Philly wine find: South Africa’s “stain” yields gain

South Africa is a sleeper of the wine trade, a producer that claims slight consumer mindshare despite a favorable quality-to-price ratio. These are often nine to 13 dollar wines suited for a range of palates, approachable and adaptable to food and mostly ideal for “now” consumption. At the moment, hallelujah, that means warm weather down time. If you’re like me, come April and May, you’re less interested in committing after-work or weekend effort to fitting meals around “special” bottles or lumbering wines. Easy going varieties like Chenin Blanc from South Africa, Argentinian Torrontes or bantam-bodied East Coast U.S. reds are in step with the season.

Wildekrans Chenin Blanc

A spring starter for consideration is the Wildekrans Chenin Blanc Walker Bay. The winery is already marketing its 2010 bottlings but the ’09 is still available from a few suburban state stores. A product of the Bot River region, the grape, also known as Steen (pronounced “stain”), was used – or abused – as fodder for cheap jug plonk. As mere bottle filler, it suffered a plight similar to Blue Nun. Consumers turned away. More recently, with bruised reputation on the mend and undaunted drinker generations unfolding, South African vintners have delivered the grape its due, coaxing a complexity of palatal gifts to the fore.

The Wildekrans is wine to accompany the sounds of the season: Cricket and bird chirps, lawn mowers or surf. The bright and pretty nose preps the taste buds for an overturned bowl of tropical and citrus fruits, pears and floral flavors. Playing counterpoint are mineral leanness, subtle effervescence and spicy bite. There’s a lot going on in the glass, even a touch of creaminess. The finish grips the tongue and spurs the saliva glands. How many $13 bottles trigger the mouth’s water works?

Medium body and acidity make the Wildekrans a match for a range of foods. I can see it coupled with mac and cheese, all seafood under the sun (especially grill-roasted oysters), ham, falafel, chicken, hot dogs and a helluva lot more.

At 13 bucks, the wine might sound a muted bell for value hunters but don’t hold that against it. On balance, it’s priced comparably, if not favorably, against other outlets found online. Thankfully, there are a slew of South African outposts exporting lower-priced Chenin Blanc, so don’t hesitate to rack up bottles for the spring forward.