If it’s value you want, it’s South Africa you need

From left to right: Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013, Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2013, The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013, Café Culture Coffee Mocha Pinotage 2014, Thelema Mountain Red 2012

From left to right: Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013, Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2013, The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013, Café Culture Coffee Mocha Pinotage 2014, Thelema Mountain Red 2012

I sat down a few weeks back to taste 20 South African wines, all value-based, consumer-friendly and market-driven. With WineAlign colleagues David Lawrason, John Szabo M.S., Margaret Swaine, Steve Thurlow and Sara d’Amato on hand, the general consensus at the tasting was positive and only worked to re-enforce how competitive South African wines can be in the sub-$15 market.

While certainly not immune to flaws, some South African reds and whites can sometimes get right in your face and yet others show remarkable elegance and complexity at entry-level prices. When I taste wines such as these I imagine the catastrophe of grace. They are wines that move through history with the fluency of a spirit. Some make a house cleaning of belief, others are solid senders. The South African tasting was more than just a group of cheap wines with something to say, more than a pleasant surprise, it was in fact, a pleasure.

Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2013, Swartland, South Africa (595280, $14.95, WineAlign)

Deep dish Syrah, with meaty and cured toppings and the mordant pitch of Swartland. Tarry, olivine rampant and filled with the late summer, sorrowful berries; blackberry and black raspberry. Naturally sweet, viscous, grainy and tannic mess of texture overlaying fruit. Tons of wine for the buck and a very promising vintage to lay down. Aridity takes over on the briery finish. Wow.  Tasted January 2015  @PorcupineWines

Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2013, Western Cape, South Africa (367698, $14.85, WineAlign)

Here is a buttery and toasty Western Cape Chardonnay, slightly dirty and reductive. Confused, seemingly high residual avoirdupois restricts the opening notes, though they surely begin to play. The aromatics are heavy with the soaking skins of pear, apple and quince in crumbled amaretto cookie and flaky pastry boozy waters. Give this three plus years to shed its nerdy phase and integrate its tangy persistence.  Tasted January 2015  @BoschendalWines  @liffordwine

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier 2013, Western Cape, South Africa (292557, $13.95, WineAlign)

Referring to Marc Kent’s blend as traditionally Rhône may seem at odds in consideration of the north-south, modish chaos, the price and the locale, but folky it is. The blend is unvarying Boekenhoutskloof, grounded by Syrah with support from Mourvèdre and Viognier. The latter, aromatic white grape variety lifts and brightens the brooding load. This is quite sweet and sour, of high-toned red and black fruits meeting a reduction of Champagne vinegar. A tannic and mineral streak divides, circles and conquers all. This will drink better in a year and for a few more after that.  Tasted January 2015  

Café Culture Coffee Mocha Pinotage 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (292466, $12.95, WineAlign)

From the KWV stable, the triad of outwardly and rhetorically spoken culture is right there on the label, in all its java glory. Café, Coffee, Mocha. The charm here is that perhaps in 2014 it has actually been scaled back a touch, the wood suffusion, to at least reveal a modicum of red fruits. Nonetheless it is the notes of smoke, tar, rubber and of course coffee that dominate. “Cause it’s the new Mother Nature takin’ over.” There are also at least two spoonfuls too many of sugar. Like the annoying Guess Who song, this can only be taken in very small doses. “Find a corner where I can hide.”  Tasted January 2015  @TheCafeCult  @Diageo_News

Thelema Mountain Red 2012, Western Cape, South Africa (222570, $12.95, WineAlign)

From fruit up on the slopes of the Simonsig Mountains, this has real, natural cherry brightness, not to mention a kitchen sink of varietal interplay. Shiraz (37 per cent), Petit Verdot (25), Cabernet Sauvignon (23), Merlot (10), Grenache (4) and Cabernet Franc (1) are coalesced by a lighter hand and the effect is less frightening than might be expected. Like similar California action (save for Zinfandel and/or Petite Sirah), this comes together nicely, even coherently, with just a few wrinkles. Represents very good value for a multitude of purposes; BBQ and barbecue being two of them.  Tasted January 2015  @ThelemaWines  @EpicW_S

From left to right: Cape Heritage Inception Deep Layered Red 2012, Cape Heights Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Flat Roof Manor Pinot Grigio 2014, Flat Roof Manor Merlot 2013, Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2014

From left to right: Cape Heritage Inception Deep Layered Red 2012, Cape Heights Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Flat Roof Manor Pinot Grigio 2014, Flat Roof Manor Merlot 2013, Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2014

