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Curator Behind a few very exciting winemakers, South Africa was fast ascending my wine to-do list. Starting from the ground up, last Sunday I had a bottle of A.A. Badenhorst’s “The Curator” red blend to get myself acquainted on the cheap.

My background on the producer—A.A. Badenhorst—stemmed from my grocery buying days when I had purchased cases of “Secateurs,” red and white, to stock the shelves as a way to beef up my puny South African set.

Based in Swartland, an area fifty miles north of Cape Town (in the greater wine region of the Western Cape), the Badenhorst family employs contracts with growers to purchase old-vine grapes to make eminently drinkable and affordable blends under “The Curator” title. Not one for Rhône-style white wines, I opted for a bottle of The 2011 Curator red while shopping in Huntington Beach.

A rich garnet in the glass, painting my tulip—glass—with moderate tears and erupted with a core of dark fruit, smoke, meatiness and pepper that was true to its French inspiration on the bouquet. In the mouth it had medium weight and a nice texture (medium and round tannins), and a moderate finish that echoed its exuberant and developed fragrance with a bit more olive and twig. It fit the bill for the evening and paired well with the red meat that was served.

It is hard to find convincing wines under ten dollars, but “The Curator” red, a blend of Shiraz / Syrah (95% of the blend), Mourvedre, Cinsault and Viognier was seamless and over delivered. I loved every sip and was happy to taste such an unassuming wine that will hopefully springboard my own interest into a relatively unknown (speaking for myself again) territory.

Braving the new world and coming out fine, in fact intrigued. We kicked off our second course by covering South Africa—home of an exciting World Cup and Afrikaans—and navigating across the Indian Ocean to trace the vines of New Zealand and drink the Sauvignon Blanc too. Another eight wines tasted bringing down the total to 318 for the year. This is how I got there.

We began the class with a look at South Africa, tasting a Steen—or the local name for Chenin Blanc—to kick things off. With the Loire Valley still fresh in my mind, it was nice to compare the same varietal from a different growing region—aaah, tasting experience. We spent a lot of time on Stellenbosch and Paarl, learning the lay of the land, the grapes that dominated the terrain and the growing conditions. We were served a Pinotage (a product of Stellenbosch University), it was the first time tasting this South African cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, for me and most of the class.
We moved on to to New Zealand and got cozy with their acclaimed varietals from the regions of Marlborough and Central Otago (an up-and-coming region for Pinot Noir, internationally). In total we sipped the following:

10 Man Vintners Chenin Blanc
08 Neil Ellis Pinotage, Jonkershoek Valley
09 Wolf Trap Red Cabernet blend
08 The Chocolate Block
08 Hans Herzog Pinot Gris, Marlborough
09 Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough
10 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough
08 Tarras Pinot Noir, Central Otago

The Pinotage was an experience; the purple-ruby juice gave off aromas of creosote, earth, plum and blueberries, getting darker and more aggressive (though completely palatable) across the tongue—not quite a scene from a Cormac McCarthy book but definitely something a character from one of his novels would drink. It was not my favorite wine but it was enthralling, there was a charm behind the notes of tar, smoke and black/blue berries.

The Chocolate Block was an awesome wine and would have taken top honors for the night until I tasted the Tarras Central Otago Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir was reminiscent of a Santa Barbara, or central coast Pinot, replete with a bouquet of cranberry, cherry, smoke and eucalyptus branch on the nose.
The dry wine, retained medium high acid, medium-full body, light oak and a long finish that followed the nose but with an added sprig of spearmint. It was light, complex and I could see the potential in serving this wine with some roasted leg of lamb.

The Sauvingon Blanc showdown between Martinborough and Marlborough was the other peak of excitement during the tasting. A dividing line was drawn between the palates of the class, those favoring the generally over-the-top Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and the others who favored the more stoic Ata Rangi. I found myself in the corner of Cloudy Bay, swayed by the Dionysian performance of the wine, everything was bigger and more vibrant, and the flavors of stone fruit resonated wonderfully with great acidity and a long finish, blowing the softer and more tropical tinged Ata Rangi out of the water.

After peering into the landscapes of South Africa and New Zealand there are a lot of wines suing for attention that need to be delved into further and with more zeal. I always wrote off the wines of both countries, favoring expressions of the varietals from domestic producers or old world wineries. Not any more. I cannot wait to find another Pinotage from South Africa, or to unscrew another seven-fifty of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Maybe even booking a trip. But, until then, I am content watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy with a bottle of Pinot Noir from Central Otago. Until next time.

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