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South African wine tasting featured this month

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
Oct. 23, 2002
We've said before that a major advantage of a wine tasting is the ability to taste many wines without actually buying any of them.
That's particularly true when the tasting list contains wines at a price level you would never try unless you had prior knowledge of the quality in the bottle.
Your first thought when we announced South African wines would be featured at our October tasting would likely have been these were wines similar to the Chilean or undistinguished low end California wines than those of France or some of the great vintages from Italy or the best from the Napa Valley.
I must confess that was my first thought. I couldn't have been more wrong.
The tasting will be conducted by Peter Koff, master of wine, born and raised in South Africa, who now owns his own distributorship in California specializing in these wines. He made the selections from wines on his personal list for Thursday night's tasting and he obviously wanted to show his best. There are no bargain basement wines here.
Let me put it this way. At these prices, the South African wines have to be good. This is by far the most expensive array of wines top to bottom we have served in the three years the tastings have been conducted. For wines that are less known in this part of the wine world, their prices are astounding.
The Villiera Blue Ridge Blanc represents the least expensive at about $20 per bottle. From there the only way is up.
The next three wines are in the $36 per bottle class. They are the Villiera cabernet/merlot blend, vintage 1998, the Louisvale chardonnay 1999 and the Kaapzicht cabernet 1999.
South Africa grows a grape called pinotage. It is their best known. Pinotage is for them what zinfandel is in California or shiraz in Australia. We will taste the Kaapzicht pinotage 2000, a $40 bottle of wine.
The wine of the evening is the country's Delheim Shiraz 1999. You wouldn't run into your favorite wine store and pick up a bottle of this shiraz to enjoy with a hamburger. It is priced at $71 per bottle retail. Frankly, I didn't realize South Africa-produced wine of a quality level that would command $71 a bottle, but obviously they do.
To taste these six wines on your own, one bottle of each, would cost a total of $239. At that figure the $30 tasting fee Thursday is a true bargain, particularly when you realize that Peter Koff one of only 12 United Kingdom Masters of Wine living in America, and one of only 30 in the world to hold that honor will be in Meridian to personally conduct the tasting and answer your questions.
One wine of which we have written in previous columns, the Welte Vrede Muscat dessert wine, will not be served because the state warehouse was out of stock.
I must confess we are indeed going from the sublime to the almost ridiculous with our door wine. We like to serve guests a glass of wine when they enter and mingle before the tasting begins.
Thursday's door wine has nothing to do with Koff and his South African wines. For weeks I have heard about Meridian's hottest new low-priced favorite, Yellow Tail wines from Australia. They have sold so rapidly they have been very difficult to find (the state warehouse is out of those too) but we have secured enough of the chardonnay and the shiraz to serve as our door wines. I have tasted the chardonnay and it is very pleasant drinking not distinguished but pleasant with a full fruity flavor of lemon and butterscotch. The shiraz I have not yet tried.
To say that we are going from the sublime to the ridiculous for this tasting is accurate when you learn the Yellow Tail sells for under $8 per bottle. Contrast that with the prices of the South African wines and you will agree the statement is accurate. Well, actually it would be more exact to say we are going from the ridiculous to the sublime. Your choice.
Next tasting
There are still those who think that because the tastings are held at Northwood Country Club you need to be a member to attend. Nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of our attendees are not members. We do request you call 482-093 and make a reservation, however, so we will know the amount of wine to bring and to open.
The tasting begins at 6:30 p.m. and, as we said, each place is $30 for this unique and anticipated affair. There are still spaces available, so call and make your reservation. This is a once-in-a-lifetime affair for anyone who loves wine.