crowds, but still not on the level we have come to expect anywhere in Washington, Oregon, or California. Of the 15 wineries, we have visited, we only paid a tasting fee once. A couple of them had a charge they waive with a purchase. Since we purchased at all but one, that was not a problem.

It has always been easy to find a winery that also serves food for lunch, usually with a view. La Vierge in the Hermanus area looked out over the valley. Even the bathrooms were set up so we could view while …. The urinals are set against a large window. The toilets had a similar setup. Warwick in the Stellenbosch region offered picnics overlooking a large pond. People wanting to sit on the lawn while eating were able to use large pillows. Several couples enjoyed these pillows while tasting and enjoying the view.

Every winery we have visited included a highly knowledgeable and friendly toast or hostess. This is not something we always find in the US, where the pourers are often just that. Most pourers in the US can give a cursory description at least, but here we have always been given a detailed description of the growth of the wines and what to expect as we taste. These mostly young people are very well trained in what they do.

The biggest surprise in our tasting was that most of the wines we tasted were very young, even several 2011 vintages. We passed on purchasing some of these wines because they clearly need some time to age and we don't plan to put any in our luggage for the trip home with the single exception of a port that Jim loved. We overheard one taster at Kanonkop (Cannon Hill) tell a friend that he had purchased one of their wines three years earlier and had been offered five times what he paid for it. Kanonkop is rated one of the best wineries in South Africa, but we found them too young for our taste. Had we been living here with a cellar, we would have followed his lead. Unfortunately ten days isn't enough to age a wine.

If you come to South Africa, you must do some tasting. And don't limit yourself to the famous Stellenbosch area. Other regions also produce some fine wines and just like home the beauty of the wine country is special.

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