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Plonk of the month

Cape attractions

South African vintages have a lot to offer

(Stephen Meusefor The Boston Globe)
By Stephen Meuse
Globe Correspondent / September 30, 2009

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We love to sip and write about little wines that give voice to place. We won’t say that any one part of the world has a corner on them, but value-priced wines with character are clearly more numerous on the ground in some places. Argentina, whose one-of-a-kind high-altitude malbecs can be enjoyed for as little as $12 in our market, is one example. South Africa is another.

Vines were carried to the Cape by the Dutch, who harvested their first vintages in 1659. Some of the first plantings were of chenin blanc (then known as “steen’’), used to make the sweet wines and brandies Netherlanders adored. French Huguenot émigrés brought vines when they began to arrive later in the century. Today, chenin, sauvignon blanc, colombard, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon - all grapes of Gallic provenance - are most widely planted. Pinotage, a pinot noir-cinsault cross created here in 1925, may be South Africa’s signature, if not best performing, red varietal.

The Cape is a warm growing region and its wines show New World ripeness and breadth. But a sense of decorum seems to stand in the way of the unbridled exuberance you can encounter in California or Australia at this price. And in the end, isn’t the even voice the one you can live with?

Rietvallei “John B’’ Robertson Sauvignon Blanc-Colombard 2008 Clever blend of grapes with complementary tendencies makes for a crisp, breezy, stylish little sip you can’t tire of. Around $10. At Wine Gallery, Brookline, 617-277-5522; Vin Bin, Marlborough, 508-480-9463; Port Wine & Spirits, Newburyport, 978-463-2077.

Ken Forrester “Petit’’ Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc 2008 Combo of ripe, peach-like fruit and cushy acids is pleasant, refreshing, and satisfying. Go-to wine for a variety of lighter dishes or ace aperitif. Around $11. At Cambridge Wine & Spirits, 617-864-7171; Blanchard’s, Allston, 617-782-5588; Colonial Spirits, Acton, 978-263-7775.

Nederburg Winemaster’s Reserve Western Cape Pinotage 2007 Real regional and varietal character on display with a whiff of smoke, a hint of roasted meat, and some fine zip. Around $12. At Harkey’s Wine and Spirits, Millis, 508-376-8833; Shaw’s, the Fenway, 617-267-4684; Cambridge Wine & Spirits.

Excelsior Robertson Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Generously fruity with notes of black raspberry and fresh loam. Easy to like and versatile. Around $11. At Gary’s Discount Liquors, Chestnut Hill, 617-323-1122; Marty’s Fine Wine, Newton, 617-332-1230; Blanchard’s, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-9300.

Man Vintners Coastal Region Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Now here’s a honey. Big mouthful of shapely black cherry-like fruit and the kind of texture that makes you run your tongue around the inside of your mouth while saying “mmm’’ to yourself. Around $11. At Gordon’s Fine Wine, Waltham, 781-893-1900; DeLuca’s Market, North End, 617-523-4343; Colonial Spirits, Acton, 978-263-7775.

Stephen Meuse can be reached at onwine@comcast.net