South African wines are a matter of preference
I have a friend who has an aversion to South African red wines. In his experience they all seem to have a “pong,” using his words. In my dictionary, pong is a “strong and unpleasant smell.” I know the smell he is talking about.
Some South African wines, particularly those with some pinotage content in the blend, did have a strong aroma. It was more personal preference whether you would also call that aroma unpleasant.
Wine tasting is a subjective experience. One person’s “earthy” is another person’s “mouldy.” Flowery aromas appeal to many, but not all wine drinkers. Luckily wine has a vast array of styles and aromatics, so there is usually something out there for everyone.
Wine is a chemistry set of organic and inorganic chemicals, many of which we can detect as a specific aroma. The blend of these specific aromas produces the overall aromatic profile or signature of a wine.
Many of the individual chemicals have quite objectionable smells. In tiny concentrations in a wine, however, such smells often add to the complexity and enjoyment of the wine.
Overdo it just a bit. though, and the wine will be unappealing at best.
Some noses are more sensitive to certain smells than others. My friend may have a more sensitive nose when it came to those South African reds, or maybe it was just personal preference.
Many less desirable compounds can be eliminated using improved technology and techniques in vineyard management and wine production.
None of the South African wines I have had in the last half dozen years have any “pong” to my nose, and we have even surprised my friend with some reds he has liked a lot.
Following on my column of last week, I tasted four new red arrivals from South Africa in the moderate price range. All of them proved to be quite acceptable and recommended drinks. Here are my tasting notes.
Seven Sisters “June” Merlot 2013, WO Swartland (NLC $16.04): This is from the same family of seven sisters with the sweet white wine last week, and June’s name has been assigned to the merlot. The aromas had a depth of fruit, and that fruit was plum and blackcurrant. In the mouth it displayed smooth tannins and round fullness. Score 15/Very Good.
Frisky Zebra Mystic Merlot, WO Western Cape (NLC $14.95): This is one of three new listings from a producer which uses only fair trade grapes and has a carbon neutral operation. This wine also showed plum on the nose, but this time with a bit of cranberry tartness and spice. The tannins were dry and smooth, and the higher acidity contributed to an attractive lean mouthfeel. Score 14.5/Good.
Waka Waka Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, WO Paarl (NLC $15.99): Sweet, jammy fruit was the first impression on the nose, followed up with blueberry spiciness and a dash of pepper. Sufficient tannin gave this lovely drink some structure and balance. Score: 15/Very Good.
Leopard’s Leap Lookout 2012, WO Western Cape (NLC $13.99): This winery is a supporter of the Cape Leopard Trust and its wine won a South African “Best Value” award. The nose was cherry, blackcurrant and white pepper. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Cinsaut had smooth and dry tannins and was quite drinkable. Score: 14.5/Good.
Steve Delaney is a member of the
Opimian Society. Email him
This article has been edited to fix a typo