china daily wine column #30

Time magazine recently described the town of Arniston in South Africa as one of the world’s best-kept secrets. Until a few years ago it was a remote fishing village close to the southernmost tip of Africa, along a jagged and wild coastline.

Arniston’s whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs have attracted generations of artists and photographers who liked the idea of isolation, but also being less than a two-hour drive from Cape Town, one of South Africa’s most charming cities.

The village of Arniston gets its name from a British ship that sank in 1815. Of the 378 passengers, only six survived. Remains of the ship were located in January 1982. In terms of visual splendor, Arniston Bay winery has one of the most beautiful locations in the world.

It’s a pity one cannot use terms related to beauty to describe their entry-level wine, labeled as Arniston Bay. Four bottles of the 2010 vintage arrived for review: a sauvignon blanc, a chenin blanc/chardonnay blend, a pinotage rose, and a cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend.

Sauvignon blanc is not one of my favorite grape varieties, especially when the grapes are picked unripe. These wines tend to offer aromas of cat’s urine and freshly mowed grass.

Wines made from ripe sauvignon blanc grapes smell more like pineapples and tropical fruit, as is the case with this wine. Its high alcohol (13.5 percent) proves the grapes were picked ripe. But this wine lacks any character or flavor and dies almost immediately in the mouth. It reminds me of wine sold in cardboard boxes some years ago in various parts of the world.

The chenin blanc/chardonnay blend had even less to offer. It was almost tasteless. The natural acidity of the chenin blanc was neutered by the chardonnay flavors and the result is a dull and flat wine that I cannot recommend – except perhaps when one needs cheap wine for preparing dishes that require wine, such as some risottos.

The reds were a slight improvement. The rose made from pinotage grapes had a pleasant pink color and a friendly dry taste of strawberries. It appeals as a drink-now quaffer, and is a relatively pleasant wine.

The cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend had a dark cherry color, again the result of ripe fruit, with high alcohol (13.5 percent) and some berry aromas. Soft tannins mean it can be consumed now. But it is bland in the mouth and generally boring as a wine.

Arniston Bay wines can be found at the South African Wine Company in North Road in Fuzhou or purchased via their website at

* “Price trumps value for Arniston reds” in China Daily, 12 March 2011 page 12. A link to the story can be found here.

Categories: China, Not home, wine

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