Chow Town

South African red wines offer delicious diversity

Vineyards in the South African region of Stellenbosch, producers of some of the country’s best red wines
Vineyards in the South African region of Stellenbosch, producers of some of the country’s best red wines

Not long ago, I came to you to sing the praises of the white wines emanating from South Africa.

They are, in a word, delicious. As a way of providing a bit of balance to my South African wine coverage, I set out to check the status of that country’s red wines.

Generally, the nation’s red wines are more highly regarded than its whites, so I was not at all surprised that I enjoyed its variety, depth and quality every bit as much as I enjoyed the whites.

Historically, South Africa has been producing wine for centuries, but major changes only began happening with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. Mandela’s release signaled the beginning of the end of apartheid and the start of international acceptance of, and international investment in, its wine.

The South African wine industry saw unprecedented growth in both numbers and quality from 2000 to 2010, and both trends have continued as we head into 2016. The amount of wine produced in South African has increased by a third in the last 10 years. Although it’s hard to quantify by any statistical measurement, the quality of the wines has also markedly increased. The red wines out of the Cape and beyond are good, very good and sometimes great.

South African wine growers cultivate around 25 red grape varieties. It’s clear Cabernet Sauvignon is king, though I did taste a lovely Rhone-variety-inspired red blend from the Swartland, which is becoming increasingly known for its production of that type of red wines.

I also tasted a surprisingly delicate and complex Pinot Noir from Catherine Marshall. The Pinot, from the cooler wine producing region of Elgin, was loaded with black cherry and cranberry notes, yet balanced with a nice minerality and lovely bracing acidity. Of the dozen or so wines I tried in advance of these articles, the Catherine Marshall Pinot was the biggest and most pleasant surprise.

Before I get to the Cabs, let me say a few words about the lovely AA Badenhorst Family Wines Red Blend, which features the Rhone Valley varieties of Shiraz (Syrah), Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvedre with a little Tinta Barocca thrown in for good measure.

I won’t pretend that I had ever heard of Tinta Barocca. I discovered that it’s a Portugese grape from the famed Duro region most commonly used to make the South African version of Port. I’m not sure how large of a role Tinta Barocca plays in this blend, but my guess is very much a supporting one.

Regardless, this is a harmonious wine that laces the palate with notes of pepper, licorice and black cherries and provides aromas of crushed flowers and dark fruit. It smells and tastes like an up-scale blend from the Southern Rhone, maybe not quite up to the standards of a Chateauneuf du Pape, but right in line with a really good Gigondas.

Finally, a little love for Cab, or in this case, a Cab blend. In my experience, the best full-bodied reds out of South African hail from Stellenbosch and Paarl. The Simonsig Tiara, a Bordeaux-style blend, is from the former, and it is a beauty. This Cab-dominated wine is perfectly balanced, revealing more elegance and depth than extract and power.

This is my style of Cab, one that emphasizes the length and complexity of the grape rather than its ability to produce high alcohol, highly tannic wines. The Tiara is a winner.

Red or white, put me down as a fan of South African wines.

Dave Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.