There is already some pretty good juice coming out of South Africa, and if the socioeconomics of South African viticulture remains fraught, the overall standard of winemaking is encouraging. While many wines show the same overwrought qualities that mar lots of Australia and California wines—too much ripeness, too much oak—others are made in a pleasantly understated style. The best of them combine exuberant fruit flavors with a pronounced minerality of the sort more typically found in Old World wines. The wines of Hamilton Russell, which is probably my favorite South African producer, are a case in point. Located outside a fishing village in the Walker Bay appellation (it is apparently Africa's most southerly wine estate), Hamilton Russell turns out one of the best New World pinot noirs on the market, a subtle, elegant wine with a very Burgundian earthiness about it. They also make an excellent Chardonnay. The 2007 versions of both wines were delicious when I tasted them; the 2008s are the current releases. (The pinot is $44, the chardonnay is $31.)
Among the wines I sampled for this article, I was really impressed by the 2007 De Toren Fusion V ($44.99), a Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot. With aromas of black currants, tobacco, cedar, and vanilla, it smells and tastes very much like a Bordeaux and has a claretlike finesse that I personally find very appealing. The 2007 Raats Cabernet Franc ($29.99) is another winner. It has a classic cabernet franc nose redolent of blackberry, game, and herb, shows good minerality and depth of flavor, and has the structure to age. I also liked the 2006 Rudi Schultz Syrah ($36.99), which likewise seems to have a foot in both the Old World and New. Its lush blackberry fruit is leavened by notes of game, mineral, and black pepper. Big, ripe tannins round out a wine that is a good example of why people are bullish about South African Syrah (Shiraz, if you prefer).
South Africa is also a fine source of value wines. The 2009 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc ($13.99) is a terrific example of a Cape Chenin. Scents of orange blossom, lime, and lanolin soar out of the glass, giving way to a wine full of ripe, succulent fruit parried by a nice dusting of minerality. With its bright citrus flavors, mineral undercurrent, and sinewy texture, the 2009 Ken Forrester PetitChenin Blanc ($11) is likewise a very pleasant wine and attractively priced. As inexpensive Chardonnays go, it would be tough to do better than the 2008 DMZ Chardonnay ($14.99). A nose heavy on tropical fruits and nuts leads to a full-bodied but crisp wine mercifully devoid of the cloying sweetness that often afflicts even high-end New World chardonnays. ("DMZ", in case you are wondering, has nothing to do with the Korean peninsula; it's short for De Morgenzon winery.) The 2009 Buitenverwachting Beyond Sauvignon Blanc ($11.99), marked by pungent aromas of lemon, grass, and minerals, is a crisp, refreshing white that offers a lot of wine for the money. Bukettraube is a little known Germanic grape variety, but the 2009 Cederberg Bukettraube ($16) suggests that the obscurity isn't entirely deserved. A slightly sweet wine that is rich in peach and floral notes but with enough acidity to balance out the residual sugar, it would pair nicely with spicy foods and is a compelling example of South Africa's viticultural diversity.
The famed Vin de Constance went out of production around the turn of the 20th century. It was revived in the mid-1980s after Duggie Jooste, a South African whose family had deep roots in the wine industry, purchased and restored the original estate. Bursting with notes of honey, orange marmalade, and pineapple, with ample acidity to offset its richness, the 2005 Klein Constantia Vin de Constance ($49.99) is a terrific dessert wine and one with an unusually interesting history. As for a wine edge in Sunday's World Cup final, it belongs to Spain; the Netherlands has a tiny, unheralded wine sector that is no match for Spain's large and very dynamic viticultural industry. However, if you factor in other intoxicants—Heineken, space cakes—the game looks much closer on paper.