South Africa, I'm told by people who should know these things, has the right climate and the right soils to make quality wine. It's supposed to be one of the next great regions for sauvignon blanc.
But its wines still do not have the best reputation. One reason is that the country's national grape, pinotage, is an acquired taste. Another is that its modern industry dates only to the end of apartheid, and it's difficult to accomplish much in the wine business in just a couple of decades.
But I made my way through a dozen or so South African wines yesterday, and was impressed with the improvement. The high-end wines were still uneven, but on the lower end -- $15 and down, and especially at $10 and less -- there were quite a few winners:
• Indaba, a $10 line, has made quite an upgrade in quality. The chardonnay was a standout, and the merlot was a value as well
• Brampton is a $12 or so brand that I have not had in a while. It also seemed much better than I remember it. The rose was nifty, as was the vigonier, which had a bit of oak.
• Kanu's most impressive effort was a $10 chenin blanc. The South Africans call chenin blanc Steen, and it too often has an unpleasant gamey quality. But this was tropical and clean, a very pleasant wine.