In his 1995 novel Memoir from Antproof Case, Mark Helprin writes, “In the real Africa, time has no punctuation, and flows between misty green banks.” He evokes a landscape without clocks, calendars, or deadlines, where experience is punctuated only by its own intensity. Immediacy is his word for it, and in Africa, he says, “immediacy is everywhere.”
To say that a wine provides a release from the constraints of time, with an aroma and flavor that pulls you right into your senses, is perhaps the highest compliment a Wineau can offer. Luckily, there are many affordable South African wines that make good on the continent’s promise of immediacy. With the end of the international sanctions imposed under apartheid, the country’s wine industry began expanding its market base, improving its product, and experimenting with new, eco-friendly winemaking technologies.
Today, varietals of note from the Western Cape include Shiraz, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and South Africa’s native Pinotage — a cross between the Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes. Unfortunately for seekers of unusual wines, the international trend toward replacing lesser-known grapes with brand-name varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon is in evidence here as well — as is the “big wine” craze driving winemakers to push high-alcohol Cabs and Merlots.
While Pinotage is the grape to try if you’re looking for a distinctly South African wine, it can be difficult to come by — especially if you’re a skinflint. A cheaper option is a blend containing Pinotage, like the punny 2004 Goats do Roam — a great value at $8.99. This full-bodied blend of Pinotage and Shiraz hails from Paarl, a picturesque town in the Cape Winelands, and has a spiciness that calls to mind adventures in far-off lands.
With a comparably spicy flavor, there’s the 2004 Shiraz from Kumala, which sources its grapes from vineyards located throughout the Western Cape. There’s something about the aroma of this Shiraz that evokes the smell of a bonfire by the sea. Its tartness comes as a surprise, but that’s what lingers on the tongue after the first sip.
Finally there’s the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon from Golden Kaan — a newcomer whose premium wines were poured in Berlin this summer to honor South Africa’s status as host of the 2010 World Cup. This Cab’s rich, floral aroma has the varietal’s signature intensity — that heady feeling of being a kid at an adults-only party. The taste doesn’t pack the same punch, but at $8.99 it’s decent value.