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The wines of South Africa

Friday - 3/2/2012, 6:45pm  ET

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Located at the tip of the African continent, South Africa is home to some of the most diverse vineyard lands in the world.

Originally founded in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company as a replenishment station for Dutch merchants sailing to and from India, Cape Town, South Africa, became a bustling trading port. A vibrant wine industry quickly followed.

The first vineyards were planted in 1655 and began producing wines from Cape grapes a few years later. Within a couple of decades, South Africa began to produce wines of international distinction.

Varietals include chenin blanc (the most popular), colombard, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinotage and shiraz.

The wine industry today is an interesting mix of old and new, taking advantage of classic Old World style charm while using modern winemaking techniques that produce New World fruit-centric styles.

The combination of styles - combined with the unique and varied terroir of the different regions - results in wines that run the gamut from simple yet charming to powerful yet elegant.

The Stellenbosch region is home to over 80 wineries that are scattered throughout an area that reaches from lush inland valleys to slopes that run down to the sea. It is also the region where the 2009 Raats Chenin Blanc is produced. The tantalizing nose sports aromas of honeysuckle and pear scents. Flavors of ripe pear, peach and nectarine are supported by bright notes of citrus fruit and abundant acidity. Hints of minerals are found on the pretty finish. $24

Paarl is one of the oldest winemaking towns in South Africa. Lately winemakers, such as Black Pearl, have been concentrating on shiraz and other hearty reds. The 2006 Black Pearl Oro is a blend of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon and has a distinctive bouquet of Thin Mint cookies and ripe blackberries. The extra-rich mouthfeel supports luscious flavors of blackberry, black plum and dark chocolate on the front of the palate and notes of black pepper and cinnamon on the long, lingering finish. $17

The Constantia region was home to the first vineyards of South African wine and today is tucked into the suburban landscape of Cape Town, and it still receives a lot of attention from the local population. One of the most noted wines that are exported to our area is the 2009 Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc. Fans of a grassier style of sauvignon blanc with enjoy the nose of green grass and citrus fruit. Flavors of green melon, white fig and tropical fruit are accentuated on the palate by the crisp, citrusy acidity. Grassy notes pop up on the tangy finish. $18

From the Wellington region comes the hearty 2006 Eventide Cabernet Sauvignon, with a jammy bouquet of blackberry, dark cherry and black currant. Soft tannins support ripe flavors of blackberry, dark plums and cocoa on the front of the tongue while notes of roasted coffee and vanilla linger on the medium-bodied finish. $15

I don't think you can talk about South African wines without mentioning pinotage. This hearty red grape was created in 1925 by crossing cinsault (a Rhone Valley staple) with pinot noir. The resulting varietal is, to my way of thinking, "pinot on steroids." The 2008 Simonsig Pinotage from Stellenbosch offers plenty of black cherry jam, sweet plums and Asian spices on the palate and just a touch of spicy cedar on the lengthy finish. $18

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