The winelands of South Africa, as they are called, are among the most stunning landscapes in the world. Most are located in the mountain valleys and coastal areas of the Western Cape, not more than a couple hours’ drive from Cape Town.
Within the region, there is considerable climate and soil variation from district to district. This permits great diversity in the vineyards, from the mineral-driven Chenin Blancs and Syrahs of Swartland, north of Cape Town, to the crisp Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of Walker Bay to the east. With their quality and value, many South African wines deserve a more prominent place at the American table, and in the many wine stores where you’re still likely to find just a few bottles.
I was reminded of this recently with a tasting of the 2016 Terre Brûlée “Le Rouge,” a red blend of 60 percent Shiraz (Syrah) and 40 percent Cinsault. If this wine from the Swartland district sounds French, it reflects the background of the owner, Vincent Carême, who also makes wine in Vouvray in the Loire Valley with his wife, Tania, who is South African.
The grapes are from two vineyards that are dry farmed (not irrigated) in shale and granite soils. The wine is a perfect example of the value coming out of South Africa. At just $14 or so, it has the complexity I would expect in a wine double the price: stony minerality woven in a spicy blackberry core, with accents of green olive, mocha, and vanilla.
It seems made for what the South Africans call their braai, or barbecue, which features a good deal of spicy marinade or rub on chicken, pork, lamb, beef, or sausage.
If Stellenbosch is the country’s most famous and familiar wine area, Swartland is in the avant garde of South African wine and, with bottles like the Terre Brûlée, deserves the attention it is now getting.