Sebeka South African Wines
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Sebeka South African Wines Tasting Notes

I reviewed a number of Sebeka wines last year. That review will give some background on Sebeka's presence in South Africa's Western Cape, as well as giving a précis on Pinotage, a uniquely South African varietal whose time surely will come in our market, if this year's offerings are any indication. These four wines have a suggested retail price of $10, but in real life you can easily have them for a few dollars less. Who'd'a thunk it?

Light, but serious, enjoyable and yet stimulating, the 2008 Sebeka Chenin Blanc is made all the more stunning by its price. The South Africans call Chenin Blanc “Steen,” and they give the cépage more respect than it gets in any place other than the Loire. The wine weighs in at 6.5 grams of sugar per liter, which would qualify it as off dry if it didn't have such inspiring acidity to compensate. After enjoying an altogether enjoyable floral nose, you get the lip-smacking flavor of a New World Sauvignon Blanc but with a lot more interest. The wine is mouth-filling in a Viognier-like sense, but with lovely citrus and tropical notes: an entire range from grapefruit to pineapple to mango to melon to kiwi combined with a creaminess that brings to mind one of those luxury ice creams you splurge on perhaps once a summer. Though not a complicated wine, this Steen nevertheless brings a lot to the table. I love it.

The 2007 Sebeka “Cape Blend” Shiraz Pinotage is mature beyond its age or price. The wine combines fruitiness both on the nose and the palate with working but supple tannins and a definite sense of old world depth. Name a dark berry and it's in there, particularly blueberry, but black and ripe red cherries take the lead; it all begins in a luscious jammy style but finishes long and rather clean. This is mouth-filling wine, really rather delicious, the type I can envision pleasing a varied crowd, perhaps even among white wine diehards. “Accessible” and “drinkable” are easy adjectives to use, but how else to describe a wine so friendly to the senses? This wine has a pulpy aspect which melds with the nicely aligned tannins to give it a good grip on the palate despite its welcoming nature. This is a wine for big foods—roasts, heavy pasta and such—or certainly enjoy it alone (on the basis of the indisputable fact that Pinotage is inherently “interesting”).

The 2007 Sebeka Cabernet-Pinotage is interesting to taste side-by-side with the Shiraz-Pinotage, in that you can taste the Cabernet Sauvignon component, an herbal quality with the typical cassis of Cabernet and a smokiness that catapults you to more meditative state on first acquaintance. That's all right, since this wine has many similarities with its brother: the fruitiness (blackberry, raspberry and black cherry), a little pushy acidity, soft tannins and a warm finish. At six grams of residual sugar per liter the wine is not mainstream dry, but the fruit ripeness and concomitant acidity do the real talking here.

The 2007 Sebeka Western Cape Chardonnay is a good Chardonnay with apple, pear, vanilla, and pie crust notes. One of the key motifs of this wine is creaminess, a friendly texture indeed, yet the wine is balanced with firm acidity and tangible oak. Some baking spice on the palate keeps things interesting The wine finishes well on oak notes; there is no mistaking the vanilla here. The wine had a little too much oak at all stages for my particular taste, and it was also a bit too sweet (at 6.5 grams of sugar per liter) for me, but these are matters of taste and do not detract from the fact that this is a very well made wine, certainly a winning wine for much of the market.


Verdict: Dominates the price range
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food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

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