There’s a postage-stamp sized sticker on the neck of South African wines stocked at the liquor store that’s easy to overlook. The seal features an artistic rendering of a king protea, South Africa’s national flower, and a declaration – “Integrity & Sustainability Certified” – by the Wine and Spirits Board followed by some numbers and a web address, swsa.co.za.
Launched in 2010, the Sustainable Wine South Africa certification seal underscores a commitment to ecofriendly production methods and more. Created by an alliance between South Africa’s wine marketers, wine producers, ethical trade agencies and environmental authorities, the seal certifies that the vintage, grape variety and origin declared are correct.
It also ensures the wine has been produced in an earth-friendly, sustainable method by producers that are audited by the government on health and safety requirements for workers, usage of chemicals and pesticides, resource management and energy efficiency in the vineyard and winery.
South Africa isn’t alone in the understanding that environmentally sound practices carry weight with consumers. Most winemaking regions have embraced sustainability as a major guiding principle. Notably Chile and New Zealand have also created national wine standards for sustainability that have real substance and veracity. But as wine drinkers increasingly shift their attention to wines with real stories and authenticity, the South African industry is in an enviable position with its abundance of good quality wines at reasonable prices that have been made without exploiting nature or labour in the process.
The numbers on each seal can be entered in at sawis.co.za/sealsearch.php. The digits from the seal on the Boschendal chardonnay reviewed below confirmed it was a white wine made from chardonnay cultivated in the Western Cape (the broadest region for winemaking in South Africa) in 2017. It also acknowledged its producer was certified sustainable and that the wine passed its blind tasting, the last hurdle before final certification, on Dec. 11, 2018.
The South African industry has been quick to embrace the transparency and thoroughness of the sustainability practices, with 92 per cent of producers using the seal in 2018 (figures have yet to be released for 2019). The code is just one signal that the South African industry has become increasingly focused on its vineyards, with vines old and new being farmed better and more sustainably resulting in a marked improvement in wine quality across the board.
This week’s recommended wines include several labels that have been in the Canadian market for a decade or more and have never tasted better. They help explain why South Africa is one of the most exciting wine producers at the moment.
Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay 2017 (South Africa)
Boschendal may be one of the largest and oldest wineries in South Africa, but its winemaking team has been keeping with the times. The 1685 Chardonnay style has quickly evolved from the big and buttery international style to a refreshing and rich white wine that delivers a lot of character and complexity for its price. There’s a big oak presence here, but it’s lifted by the pleasing mix of pineapple, green apple and zesty lemon fruit flavours. Drink now to 2025. Available in Ontario at the above price, $19.99 in British Columbia, $16 in Quebec.
Fairview Goats do Roam Red Blend 2018 (South Africa)
The Fairview winery is famous for the two-storey tower erected near the tasting room as a playground for its boisterous herd of 750 Saanen goats. The farm produces cheese as well as wine and includes a restaurant, the Goatshed. A tongue-in-cheek tribute to Côtes du Rhône red blends from France, Goats do Roam is flavourful mix of shiraz, grenache noir, mourvèdre, petite sirah and other grapes that make for a concentrated and complex red wine. It’s ripe and smooth, which makes this robust red very easy to appreciate. Drink now. Available at the above price in Ontario ($11.45 until Feb. 2), $14.99 in British Columbia and Nova Scotia, $13.99 in Manitoba.
Fleur du Cap Essence du Cap Chardonnay 2018 (South Africa)
Fleur du Cap collects grapes from growers in Stellenbosch, Somerset West, Elgin and Robertson to produce this large-volume, value-priced brand. To keep prices down, this chardonnay was fermented in stainless steel tanks. A small portion finished its fermentation in oak barrels, while oak staves were introduced into the tanks containing the rest of the blend to impart spice and vanilla notes. Expect rich citrus, tropical and oak derived flavours in this enjoyable commercial style of chardonnay. Drink now to 2022. Available at the above price in Ontario ($10.95 until Feb. 2), $13.40 in Quebec, $14.99 in Nova Scotia.
KWV The Legend of Big Bill Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (South Africa)
Soft and simple, this sauvignon blanc is made for the masses. It offers a juicy, fruit salad mix of flavours, without any of the fragrant green or herbal notes common to the variety. A touch of honeyed sweetness adds to the commercial appeal. Drink now. Available in Ontario at the above price ($11.05 until Feb. 2), $13.99 in Manitoba.
Porcupine Ridge Syrah 2018 (South Africa)
This has long been a standout in the South African section and consistently one of the best value red wines available in Canada. Now sourced entirely from the Swartland region, one of the most exciting places on the planet for making wine today, Porcupine Ridge is an exciting case of a value-priced bottle that seemingly gets better with each vintage. The mix of floral, spice and fruit aromas and flavours captures the essence of the syrah grape, while the polished texture and silky tannins make this enjoyable without or without a meal. Drink now. Available at the above price in Ontario ($12.95 until Feb. 2), $20.98 in British Columbia, $16.60 in Quebec.
Spier Signature Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (South Africa)
A blend of grapes grown in Paarl, Stellenbosch and Breedekloof contributes to the mix of red fruit and spicy character of this light and juicy cabernet. A herbal element on the nose and palate speaks to the grape variety, which will appeal to fans of classic cabernet styles from France. Others might miss the concentration and bold flavours common to California or Australian expressions (which, it’s worth noting, typically retail at higher price point). This is a dry red wine with a sense of elegance that’s best enjoyed with a meal. Drink now. Available in Ontario.
The Wolftrap Viognier Chenin Blanc Grenache Blanc 2018 (South Africa)
The Wolftrap white blend has been a favourite since its launch in Canada in 2010. Produced by Boekenhoutskloof, one in a long line of South African wineries with tongue-twisting Cape Dutch names, where wise marketing minds named the brand in tribute to the pioneers in Franschhoek who erected a wolf trap on the winery’s property. Winery principal Marc Kent, who lives on the property, attests there has never been a wolf sighting in the valley. This wine is as good as that story. It’s ripe, aromatic and juicy, with refreshing acidity that balances rich, flavourful character. Drink now to 2023. Available in Ontario at the above price ($12.95 until Feb. 2), $15.98 in British Columbia, $10.87 in Manitoba, $15.98 in Quebec.
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