A Taste of South African Wine Yields Thirst For More

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We were staying at a lodge within walking distance of a grocery store whose wine shelves were stocked with only wines from South Africa. That made sense, seeing as how the country’s best wineries are no more than a two hour drive from Cape Town, and the nation’s oldest vineyard, Groot Constantia, lies right outside the city’s borders. I looked for interesting choices that wouldn’t break my ten-dollar-a-bottle budget, and ultimately chose a Springfield Sauvignon Blanc, affordable even though it’s “smooth rank” was an impressive four-and-a-half wine goblets out of five. I also picked up a reasonably priced 2009 Ashton Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, mostly to get my “red fix.” Whether we spent a busy day browsing the street markets or exploring the 3,000-foot-high Table Mountain, it was a pleasure getting back to our hotel and sipping one of those wines as we made our evening plans.

It wasn’t long before I realized I’d made an error not booking a trip out to Stellenbosch and the Franshoek Valley. In addition to terrific vineyards, both regions boast gorgeous scenery and charming colonial architecture that harkens back 400 years to the Dutch and French Huguenot settlers who brought their cultures along with their wine-making skills when they settled South Africa. I did try to get to Constantia. But apparently I wanted to visit there on the same day that everyone else in South Africa did, too. The traffic was so horrendous, I had no choice but to turn back.

We continued to try South African wines throughout our eight-day visit, even up to our last moments in the country. At Cape Town International Airport, half a dozen wineries have set up tasting stands and “kiosks” that would be the envy of many small liquor stores in the U.S. Though we were being called to the gate, Dana and I raced to squeeze in a few final tastes. We were in such a rush, I don’t remember what they were, just that we had fun trying.

Now back in the U.S., I’m in a bit of a conundrum. I’m a serious advocate of “buying local” when it comes to food. Normally, that means my wine would come from California, or even better, the expanding wine country of Virginia, which is as near to my Maryland residence as wine making gets. But I can’t stop myself from browsing the South African selections when I shop, just in case I come across a bottle of that Jordan Riesling again. If I do, I’ll have to snap it up. After all, I’d be buying it locally, even if it was made 10,000 miles away. I hope that counts!

Diane MacEachern


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