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Wine safari
South Africa is home to many great wineries
By Geoff Bland

I recently returned from South Africa, where among other adventures, I toured this amazing country's winelands.

On this trip, I brought my wife, Brigitte, and 16 adventurous customers from The Corkscrew, who signed up for a chance to discover South Africa and take an insider's tour of the winelands.

We spent several relaxing days in the beautiful city of Capetown, seeing the sights, and then headed to Stellenbosch, which is in the heart of South Africa's wine-producing area.

Our first stop was at Fairview Winery, famous for its Goat Tower as well as the large goat farm, which features 300 goats whose milk is used to make cheese. Our knowledgeable sommelier led us through a tasting of multiple wines from some of the different brands Fairview produces.

Some personal favorites include 2010 Goats do Roam Rose ($10), a deeply colored and flavor-filled rose produced from Syrah and Grenache, which should be a summer staple; 2009 Fairview Viognier ($15), a balanced and elegant version of this aromatic grape with good body, bright acidity and a long, smooth finish; and 2009 Spice Route Sauvignon Blanc ($19), the grapes for which are grown on the western Cape, where the cool vineyard site produces aromatic and elegant fruit with aromas of passion fruit and grapefruit. This wine also has minerality and wonderful acidity.

Following lunch in the Goatshed Restaurant, we headed off to check into Spier Hotel and freshen up before visiting the Ken Forrester winery. Ken is an icon of the South African wine business, and he personally hosted us for a tasting and seminar of his wines.

This tasting was a master class in Chenin Blanc, the most widely planted white grape in South Africa. Ken produces a full range of Chenin Blanc, starting with the 2010 Petit Chenin ($10), a light, bright and lively introduction to the grape and one of the world's best wine values.

The next level is the 2009 Estate Chenin Blanc ($15), a richer and more complex wine with subtle oak. When asked how this wine aged, Ken replied, "Beautifully." And he fetched a bottle of 2003 vintage for us to try. The wine was still fresh but had gained richness and complexity in the bottle.

The top of the line is the 2008 Forrester-Meinert Chenin Blanc ($60), a rich, barrel-fermented wine with a touch of residual sugar - a rival to the top wines of the Loire Valley. Following the tasting, we dined at 96 Winery Road, a restaurant owned by Ken and his brother. The superb meal was a great end to the day.

Tuesday morning we drove up the narrow Jonkershoek Valley to visit Stark-Conde Winery, a small producer in one of the most beautiful settings I've ever seen. The steep, terraced vineyards run up the mountain on one side of the valley, while the other side is a nearly vertical rock face that looms over the property.

Jose Conde specializes in red wines, producing both Cabernet and Syrah from the small estate. These are world-class wines, showing a nice balance of elegance and power. My favorites were the 2007 Estate Cabernet ($22) and the 2008 Three Pines Syrah ($35) from a single vineyard high on the mountain. A casual picnic lunch in the gorgeous setting was a perfect end to our visit.

We drove to Franschoek in late afternoon to visit the Graham Beck Winery, an exquisite facility and home to many superb wines. Erica the winemaker led us through a full range of wines, both sparkling and still. A standout was Graham Beck Brut Rose ($23), a lush, flavor-filled example of sparkling wine, easily the equal of many Champagnes at twice the price. I also enjoyed the 2008 Graham Beck Pinotage ($18); our first example of this uniquely South African grape and a lovely wine offered lush black and red fruit with notes of mineral, smoke and oak. We also sampled a brilliant 2006 "Joshua" Shiraz, which, sadly, is not available in the United States. A great dinner at Reuben's Restaurant wound us down for the day.

Wednesday morning, we visited Gary Jordan at Jordan Winery - no relation to Jordan in California, although the owners are good friends. To avoid confusion, Gary markets his wine in the U.S. under the "Jardin" and Bradgate labels. He took us on an extensive tour of the vineyards, explaining the diverse soil types and subtle microclimates produced by the hills and the proximity to the ocean.

We enjoyed the 2009 Bradgate Sauvignon Blanc-Chenin Blanc blend ($12) on a ridge overlooking the vineyards, a perfectly lovely, refreshing white wine and a great start to the day. Back at the winery, we sampled their unoaked Chardonnay, a riot of tropical fruit, and their high-end, barrel-fermented Chardonnay, The Whole Nine Yards. This last wine is world-class and a rival to the great whites of Burgundy.We finished our visit with a leisurely lunch on the terrace of their highly acclaimed restaurant with three hours of spectacular food, brilliant wine and great company.

The next four days were spent on safari, but that is another column.


Story published Friday, May 6, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 3 )

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