Thursday, September 9, 2010

Finding South African Wines in the United States

My good friend Nickole asked me in the comments to my last post on wines which South African wines I'd recommend to a US consumer. So, I thought I'd go ahead and do another wine post.

Wines from South Africa are a bit hard to find in the US, since it's a long way to ship and the styles are somewhat similar to the more-established Californian (and Aussie/Kiwi) wines. However, since it's a younger and more insulated industry, SA wines tend to not fall victim to trendiness or get as "big" as Californians, which means that they're not always so fruity and alcoholic (I personally don't much like the taste of alcohol, so I'm not always crazy about a high-alcohol wine).

One label popular in the US is Graham Beck, which generally does sparkling wines in the "M├ęthode Cap Classique" (MCC) style, which is the certified Champagne style for South Africa. I absolutely love their Blanc de Blancs, and their cheaper (though not cheap) Brut is also delicious. This was the label chosen by the Obamas for the Inauguration. My dad reported that Trader Joe's was selling a Graham Beck wine for well under $10 recently and that it sold out in a day. As a side note, Graham Beck recently passed away. He was one of the most prominent members of the South African wine community. My dad and I actually saw him when we went for a tasting there--he was cleaning out one of the fountains, which I found awesome.

This excellent Slate article (thanks, Allie!) gives a good history of South African viniculture and the politics of wine in the country--for many, it's seen as a symbol of the Apartheid past and of enduring (and bitter) land redistribution issues. There are a few black-owned wineries in SA, but they are few and far between. It's a tough issue because wine and wine tourism are also a major source of income for the country. But there's little in South Africa that's not complicated.

The article in Slate also lists South African wines available in the US. Of these, I'd recommend DMZ (they make my all-time favorite Sauvignon Blanc, if you can find it--one of those most amazing noses of any wine I've ever had and a great mineral finish). DMZ/DeMorgenzon plays Baroque music to the grapes, which is cute (and also cutesy). As I wrote before, I'm also a fan of Buitenverwachting (Chardonnay was my fave). I've had Mulderbosch in the US but have not returned to it here (because it's expensive in the spectrum of South African wines that I drink, not because it's not good).

There are two South African wine bars/restaurants in New York City--Braai and Xai Xai. Both have great looking wine lists, though I'm suffering a bit from sticker shock. For example, the Chocolate Block from Boekenhoutskloof, one of my fave SA wines, is $90 (I've gotten it for $30)! And Wolftrap, also from Boekenhoutskloof and hands-down one of the best bang for your buck options, is listed at $34...when I can get it in a store here for under $5. Now, granted, wines always get marked up in restaurants...which means that you can probably get a Wolftrap for maybe $15-20 in a store, if it's available in the US. And, to be honest, $34 in a nice NYC restaurant for a great bottle of wine is an excellent deal.

Luckily, it looks like there are affordable options both in stores and restaurants. If you've found wine stores that stock SA wines or restaurants with SA labels on the menu (or if you know of any actual South African restaurants or wine bars) in your area, please post their names (and the labels that they offer!) in the comments. It'd be fun to see what you can find, since I can't get Stateside to do it until Thanksgiving.

Happy hunting!


  1. Goats do Roam and Excelsior Cab Sauv (the latter of which I never actually had in SA) are pretty popular - if a liquor store has any SA wine at all, they probably have these two (by which I mean, you can even find these in Memphis, TN). I also found a Graham Beck red (I think it was a blend) and a Wolftrap, though less common, but still very much in existence on this side of the ocean. All of those are around $10! I was worried they'd all be crazy-marked up, but while they are more expensive than they would be in SA (obvi), they're still definitely affordable, and a great bang for the buck.

    Chocolate Block is also quite common (I never had that in SA either) but its like $35.

    Didn't pay attention to the whites, sorry, but there definitely are some. I think there's an Excelsior white, and then one or two others that are also common. I would LOVE to find DMZ!

  2. Truly your father's daughter. But I love it!