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Spanish grapes to the fore

Cape Town - The tempranillo grapes in our little vineyard are blooming black and becoming sweeter by the day. The mousebirds seem to prefer them to our shiraz, while the guineafowl enjoy them as a first course for breakfast – hopefully there will be enough left to make our harvest worthwhile.

Described as one of Spain’s classic red varieties, tempranillo is probably better known to South Africans as one of the Portuguese grapes that are used in many of the quality port wines made by the Calitzdorp cellars in the Little Karoo.

Tempranillo vineyard in Rioja, Spain.

Boets Nel of De Krans also makes an easy-drinking budget-priced red from tempranillo, so when I saw that Woolworths now stocks a Spanish tempranillo – priced at just under R50 – we had to sample and compare.

The import comes from Cariñena, a region in north-eastern Spain in the ancient kingdom of Aragón. Traditionally, tempranillo is medium- to full-bodied with powerful tannins and impressive ageing potential. I find them to be assertive wines, and this Iberian example is no exception, prominent tannins alongside spice and flavours of black cherry.

Woolworths recommends pairing it with braaied spare ribs and sausage or with ripe cheese, both of which are sure to star on many a weekend menu.

There’s a Spanish white as well, for the same price, which will add an exotic touch to weekend paellas and make an ideal partner to a range of tapas from asparagus to chorizo.

It’s a blend of verdejo and viura, and comes from the Rueda region north-east of Madrid, which produces some of Spain’s best white wines. The ancient verdejo, which originated in North Africa and was probably introduced to Europe by the Moors, lends minerality along with lemon and lime and a touch of waxiness, similar to our semillon, while viura adds freshness and fragrance to the blend.

The increase in quality of Spanish whites over the last five years is impressive, and it seems as if there are as many bargains to be found in that country as in ours.

Staying with exotic cultivars – but moving back to the Cape – the allure of gewürztraminer comes to the fore whenever south-eastern Asian dishes are on the menu.

The grape occupies few South African hectares but a few innovative winemakers are producing delicious wines from this native of Alsace, with its distinctive rose petal character allied to gentle spices.

Neethlingshof’s 2010 gewürztraminer is expected to last several years but, at R45, it’s more likely to be poured whenever mild Thai curries, fragrant Vietnamese fare and fruity Cape Malay chicken curry are served. Other Stellenbosch cellars which make a gewürz are Zevenwacht, which is highly rated by Platter, along with Simonsig and Delheim.

In Elgin, Paul Cluver’s gewürztraminer has been lauded as a Cape benchmark, and you can also taste this intriguing wine at Altydgedacht, Bergsig and Villiera. The Constantia region was represented by Buitenverwachting’s limited edition G, now sold out and, I was told, unlikely to be repeated.

WINE DIARY

It starts with a stroll through the vineyards where a well-informed staff member introduces cultivars and organic farming practices as visitors taste ripening grapes.

The tour costs R50 and is offered hourly from Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 3pm until March 28. To book, call Werner on 021 876 8820.

Stomping grapes and tractor rides through the vineyards are offered, with country fare and wine on sale all day.

Tickets are R60 and children under 12 get in free. For more information and advance bookings, e-mail [email protected]

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