Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wine Wednesday: Waaaaaay Down South

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 1:22 PM

click to enlarge south_africa.jpg

No, that's not the YMCA flag. It's from South Africa, and so are some really interesting wines that I had the opportunity to taste last week. The Mad Platter Restaurant created a fascinating menu of South African specialties to accompany the wines from Robertson Winery. Chef Shane Autrey showed a playful facility working with ostrich, beef, lamb and oxtail and also deconstructed a traditional Chakala sauce into a wonderful salad of pickled vegetables and pancetta.

But we were there for the wines. South Africa's wine regions tend to have a Mediterranean climate with occasional temperature spikes over a hundred degrees. The terroir is rocky with many vineyards actually planted in granite at high altitude. It's hard out there for a grape.

click to enlarge Phanto.jpg

Luckily, the difficult growing conditions make for strong vines that create bold fruit. This wine is not for the timid. Of the five wines we tasted, two really stood out. The 2006 Wolfkloof Shiraz was a wonderful food wine. The nicely balanced soft tannins cut through the fats of the oxtail stew we enjoyed it with, and the spicy notes of cinnamon and clove might make this an excellent Thanksgiving wine for your family table. At less than $20 for a bottle, it won't break the bank.

The second notable wine is difficult to recommend to everyone. Pinotage is a very popular varietal in South Africa that is not well-known in America. A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, Pinotage is a boy-dog wine. Properly made, it can have delicate flavors and extraordinarily complex finishes. But it can also smell like mothballs or paint thinner.

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The 2006 Phanto Ridge Pinotage from Robertson walks that treacherous line between bold and boring very well. I wasn't particularly turned on by the nose. The phrase that was bandied around our table was "your grandfather's closet." Luckily the Mad Platter intelligently served the wine in a tall skinny glass to minimize the aromas so that you could concentrate on the flavors, especially since we were only planning to try one glass.

As part of a tasting without the benefit of time to open up, a wine has to demonstrate its essence almost immediately. The Phanto Ridge's essence could be described using a very popular term around town lately -- chipotle. With a smoky, chocolate flavor the Pinotage earned raves from the same people who recoiled at the first whiff. Be brave. Try something you've never heard of before with some good creamy goat cheese. Buy a bottle for $18.99. It'll be worth the challenge.

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