• 46°

South Africa wine expert coming to Meridian

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
Oct. 2, 2002
We have a special treat this month. One of the world's best known experts on the wines of South Africa is coming to Meridian to conduct our tasting of Oct. 24.
For years South Africa has struggled to establish itself as a producer of quality wines. Their initial output a number of years ago was not well accepted by the American consumer.
It was a back-to-the-drawing-board situation. They worked hard and their wines show it. The quality has improved. Now many wines made and bottled in South Africa are competitive with the better wines of California, Australia, Spain, Italy and other leaders in the industry.
They are still not major sellers because they remain at the level of telling their story and introducing their products to consumers. But many are reasonably priced, although they do offer several in upper price ranges. These wines, both the inexpensive and pricey, are well worth getting to know.
First planted
Grape vines were first planted in South Africa in 1655. Until the 1970s, wines made in that country were strictly for home consumption. Then 30 years ago their producers decided to enter the American market. They advertised and generated some sales, but the quality was simply not in the bottle and repeat business just didn't happen.
Then about 1991 the producers, backed by a big crop of quality grapes, decided to try again. They worked to improve their product and slowly, but surely, developed the techniques and knowledge necessary to make their wines competitive. They are still relatively unknown in many areas of this country, but their quality has improved to the point where a market is developing.
The efforts have even gotten to the point where some growers harvest their grapes at night under floodlights. The idea is the grapes are cooler and the result is they are also fresher, more aromatic and, therefore, make livelier wines than do normally harvested grapes in the heat of that country's climate. I know of nowhere else in the world using that technique so extensively.
Best vineyards
Virtually all of South Africa's best vineyards are within 100 miles of Cape Town. South Africa was once 10 years behind the rest of the world in their knowledge of quality wine making, but now they are active in research and study and it shows.
Another factor was the country's embracing the philosophy of a multiracial democracy. By so doing they opened up world markets that had a desire for a flavor of the month and distinguishing vintages. The revenue received was desperately needed to fund the production of better wines.
You must taste these wines to appreciate their quality. I believe you will be surprised.
As we said, Meridian consumers will have that opportunity this month. Peter Koff, owner and operator of Fairest Cape Beverage Co., who qualified for the highly respected Master of Wine award in 1993, will be here to conduct our Oct. 24 tasting.
Koff was born in South Africa. In his early adult years he developed a taste for fine wine and a thirst for knowledge. In 1984 he took and passed the examination for Cape Wine Master, becoming one of only five in South Africa. Today there are still less than 40.
Wine as a hobby
But wine continued to be a hobby for Koff. He was a civil engineer by profession, earned an master's degree, then moved into the computer world as a systems engineer and then as a large mainframe marketing representative with IBM.
In 1987, Koff came to believe there was little hope of political reform in his country and emigrated to the United States. As it turned out, the political changes that would have allowed Koff to continue to live and work in his native country took place, but he had already left for America.
Shortly after his arrival here, the cherished United Kingdom Master of Wine program was opened to the world. After much study and research, Koff qualified as a Master of Wine in 1993. To give you an idea of the difficulty to gain this designation, there are only 12 in America and and less than 30 in the entire world.
In 1991, Koff saw that the political progress in South Africa had advanced to the point where the export of wines from that country would be permitted. He decided to leave the computer business and enter the world of wine importing and wholesaling. Today, his firm, Fairest Cape Beverage Co., represents wines from California, Oregon, Italy, France and Germany as well as those from South Africa. In addition, he frequently lectures wine appreciation courses.
Koff now lives in Irvine, Calif. The seven wines we will pour for this tasting are South Africa's best, ranging in retail price up to $70 per bottle including the great Delheim Shiraz Stellenbosch/Simonsberg 1999, which was hailed as the Wine Spectator magazine's Wine of the Week.
Also on the tasting list is a chardonnay, a sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc blend, a pinotage, a cabernet/sauvignon merlot blend, a regular cabernet sauvignon and a wonderful dessert wine with flavors of blue and black fruit.
All this plus one of the world's great wine experts. It will be a learning and a tasting experience. Call 482-0930 and make your reservation. This is one you won't want to miss.