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The wines of South Africa is a big subject. When talking to clients about wines from this country, I know they too can be overwhelmed and excited because of all of the options! The Cape wine-growing areas lie in a narrow viticultural zone of the Southern hemisphere. It’s an area filled with valleys, mountain slopes, and has a Mediterranean climate ideal for grapes.

With so many wines out there, I wanted to make your sipping this season easier and highlight three of my favorites! Working in wine stores and restaurants for over ten years, I had a lot of access to some really cool wines, especially from South Africa. I would always recommend them to customers and they would get a great response, which is great because I am a fan of people tasting around the world often.

The beauty of wine and the endless options we have here in the USA is that even if we can’t travel to a particular country, we can still eat and drink like we are there. I have not visited South Africa yet, but it is absolutely on my bucket list. Drinking and enjoying the wines from here though, gives me a good sense of the terroir and the range of styles, shows the diversity of the region!

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When you want a sparkling wine made in the classic method, but from South Africa, go for the Graham Beck Brut! The term for this style of sparkling wine is Méthode Cap Classique because they use the same methods as Champagne, France to produce these wines. MCC is great, however, because it’s exclusive to South Africa and has become a very well respected wine category. The Graham Beck Brut is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes and is also known as the “President’s Choice” because it was served at both Nelson Mandela’s inauguration and Barack Obama’s presidential win!

Besides being noteworthy, it’s an incredible wine with nice yeast notes, fresh lime, and complexity. It’s a palate pleaser and makes for a wonderful aperitif because it’s easy to drink and will excite your taste buds. I chose to pair this wine with a baked brie drizzled with honey, which was a delicious choice!

The red wines of the region are outstanding. One of the first South African wines I have ever tried was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch. I remember loving it, so when I was introduced to Thelema Mountain Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, I was very excited to try it. I was entertaining on a chilly day and we decided to have daytime appetizers. After the bottle of Graham Beck Brut was finished, we needed something warmer to pair with the charcuterie, dried fruits, and bacon-wrapped dates. I went straight to the Thelema Cabernet because of the dark chocolate, black fruit, and complexity of this wine. Simple foods and complex wines go well together because it makes it fun to see which foods pair the best with the wine and vice versa. The Thelema is stylish and expresses lovely fruit on the nose and palate, and can easily pair with a larger meal such as grilled meat or vegetarian lasagna.

Alongside the Thelema Cabernet, was a Lubanzi Red Blend. This Rhone-style red has a unique story which I thought was perfect to break out since this was a 30th birthday celebration. I always love a good background story to a bottle of wine, and Lubanzi takes the cake!

“We started in 2014, as two friends searching for an opportunity to make a difference in the world. In 2014, while living in South Africa as exchange students, we set off on a 20-hour bus ride along South Africa’s southern coast en route to the wild coast, a remote part of the country – famously the birthplace of Nelson Mandela – for a week-long backpacking expedition. On our second day, a wandering dog the locals called ‘LUBANZI’  began following us on our adventure. He stuck with us throughout our journey – for 6 days & 100 miles – until he disappeared in the middle of the night before our final morning. There’s some poetic justice in that.” –

Now that you have the story, let’s talk about the wine! This wine is made from 39% Shiraz, 34% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 9% Cinsault, 3% Carignan grapes. It’s dark with a nice licorice on the nose and spice. It paired beautifully with the bacon-wrapped dates as well as the gooey melted pepper jack fondue with baked tortillas! Typical party food is always a fun option when you have a range of wine styles, which is why all three of these wines really made an impression on everyone at the celebration. It was a fun experience being able to taste some of South Africa through three wineries, with great friends, and good times.

Always remember, eat what you like and drink what you love… please pair responsibly!