Bottoms up: a travel guide to South African wine culture

South Africa's wine regions have been celebrated for centuries, but 2015 could be their biggest year yet. Shante Hutton, editor at www.wine.co.za, shares her expertise on everything from food pairings to grape varieties. 

"Wine.co.za is arguably the largest database of South African wines and wineries – we have the resources and the information to help you get fully immersed into all things wine." If there's anyone with the expertise to talk about this country's extensive wine production, it's Shante Hutton. In addition to providing advice on varietals and vintages, the website includes an exhaustive directory and an online shop that offers free delivery within the country.

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Old world, new world

Shante explains that, "South Africa is one of the few places in the world to have numerous wine-growing regions with varied weather conditions and soil types, meaning that we can offer the same grape but in many different styles, from the cool climates of the Cederberg to the warmth of the Stellenbosch valley. We can offer wines from vines that are over 80 years old... it makes SA the most irresistible wine nation out there."

Despite being blessed with all the natural resources imaginable, South Africa's vintages haven't always been as highly prized as they are now. Discussing the traditional hierarchy of Old World and New World wines, Shante says "South Africa has, in the past, been noted as a New World wine region, even though the first harvest took place in 1659. The title was more about the style in which we made our wines – big, juicy, full and brimming with fruit. This contrasted with the more subtle, age-worthy wines of Europe meant that we were often overlooked."

Thankfully for oenophiles everywhere, this is definitely no longer true. Shante quotes Tim Atkin, a top UK wine expert who declared last year that "South Africa is currently one of the most exciting and dynamic wine-producing countries in the world. Old vines, pioneering winemakers and regions both new and rediscovered: the Cape has it all."

Dinner and drinks

The best way to enjoy a fine glass of wine is with an equally fine meal, and Shante has plenty of advice for diners nervous about picking out pairings. "It’s best to remember that the best way to pair wine and food that won’t ruin either one for you is to match the weight of your chosen dish with the weight of a wine. What I mean by this is that, if you have a juicy steak with a creamy mushroom sauce slathered over it, you can get away with either a Cabernet Sauvignon or a rich Chardonnay. Similarly, if you’ve chosen a seared tuna steak dish, you could have a light Pinot Noir which will love the grilled, meaty components of the tuna. Think about the sauce on the dish or the flavor that has the most 'oomph'."

Something new

Your visit to our Radisson Blu Hotel Sandton, Johannesburg provides the perfect opportunity to educate your palate, within easy reach of top vineyards. Shante declares "2015 is the year of unusual wine varieties – it’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone," so whether you go for a Method Cap Classique or try something new and quirky, just remember to follow her heartfelt advice: "keep it local and lekker."

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