The Cape of Africa once produced one of the world's greatest white wines, the legendary Constantia, a sweet wine preferable to Château d'Yquem in the estimation of many 18th-century connoisseurs. But then, during the years of apartheid, the world managed pretty much to forget about South African wine. With the change in the political structure and the economic ramifications it entailed, the Cape has become a hotbed of new ideas - many in the world of winemaking. Cleaner, fresher flavors and controlled tannins backed with new oak define a style that South Africa shares with California and Australia. (Some old-schoolers call this "homogenization," but the fact is that world wine has never been better.)
Today, international consultants and investors are taking a keen interest in the vinous riches of South Africa. While Pinotage is hardly a household word (yet), this characteristic South African grape has at least entered the consciousness of wine buffs in a way that Austria's Zweigelt, for example, hasn't. The potential for the classic white varietals, especially Sauvignon Blanc, in South Africa's marine-influenced climate, is just beginning to be exploited. Savvy importers are starting to explore the varied offerings of South Africa's best vintners. As these three bottles show, South Africa is poised for greatness. Are you ready?
RUPERT & ROTHCHILD 1998 ($45)