Cape Heritage Inception Deep Layered Red 2012, Western Cape, South Africa (369967, $12.95, WineAlign)

If 2011 was sweet, this next vintage is like Carabao mango, Luohan duo and Deglet noor dates all cooked down together into a mawkish, sappy jam. Or maybe it’s much simpler than that; just deeply layered refined sugar and red dye number 40. There is almost no aromatic discernment beyond the crystalline layers. No fruit, no soil, no acidity, no tannin. Just sweetness.  Tasted January 2015

Cape Heights Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Western Cape, South Africa (129874, $11.30, WineAlign)

The simple drawn label indicates honest design and intent. The alcohol (14.5 per cent) seems spot on and in sweetness, honestly declared. Stones of fruit, full on Cassis, vanilla and wood spice are in the glass and obviously so. Scales greater heights than most generic California counterparts and comes across as Cabernet Sauvignon, with savoury Western Cape scents closer to Sonoma than say, Central Coast. Some coal and tar come in play with a good, persistent finish.  Tasted January 2015  @liffordretail

Flat Roof Manor Pinot Grigio 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (27128, $11.25, WineAlign)

With the simple aroma of vanilla drops on cut pears and refined sugar, this is clean, crystalline and simple Pinot Grigio. Inoffensive, for a large gathering it will not hurt any feelings. The production is mindlessly prepared and contrived, until a warm cookie dough nuance takes it to another level. Nothing shocking here.  Tasted January 2015  @FlatRoofManor

Flat Roof Manor Merlot 2013, Stellenbosch, South Africa (27128, $11.25, WineAlign)

A taut and toned Merlot, varietally correct and though the label reads 13.5 per cent alcohol, shows considerable heat. Very Merlot, dusty, mulberry scented, syrupy and familiar as a Cape red. Fully garnished, varnished and a rubber stamp this side of tarnished, the thick smoke does distort the clarity. Somewhat seamless in its heavy charms and structured, if quick to finish. Tasted January 2015  @FlatRoofManor

Boschendal The Pavillion Chenin Blanc 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (365353, $10.95, WineAlign)

Though the label has forsaken the partnership with (15 per cent) Viognier, the aromatic floral lilt persists, lifts and buoys the stoic and stark Chenin to impossible heights in a sub-$11 wine. The Chenin’s sharp reserve is inwardly atomic and the relationship with the 15 percenter strictly platonic. Together they create honeyed matter, walk hand in hand and handsomely forward. The residual sugar drip may be a touch heavy-handed but laying a bottle or two down for a few years is entirely possible and save for the price, even longer than that. The acidity circulates to the end, framed by a fine tannic texture.  Tasted January 2015  @BoschendalWines  @liffordwine

From left to right: Goats Do Roam White 2013, Flagstone Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Durbanville Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc Extra Dry Sparkling Wine 2013, Bellingham Big Oak Red 2013

From left to right: Goats Do Roam White 2013, Flagstone Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Durbanville Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc Extra Dry Sparkling Wine 2013, Bellingham Big Oak Red 2013

Goats Do Roam White 2013, Coastal Region, South Africa (237313, $10.95, WineAlign)

The popular and successful Rhône-ish north-south blend in 2013 is Viognier (67 per cent), Roussane (19) and Grenache Blanc (14). In memory, mimic and polar fellowship of the mother land, the GdR is spic and span clean if slightly saccharine and sentimental. I find this to be a typically commercial and derivative South African white wine, with an aromatic and palate profile of sugary, viscous appliqué and rubber tree sap. Has that awkward, gummy resin sensation, along with tropical notes. It’s the pineapple expression that saves the day and makes it more fun to drink.  Tasted January 2015  @DonGoatti  @FairviewWine

Flagstone Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Western Cape, South Africa (358754, $10.95, WineAlign)

Like flavoured, warmed to dripping chocolate, with splinters. Like overripe blackberries seeping in warm rainwater. There is some formidable tannin and acidity which could use some air time to resolve. Quite unique and fun for an inexpensive South African red with only a minute level of rubbery, volatile acidity. Some earth and plenty of spice, much of it from wood. Quite bright actually and well made.  Tasted January 2015  @flagstonewines  @CBrandsCareers

Durbanville Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Durbanville, South Africa (22251, $10.95, WineAlign)

