Unappreciated South Africa

South African wines have been on my mind lately, although this isn’t the first time.  Last year I wrote about the subject while the World Cup was going on there.  At the time I focused on the impact of French Huguenot immigrants to the young and immature Dutch Cape Colony wine industry.  I didn’t really write that much about the wines, except to point out that, “I’ve always enjoyed them because I believe that they consistently offer an intriguing blend of new world fruit with just enough old world earthiness, structure (think acidity, tannin, etc…), and complexity.”  I still stand by that statement.  I also stand by another I read recently, “A sense of place is more important now…supermarkets are full of ‘factory’ wines with made-up names.”  Thanks Gary Jordan, I agree with you.

A few weeks back my colleague, Nic and I had the pleasure of tasting through Gary Jordan’s wines.  Known as Jardin in the States and as Jordan everywhere else (to avoid confusion with Jordan in Napa as well as legal issues), this producer brought some wines to the table that my colleague, Nic, and I thought were fantastic for a number of reasons.

You see my last quote was written by a winemaker who represents the real face of South African wine.  There are plenty of souless, ‘factory-made’ plonk wines made in South Africa, but there are also plenty of terroir-driven wineries who care more about making good wine than selling wine at any cost.

Jordan’s wines are refreshing for a number of reasons.  They are well-made and in balance (i.e. not overly alcoholic, fruity, or oaky). They are approachable as they can be enjoyed now, although aging them would be beneficial.  They will please both the old world aficionado and the new world fan because of both the earthiness and fruit that they possess.  They are also very affordable.

Why even bother going through these reasons?

Most South African wines do not fit into these categories.  Some may be great in that they display tipicity of both terroir and varietal in addition to being well-made and balanced.  The problem is that many of those wines are just too expensive for consumers to buy, unless they know what they’re getting into.  Others may be good in that they have plenty of fruit and are affordable, but there are only so many wines one can carry in the $10 range.

Additionally, South Africa falls through the cracks.  It seems to be be caught in some sort of purgatory between the Old World and New.  South Africans have been making wine for awhile, so they don’t quite fit into the typical New World mold of producers.  They also don’t really fit in the mold of the Old World either.  They really are somewhere in between, and yet they’re going somewhere.  Since apartheid the South African wine industry has been growing.  There are more wineries than ever, and more quality wine is being produced (thanks to the breakup of state-controlled cooperatives).  South Africa is moving forward and Jordan is proof of that.

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