With the heart of winter looming heavily over the wine producing regions of South Africa and the coldest part of the year slowly creeping in, red wine shows a higher preference amongst its consumers. South Africans are already well-acquainted with our beautifully crafted, full bodied and spicy red noble cultivars, but few are aware of their lesser known tantalizing relatives.
The chill of winter can often be fought off with a tot (or two) of port, now known as Cape Vintage, especially if said winter-delicacy is accompanied by a roaring, wood-crackling fire. Few consumers know that one of the major Cape Vintage producing cultivars, Touriga-Naςional, also produces a full-bodied varietal wine, driven by dark fruit and a smooth mouth feel, that is just as welcoming on a chilly winter’s eve.
So, instead of grabbing the well-known bottle of Pinotage, leaning into the comfort of a hearty glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or welcoming the familiar pizazz of a Shiraz, I want to encourage and challenge you to try something new and different. As you reach for that less familiar bottle of Touriga-Naςional, Malbec or Mourvèdre, think, “Wine not!”.
The next time you venture out to one of our many well-known wine retail stores, take a closer look at the order in which wine is shelved. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to note that even South African retailers have recently taken to the increase in non-noble varietal wines and no longer shelve these wines together. Each cultivar now has its own section! I love being able to approach a section in a shop and know exactly where to find the Touriga-Naςional, Malbec or Mourvèdre. This leaves us, avid wine consumers, with an increased awareness of these wines. This also boosts their popularity and familiarity in the market because they are more visible in stores.
Our winemakers are now beginning to challenge larger wine producing countries like Argentina and Chile, by producing outstanding varietal wines from cultivars, that were previously better known for their excellent blending capabilities. You may have heard of some of these cultivars before, Barbera and Malbec for example, were previously used in blends mainly for their beautiful and deep colouration, which often added extra colour to lighter cultivar wines. Malbec, a familiar Bordeaux style cultivar, is fast proving that it can in fact find its legs, without the help of its four well known blending counterparts (Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot).
Elegant and full bodied SMV and SMG Rhône style blends have also shown face in the South African wine industry, both blends sharing a mutual cultivar of Spanish origin, Mourvèdre. This cultivar is certainly capable of creating beautiful varietal wines and is no longer considered for the sole purpose of blending. The typical wine characteristics of Mourvèdre include aromas of liquorice, violets, dark fruits and a long, lingering finish on the palate. If you ever get stuck while trying to identify a glass of red wine, Mourvèdre is most recognisable by its predominant ‘anys’ or liquorice aromas.
Familiarising yourself with these cultivars can be quite entertaining too! I often catch myself and other inquisitive wine-lovers pronouncing these unfamiliar cultivar names with a dash of Italian, Spanish and French flair on the tongue. This becomes increasingly fun after a glass or two of wine, after which creative pronunciations and various accents begin to surface. Malbec, for example, is an easy wine to integrate into our South African ways, simply by remembering that the wine is indeed, “Mal-in-my-bek”. A wine like Barbera rolls off one’s tongue, Barrr-Ber-rah, much like the wine rolls over one’s taste buds with fruity and spicy notes. Mourvèdre, also a bold wine, offers an almost tantalizing tango of flavours that dance on the palate much like the sound of the word itself.
If the winter chill does not deter you from drinking white wine, fear not! Cultivars such as Roussanne, Riesling, Viognier and Gewürztraminer are also on the rise. Many of these white wine producing cultivars are packed with fruity, floral and Muscat-like aromas that have proven to be particularly refreshing on a warm summer’s day. If the good and trusted Chardonnay and Chenin blanc no longer excite you, try something new and different. New cultivars are constantly introduced into the South African market, one of the most recent and lesser known cultivars being of Austrian origin, Grüner Veltliner. This cultivar produces softer wines, displaying an almost hybrid flavour profile combination between Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay. In America, this cultivar is more well-known as Gru-v, a rather fitting name for a very groovy wine!
One of the rarest white wine cultivars in the world, produced by less than five South African wineries, is Bukettraube. With only seventy odd hectares of Bukettraube left in the world, approximately sixty-eight of which are planted in South Africa, it is a wine not to miss out on. This unique wine is not only a blast to attempt pronouncing, it is also equally packed with a blast of crisp stone fruit flavours and a refreshing acidity on the palate.
Popping the cork on a bottle of one of these ‘bad-boys’ can add something unique to any experience. Whether its experimenting with friends and family at a braai or impressing a first-date at dinner with your wine knowledge, bringing something different to the table can be a fun and memorable experience for both you and those close to you.