Extreme savour and notes for green vegetables are sprinkled with capsicum and dried caper dust in this piquant Sauvignon Blanc. Windswept tops of or cliff edges can be conjured at a sip, along with he dust of desert brush and spots of European gorse. Ocean mists join the notes of Ulex, contributing further green aromas and salty-based flavours. Acidity brings it all in focus. There is complexity in this SB’s drive.  Tasted January 2015  @dhillswine

Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc Extra Dry Sparkling Wine 2013, Western Cape, South Africa (281311, $10.95, WineAlign)

Quite oxidized and based on the saccharine sugar aspect, “Extra-Dry” must be a translation from the local winemaker’s dialect. While it has some fining aridity on the back end, the early palate is coated with not so unpleasant sweetness. The capsicum captures the effectualness of the varietal, as do green vegetables and grasses. Intensity comes through in lemon curd and the finish is quite bitter.  Tasted January 2015

Bellingham Big Oak Red 2013, Western Cape, South Africa (350595, $10.80, WineAlign)

A Shiraz-Cabernet blend that’s all about the tree, the barrel and a winemaker’s loud and clear pronouncement of the way jammy Western Cape fruit should be treated. Tire tread and sappy tensor bandage smother along with all kinds of chocolate. Plenty of red fruit, grainy tannin and condensed acidity, straight out of the can. Big wine for so little.  Tasted January 2015  @DionysusWines

From left to right: Frisky Zebras From left to right: Nederburg Winemaster's Reserve Shiraz 2013, Douglas Green Sauvignon Blanc 2014, K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014, Obikwa Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Frisky Zebras Sensuous Sauvignon Blanc Sauvignon Blanc

From left to right: Nederburg Winemaster’s Reserve Shiraz 2013, Douglas Green Sauvignon Blanc 2014, K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014, Obikwa Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Frisky Zebras Sensuous Sauvignon Blanc

Nederburg Winemaster’s Reserve Shiraz 2013, Western Cape, South Africa (527457, $9.95, WineAlign)

Have always had a soft spot for this hard-nosed, high-alcohol (pushing the 15 per cent limit, despite the declared 14.5 on the bottle) heavy lead and plush red berry Shiraz. Especially at under $10. Graphite and mephitic barks, ferrous bits and cool bites keep it dancing under ground. It’s sweet and sour, with soy and balsamic swirls. Covers a wide ranging set of Western Cape parameters. Runs the flavour gamut and represents more than solid value. It’s the style, love it or not.  Tasted January 2015  @Nederburg  @ImportWineMAFWM

Douglas Green Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (367821, $9.80, WineAlign)

Mr. Green Jr. has fashioned the goods, following in the footsteps of his father. This is a cheeky little Sauvignon Blanc. Slightly oxidized, certainly pumped up by a touch of effervescent CO2 and tempered by Western Cape sentiments. Has hallmark South African flaw-ish white wine tendencies but also plenty of back-end bite meets verve. Like Scatterlings in a bottle, “in their hearts a burning hunger, beneath the copper sun,” this SB has tons of tropical flavour. Also possesses a green apple crunch and a Cleggy, cool, minty middle. Most excellent and affordable juice.  Tasted January 2015  @DionysusWines

K W V Contemporary Collection Chenin Blanc 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (18689, $9.45, WineAlign)

Despite the obvious base, elemental and flinty suggestions, it would take some yoga like stretching to pull a Chenin Blanc muscle out of the overall aromatics in a blind tasting. Yet somehow it screams Western Cape and South Africa. Reeks of gauze, sacchariferous density and homeopathic remedy. Saps moisture with anti-vivid aridity. Must overs are in vegetative tones. And, it’s all in.  Tasted January 2015  @KWVwines  @DiamondEstates

Obikwa Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Western Cape, South Africa (527465, $9.45, WineAlign)

Struts slowly out, the aromatic neck in craning position, the rotund body slightly awkward and stuck in one dimension. The sweet perfume is animal musky, in a medicinal way. The big bird is a perfectly planar white that is just and only that, hardly recognizable as Sauvignon Blanc, with no ties to any defined terroir. The ostrich abides for simple and ordinary quaffing.  Tasted January 2015  @ObikwaWines  @ImportWineMAFWM

Frisky Zebras Sensuous Sauvignon Blanc NV, Western Cape, South Africa (237685, $8.95, WineAlign)

From purchased fair-trade fruit, this non-vintage white wine is nondescript. Here brews honeydew in a bottle. Tinny, oxidized and briny, bronzing smells are also sunburnt. The mouth is the recipient of a greasy, reductive, effervescent and prickling salve. Non-Maleficence in Sauvignon Blanc.  Tasted January 2015

Good to go!

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