Luckily for those of us wine lovers with pockets in which the exchange-rate rand is getting prohibitively light, there’s plenty of local stuff to provide pleasure, interest and even excitement. Though some of it is not exactly cheap (except by international standards) and some is now getting hard to find. Neither price nor rarity has quite seen the extremes of, say, some cult Californians and Burgundies, but just try finding Alheit and Sadie wines if you’re not on the allocation list – and that sort of difficulty is only going to increase.
The reason serious local wine lovers damage their own bank balances and the country’s balance of payments is, of course, in search of variety of excellence – and some surpassing excellences. But enterprising importers, supermarkets especially – notably Checkers and Woolworths – have also sourced some pretty inexpensive foreign wines to offer unusual flavours and characters to aficionados other than the rich or the profligate not-so-rich.
The latest arrival at Woolworths is three Catalonian wines from Miguel Torres, of which I’ve just sampled the two cheaper ones – Sangre de Toro red and Viña Sol white, both 2013s and both at Woolworth’s version of R70 (ie R69.95). There’s also Coronas, a tempranillo blended with some cabernet, for R20 more.
Torres is a long-established producer – Viña Sol carries a sunburst sticker noting its 50th anniversary; like local Lieberstein, it was presumably a fruity child of new cool fermentation offered by stainless steel and cooling technologies. Torres is also the biggest family-owned winery in Spain, I believe, with something like 2000 hectares of their own vines to use before they start buying in grapes. Volumes are enormous – but unlike local co-ops, say, with equivalent volumes, all the Torres wines go into bottle, not sold off as bulk. These two wines are sold in some 80 countries. That’s big. That’s successful.
Sangre de Toro and Viña Sol are both at the lower end of the Torres range (higher up, the best I’ve had has been Grans Muralles, made from ancient and largely forgotten indigenous grapes) – though clearly these prices are a rather special deal for South Africa, given that the wines sell for nearer seven (the white) and eight (the red) quid in Britain.
Are they worth even their comparatively modest price, given the bargains, especially in chenin blanc, available from local wineries? They do indeed offer some difference of experience. Sangre de Toro is made from lightly oaked garnacha and cariñena (grenache and carignan, as the grapes become better known in their international travels), so has pleasant red-fruit flavours not unfamiliar to some modern Swartland. It doesn’t have much substance, and is notably easy-going and softly structured, though not vulgarly so at all. Not much excitement, but worth a try.
Viña Sol is made from parellada (the grape at home in cava, the Spanish bubbly, offering citrus and appley notes) with some white garnacha. It’s light, at just 11.5% alcohol, fresh and delicious in a mild way – and it’s a different way: though there are undoubtedly better white-wine bargains around than this, it gives a lot of pleasure and authentic Spanish character.
In sum, I can say that while the level of my bottle Sangre de Toro never went below two-thirds full, over a couple of days of sampling, I did polish off all the Viña Sol. Sun wine for sunny days.
- Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.