When the editor of this special suggested I might try some wine for him (did he need to ask twice? No!) it’s fair to say that New World wines weren’t my first pick. ‘How about Eastern Europe?’ I said, with an eye to Macedonia. Or failing that, Germany? It’s far too long since I’ve tasted Frankenwein and you can’t get the best stuff here for love nor money. I was perfectly game for English wine. But nope. Everyone else had got the Old World stuff first; it was the New World for me, and I am one who feels subconsciously that things have been going downhill since 1492.
Private Cellar, who supplied my case, were keen I should try a couple of South African growers. This brought a different set of preoccupations into play. For middle-class wouldbegoods like me, South African wine comes into the category of philanthropic consumption. You dutifully buy a bottle not merely with pleasure in mind but with an eye to the economic interests of the workers.
Then there’s the ideological soundness of the production methods. Instinctively I like anything that feels as if it might have been picked by hand, and if not trodden by feet, at least produced in some small artisanal setting, preferably on a profit-sharing basis. So my selection from Private Cellar was rather pleasing. BlouVlei (Blue Valley), the label tells me, ‘is home to the men and women whose devotion and energy produced this wine. Its proceeds contribute to a better life for them.’ Dandy.
My favourite from this grower was the Sauvignon Blanc (£10), a nice clean, crisp wine, of exactly the sort I like to have to hand in the fridge. It’s a good everyday wine, if you can run to a tenner a bottle, even if you don’t give a toss about the ethics of the thing. The red, just called the BlouVlei Collection, came with the same credentials but left me unmoved.
The other South African was the Terroir Selection from Springfontein, Walker Bay. And yep, the grapes are picked and sorted by hand and the wine is unfiltered. Which I like the sound of, without knowing anything about it. Here again the whites were very good: the Terroir Selection Chenin Blanc, Walker Bay 2011, was the wine I liked most of all, though at £15 it’s about twice my normal purchase price. It’s got body but enough tartness to be fresh: lovely.
I’ve got a thing about chilling some reds at this time of year. For this purpose, the Ique Malbec from Argentina (£9.15) was rather good. Funnily enough it tasted even better than the more expensive Bishops Head Pinot Noir from New Zealand at £16.90, which usefully dispelled the notion that more expensive means better. And from the wouldbegood point of view, Argentina is enough of an economic basket case to make drinking its wine a matter of duty as well as pleasure.