Last time I looked, the offering of South African wines was running to over 8 000 different units varying in prices, styles and types of packaging. That is a hell of a lot of wine diversity in a country only making 4% of the world’s wine, but this also gives one an idea of the plethora of wine brands available to the local consumer.
Because it is greater than that, true art is immune to the voice of the critic. Here South Africa has one red wine that transcends ratings, stars and the court of self-important opinion: Meerlust Rubicon.
Together with Vin de Constance, Rubicon is South Africa’s most valuable wine brand and if any sort of respect for national heritage still existed, both would deserve protected status. Their brows exceed the height of any new wave, they command a presence and gravitas sterner, more decisive than the noisiest hip alternative gaggle and its sycophantic hordes.
Patat barked. And as Dachshunds do, his three fellow canines joined in to create a merry cacophony of yaps, these being of the “welcome to Meerlust” kind. The six other dogs who make up the bevy of hounds, larger and some less purer of breed than the Dachsies, were taking it easy, lounging on the sofas, armchairs and blankets spread through the various atmospheric rooms – moodily lit – that make up the splendid Meerlust manor house.
Despite the centuries of blue-blooded Cape wineland culture resonating from its splendid buildings and vineyards, there is something wild and sparse about Meerlust that intrigues me. As if the entrance gate next to the dam is a frontier post, beckoning those who have crossed wild, unwelcoming terrain from Cape Town and is now about to take the first steps into the amicable palm of Stellenbosch’s wine region.
It is appropriate for one of Stellenbosch’s finest eateries to be situated in the down-town area, Lower Dorp Street way: for up in the town’s more gentrified quarters the inhabitants are far too busy dealing with their Banting diet-induced constipation and protein-fuelled halitosis to appreciate the wonders of a restaurant called Asta. For Asta is about pasta, pasta and more pasta with a bit of pizza thrown in for those who like their carbs crispy, flaky and cheesy.
South African Merlot gets a lot of bad press, mainly because of some fourth-hand message alluding to the grape’s greenness and inability to ripen properly in this neck of the woods. Someone mentioned this somewhere, it sounded quotable and opinionated, so after having gone viral the skewed assumption has been taken as gospel. It is, of course, not worth the Chinese iPhone knock-off it was mentioned on.
Stellenbosch is, and always will be, the greatest red wine producing region in South Africa. Why? Same reason that Hawaii has great pipeline, Germans make good cars and Chelsea will win the Champions League: because God intended it that way.
There’s a lot of good stuff going on in new plantings, new wines, new styles. Juicy drops concocted from a medley of Rh?+¦???+¦?+¦????ne varietals. Hearty, solid Portuguese-styled reds. The odd experiment with Sangiovese and co-Italian variety Nebbiola.
Yes, the South African wine industry is free from its over-regulated shackles of yesteryear, leaving farmers to plant what they want, where they want. Okay, so it takes a call to Duimpie Bayly at the Wine and Spirits Board, but what the heck. Want to plant Gr?+¦???+¦?+¦???+æneveltliner on the Heads at Knysna or Nero d’Avola on the Cape Flats, go for it.
Chatting to a Pinot Noir maker a while back, the dude flicked the hair from his eyes and said that Jan Boland Coetzee was probably the best Pinot exponent in South Africa. “But unlucky for him, he’s farming in the wrong region.”