There is an important difference between being an expert drinker and being an expert on what you are drinking. But while it might appear necessary to have a double major in geography and French to know your way around a wine rack, anyone can learn to appreciate this exquisite drink as more than a potential intoxicant. Perdeby will help take the terror out of terroir.

Don’t panic

Drinking wine should be fun. If your idea of the nectar of the gods is a bottle of Four Cousins Rosé or you are quite content with a bottle of Tassies, don’t be put down by an old wine snob. However, as with most of the best things in life – coffee, chocolate, sex – a little knowledge and discernment can open up whole new worlds for you.

What’s in a name?

The name of a wine is normally a reference to the grape variety used in its production and is sometimes an indication of the region in which it was produced. The French are especially strict in this regard: a wine can only be given titles such as “Champagne” or “Bordeaux” if it comes from a very limited geographical area and complies with other stringent criteria.

Popular white varieties in South Africa include Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc (often called Stein) and Chardonnay (from which real Champagne is produced). As for red, Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsauit (or Hermitage), is the most successful variety developed in South Africa. Cabernet Sauvignon is generally considered to be the finest red grape variety, with Shiraz and Merlot also enjoying a loyal following.

It’s dry, but you can drink it

But that is only half the story. A wide range of wines can be produced from a single grape variety. The most obvious classification of wine is along the sweet-dry continuum, with “dry” indicating a wine with a very low sugar content (the French terms sec or brut (very dry) are also sometimes used). Wine is of course a product of the fermentation of the sugar found in grapes (glucose) and the wine-maker controls the amount of sugar turned into alcohol to determine the sweetness of the wine. Sweet and semi-sweet wines tend to be easy drinking, whilst more discerning palates often prefer a dryer wine to better appreciate the more subtle aromas.

The proof in the pudding

Many wine ingénues feel quite intimidated by the correct method of tasting, which can best be described as an elaborate act of foreplay. A glass of wine should be romanced, not merely lustfully gulped up. It’s best to start with a clear glass so that the colour and luminosity of a wine can be appreciated. Next, swirl the glass around to let the wine “breathe” and look out for the “legs” of a wine (the lines left on the side of the glass) as an indication of quality. Take a deep sniff of the wine before you drink, take a little sip and concentrate on the different scents and tastes you can distinguish.

By far, the best way to get into wine tasting is along one of the many lovely wine routes down in the Cape: Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl, Durbanville … Tasting is generally free or at a nominal fee, the people are friendly and helpful towards the uninitiated, and the surrounding vineyards are the perfect backdrop for cultivating an appreciation for wine. Be warned, though, that whilst it might seem ungrateful to make use of the spittoons, a failure to do so will most likely reduce your ability to fully appreciate tastings later in the day – or to be conscious for them.

Food for thought

Pairing food and wine is no mean feat – smart restaurants employ a professional, called a sommelier, specifically to do this. A nice dry sparkling wine can be enjoyed throughout a meal, but if you want to pull out all the stops, here is a rough guide: serve a wooded Chardonnay with oysters or crayfish, an unwooded Chardonnay with pork, a Sauvignon Blanc with calamari, salmon or trout, a Pinot Noir with chicken or turkey, a Cabernet Sauvignon with beef and a Shiraz with lamb or venison. Don’t break the bank

Good wine needn’t be expensive. Also, rather try pricier wines at home, since restaurants generally mark up wines 150% or more. Wine Magazine publishes a “Best Value Wine Guide” every year which features good quality wine at under R60. Here are some of the wines on the 2010 list which are well worth looking into:

Red Wines Bottelary Shiraz 2008 (Perdeberg) R25.00 Riebeek Pinotage 2009 R30.00 Rooiberg Shiraz 2009 R33.00 Robertson Chapel Red NV R17.10 Weening & Barge Cuvée Twister Cabernet Franc 2005 R30.00

Rosé Wine Graça Rosé NV R19.95 Oranjerivier Rosé 2010 R21.20 Openers Festivity Opener Rosé 2009 R20.64 Slanghoek Vinay Rosé Natural Sweet NV R25.00 Tulbagh Rosé 2010 R20.00

White wines Arabella Viognier 2010 R34.00 BC Chenin Blanc 2010 R17.50 Graça NV R19.95 Perdeberg Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 R36.50

Van Loveren Cape Riesling 2010 R24.00

Sparkling Wine Swartland Cuvée Brut Nv R31.00

Photo: Jerome van Zyl

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