Words and photographs by Greg Landman
We all know that Jan van Riebeeck is credited with planting the first vineyards from which SA wine was made in 1655. However, the Portuguese were there centuries before and, though there is no written evidence, it is very possible that they, makers of wine from ancient times, made wine at the Cape. Today the names of Vasco da Gama and Bartholomew Dias are commemorated in many tavern names, suburbs, and football clubs in Cape Town and Johannesburg, which has a thriving Portuguese community. Portuguese roots are deep in SA with at least 300 000 Portuguese speakers scattered throughout the country. One of the best known SA exports, Nando’s, which is to be found all over the world, has its beginnings in the predominantly Portuguese suburbs of Johannesburg’s South.
What is definite is that there are pockets of our country where the making of wine in the Portuguese style has been brought to perfection. Past masters in this are the people at Boplaas in Calitzdorp. Their name has become synonymous with these varietals in SA wines. Tinta Barocca and Touriga Francesa, very rare, are used in Boplaas’ superb Ring of Rocks. Single varietals of Touriga Nacional, intensely fruity with a nice long grip and Tinta Barocca, deliciously aromatic, are a credit to their Portuguese roots. The Gamka blend of Tourigas Nacional, Barocca, Franca, and Shiraz is a superb example of winemaker Margaux Nel’s expertise. It follows a trend now in use in Portugal of using a French varietal to make interesting combinations. Boplaas Cape White Portuguese Blend uses Verdehlo, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to great effect.
Two imported Portuguese wines that are available here at bargain prices are Gold Medal winner, Atlantico, which features the quirky little tram that runs up and down the hills of Lisbon. It is a fabulous red blend from the Alentejo region, fragrantly alive with the aromas and taste of deep dark berries. The other one, also from Alentejo, is called Ciconia, intensely delicious, with some Syrah, to help support all that Portuguese bravado. These wines are available here at R49, about 40% of the price in Europe, making them must haves as we go into the rest of summer. They instantly evoke the ambience that is quintessentially Portugal—almost as good as going there.