This is the time of year when I tend to crave the kind of bright, refreshing, complex white wines that I found myself elbow deep in at a tasting of some of the best of South Africa last week. The timing was perfect: Not only is this exactly the season to begin taking full advantage of the world-class Chenin Blancs and Chardonnays in particular that South Africa specializes in, but the wines of the country—which have been flowing ever since the 17th century—have never been better than they are right now. And yet, frustratingly, South African wines have historically been somewhat less familiar than their counterparts from other countries. This, I predict, is about to change in a very big way: Even here in Pennsylvania, it’s now possible to find an ever-growing selection of South African vintages.
At the retail level, look for standouts like Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, Botanica Skurfberg Chenin Blanc, Radford Dale “Renaissance” Chenin Blanc, Mullineaux Family Wines “White Chenin-based Blend,” Jardin “Barrel Fermented” Chardonnay, and other Chardonnays from Crystallum, Neil Ellis Elgin and Hamilton Russell. You may not be able to find them all in Pennsylvania, but factor in New Jersey and Delaware and you’ll be in business.
Local restaurants are also taking advantage of all that South Africa has to offer. Tria is offering Cape Point Winery’s “Stonehaven” Sauvignon Blanc, and on May 19, winemaker and owner Duncan Savage will be teaching a class there. AA Badenhorst’’s “The Curator White” is available at both Zahav and the Oyster House. And more and more restaurants are adding South African wines to their lists all the time—make sure to seek them out.
The country also produces stunning reds. I can think of few wines I’d prefer with a grilled ribeye than Anwika’s Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blend or the Boekenhoutskloof Syrah. Smith & Wollensky is currently showing the “Columella” red from Sadie Family Wines—another great one with beef. No matter what you’re eating or in the mood to drink, South Africa is a phenomenal option.