It was a South African wine tasting soiree hosted by the South African (SA) airways at the ITC Grand Central, Mumbai on 5th December 2013. The timings coincided with the first match of the India-SA cricket series, which sadly India lost but I found great solace in SA wines served all evening. They too won all the way!
With the Indian consumer opening up to foreign wines and at an even greater pace over the last decade; foreign wines have been trickling in slowly and steadily. It all started with old world regions of France and Italy gaining popularity and then the new world regions like Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa etc. started making their way in. Some South African wine brands like Nederburg, African Horizon, and Kingfisher Bohemia have been in the country for some years now but still not top of mind.
SA is a ‘new world’ wine region, however they are not as ‘new’ as the term indicates. It has a winemaking history of over 350 years with the first grape crush for wine recorded in 1659. The African geography may seem too hot for grape growing but the southernmost tip of South Africa enjoys a Mediterranean climate wherein winters are mild and summers are warm and most of the rainfalls occurs in winters. Cool ocean currents benefit the coastal areas and lengthen ripening seasons improving the quality of grapes, thus most of the known wine regions are located closer to the coasts. Most of SA’s wine regions are along the western coast, Stellenbosch, Constantia, Paarl, Overberg and ones like the Orange River which are inland are extremely hot.
For the tasting that evening were Overgaauw wines from Stellenbosch, more than a century old this fourth generation run wine business has may firsts to their names, making a first varietal merlot in the 70’s , one of the first to use Bordeaux blends and the first ones to drop the word ‘port’ from their labels of fortified wines in 1996. To present their wines was Thami Msimango, Director Anselo trading the promoters of the brand and he was happy sharing insights from the SA wine market and was even happier to be in India. The wines tasted that evening were:
Chardonnay 2013: Opulent on the nose with stone fruits and hint of biscuit and vanilla from the barrel fermentation was prominent.
Merlot 2011: Fruit cake and ripe black fruit nose, rounded on the palate with moderate acidity. Both reds; this one the Cabernet Sauvignon felt flabby because they were served too warm.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2011: Typical Cab Sauv with vegetal fore tones and berried after tones, full-bodied with structured tannins. Again a lower temperature would have helped the wines taste better.
I stuck to the Chardonnay whole evening as it grew on me with every sip. Sajid Khan, Country Manager, South African airways played perfect host and ensured all guests had their glasses topped up the whole evening. Sajid said ‘We have taken the first step with an event like this and more such events will be the way forward. We will surely be getting more wines from South Africa.’
SA wines have been in the country for some time now but without any kind of marketing to support them barring some wine dinners by importers and some very exclusive events for the trade. The market is opening up and a way to create a pull is by reaching to the consumers directly, what better way than speaking to them one on one or through the people who can make a difference the frontline associates in hotels. I am sure wine South Africa has thought of a plan. Till then we say, it’s time for Africa!!
P.S: Recently Indian billionaire industrialist Analjit Singh bought a significant stake in Mullineux wines based out of Swartland. It is now renamed Mullineux and Leeu family wines, Leeu meaning Lion in Afrikaans and refers to Singh.