Picking out a delicious red to compliment the canapés at your next fabulous dinner party can be a 'first world problem' encountered by even the best of us. The Mother City is known for picturesque vineyards and its huge variety of sublime red wines. But can you tell a Cabernet Sauvignon from a Merlot? Or a Pinot Noir from a Shiraz? Do you know the difference between a light bodied, medium bodied and full bodied wine? Or why the last glass of red always tastes better than the first? (hint: its not because you’re tipsy) Read on to fill in the blanks.
Cabernet Sauvignon is possibly the most well-known type of red wine. “Cab-Sav” as its affectionately known is usually recommended when a medium to full bodied, juicy red is requested. The resilient vines are the least susceptible to the frost and the cold, making it super popular to cultivate and the most widely planted in South Africa. Its flavour range includes plum, cherry, blackberry, blueberry, spice and tobacco meaning it is well paired with lamb, red pastas, stronger cheeses and dark chocolate (yummm...). Definitely one of my favourite easy drinking red wines.
Pinot noir is a lighter-medium bodied fruity dry red wine which has notes of strawberry, blackberry, raspberry and cherry. The great news is that its flexible, taking out the guesswork especially if you're serving multiple courses - and it can be paired with pretty much anything, poultry, beef, pork, wild game, cheese, chocolate or seafood so it’s a great dinner party option. Warm spicy flavours such as cinnamon, clove and smoky tobacco also form part of its palate profile. It only contains around 122 calories a glass (whuuut?). P.S If you're keen to read about other low calorie alcohol options read this.
Malbecs are softer and fruitier than merlots. It’s a red meat wine which goes amazingly with Italian, Thai, Mexican and Indian food. I love it with spicy foods to balance the taste. The main vineyards centre around Paarl and the Stellenbosch regions which give it an earthy, slight acidic taste which it would otherwise not have. It has a dark, inky purple colour with flavours of plum, black cherry and blackberry with a very heavy spicy aroma.
Merlot is a soft, medium-bodied red wine with juicy fruit flavours consisting of plums, blueberries, blackberries and cherries mixed with cocoa and blackpepper tones. It can be paired with poultry, red meat, pastas and salads.
Shiraz, (also known as Syrah) has a deep purple colour and is a medium to full bodied wine and has notes of black cherry, blackberry, plum, bell pepper, black pepper, clove, liquorice and dark chocolate. It goes well will bbq meats, meaty pizza and wild game.
So why does the last glass of wine taste better than the first? Because you have to let it breathe! I cannot emphasise enough what a huge difference this makes. So resist the urge to dive into that bottle immediately and either unscrew the cork and leave it out - 25 to 30mins in a decanter is ideal. Or you can use a wine aerator and enjoy it immediately. Once the wine takes in enough oxygen it awakens its aromas and flavours so that you can enjoy your wine to the fullest. You're welcome.
Below are my current favourite, very reasonably priced South African wines. If you have any great recommendations, feel free to pop it in the comments.
I can't take any S.A wine list seriously if it doesn't contain Boekenhoutskloof's "The Chocolate Block". I mean its not known as *the* country's rockstar wine for nothing. You just cant go wrong with this one.
Overall, anything from the Hamilton Russell and Haute Cabriere wine estates are going to be top notch as well.
Anthonij Rupert Cab Sav, The Journeyman (also from Boekenhoutskloof), Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Saxenberg 2007, Linton Park Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.
Glen Carlou Gravel Quarry 2012.
Hamilton Russell Pinor Noir - available at any Woolies, Vriesenhof Pinot Noir 2007, Sumaridge Pinot Noir, Oak Valley Pinot Noir
Anura Reserve Merlot 2009, De Grendel Merlot 2009
Colome Estate Malbec 2009, Belluvue Morkel Malbec 2010
Cederberg Shiraz 2008, La Motte Shiraz 2008
Read my DIY Cheese and Wine pairing guide here to make the most of your menu.