Fort Myers Florida Weekly

South Africa on the move




There are about 50 countries in Africa, but only eight of them produce wine. As you might expect, South Africa leads the pack, and it’s the seventh largest wine producer in the world. Recently, the wine industry in that country has been more assertive in promoting its wines, and that’s not a bad thing. Several of the varietals we’ve sampled recently definitely deserve a place in the cellar and on the table.

The first wines in the country were made more than 300 years ago by Dutch colonists, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that South Africa really began to take its place in the wine world. There are lots of reasons for that, chief among them the international trade sanctions that were imposed because of apartheid. Second, the entire industry was controlled by a government agency called KWV, which severely limited the kinds of grapes that could be grown. Plus, the culture was more oriented toward beer, and the country is one of the world’s top beer markets. I’m told that beer costs less than Coca Cola over there.



In South Africa, the workhorse grape has traditionally been Pinotage. Unfortunately, it’s a hybrid that’s not really capable of making the quality of wine that can compete in the international marketplace. Thankfully, in the past 10-15 years, they’ve turned toward the more classic varietals, and today there are some high-quality bargains to be had.

The major wine regions are around Capetown because the climate is similar to the warmer areas along the Mediterranean. The names you’ll see on the label include Constantia, Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch, which has a university that includes a viticultural department.

Traditionally, most of the wines from South Africa have been white. The country’s chenin blanc, which they call steen, is generally world-class, followed closely by chardonnay, riesling and sauvignon blanc. They’re also getting good at sparkling whites, some made in the traditional champagne method, others made more like prosecco or Spanish cava.

The reds, which include shiraz and cabernet, are almost all aged in American oak, which gives them a particular richness. You can expect flavors of cherry, plum, and coffee…and a pleasant smokiness that is the result of a (harmless) virus that has affected South African grapes for decades.

Backsberg Chenin Blanc South Africa 2012 – This grape is indigenous to the central Loire region in France, but it’s also a mainstay of South African winemaking. Light straw in the glass, the nose is delightfully floral, with aromas of white flowers and white peach. It’s light-bodied, offering rich jasmine, honeysuckle and zingy, refreshing finish. WW 91 $14.

Simonsig Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch 2013 – A bit heavier and fullerbodied than the Backsberg, the fruit aromas and flavors are more subtle. WW 85-86 $10.

Babylonstoren Mourvédre Rosé Paarl 2015 – We sampled several rosé wines and were delighted at the range of flavors and styles. This unusuallynamed wine is a radiant light pink, with a nose of raspberry and strawberry. On the palate, it’s well-balanced, smooth, and refreshing, with a hint of rose petals on the finish. The tasting notes say it’s a “classic blend of noble red cultivars,” so there’s no telling what grapes are in the bottle. But that’s OK. WW 90-91 $15.

Boschendal The Rose Garden 2014 – A deeply rich, reddish-pink in the glass, there’s a nose of toast and spice. Very full-bodied for a rosé, with flavors of crushed berries, roses, and an excellent acid balance. WW 89-90 $13.

Ask the Wine Whisperer

“What are ‘legs’ in wine, and what do they indicate?”

– Tom S., Fort Myers

There’s a common misunderstanding that “legs,” or the rivulets of wine that run down the inside of the glass when you swirl, are an indication of quality. In fact, winemakers have been known to add glycerin to their wines to make legs. Actually, legs are caused by the difference in evaporation rates between water and alcohol. So if legs tell you anything, they’re a rough indication of the alcohol content in the wine, not the quality.

Sample widely. Send in your questions.

— Jerry Greenfield is the Wine Whisperer. He is creative director of Greenfield Advertising Group, and his new book, “Secrets of the Wine Whisperer,” is now available through his website or on Amazon. Read his other writings at

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