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June 28, 2017

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Explore the zingy flavors of wine from South Africa, Washington state

Wines from a large South African co-operative and a boutique group in Washington state in the United States feature this week. KWV pioneered co-operative winegrowing in South Africa in 1918, the year Nelson Mandela was born. At the time the industry was young and struggling. Since the early 1990s when South Africa opened to the world after the end of apartheid, KWV has evolved into a global producer with sales in more than 100 countries. They source grapes from the country's best regions and KWV's website notes that these grapes come "from the world's oldest earth."

KWV boasts one of the largest cellars in the world, and its brands have collected more than 300 awards in the past year alone. They are also one of the leading black-empowerment companies in South Africa's wine industry. The main cellar is in Paarl on the west coast.

The KWV Mentors range is crafted from grapes from selected sites and receives special treatment in the vineyards and cellar. I tasted the 2012 Mentors chardonnay and it is fine wine that shows the best that South Africa has to offer.

The balance of oak and acid is finely tuned. This chardonnay was matured in a range of new and old French oak. The oak provides a creamy texture that marries perfectly with flavors of butterscotch and lemon. The nose offers aromas of cashews and raw almonds, and I enjoyed the lingering finish.

The KWV Classic series are not as expensive or well crafted as the Mentors range but offer excellent value for money. The 2012 KWV Classic chardonnay reflects the cool vintage in 2012 with even temperatures that led to steady and measured ripening of the grapes.

This is a fresh chardonnay with aromas of white peach and pear with hints of minerality. It finishes well — crisp and zingy. Perfect for fried noodles or a range of seafood dishes. It is not a wine to cellar.

The KWV 2013 Classic cabernet sauvignon is also designed as a drink-now kind of wine. An easy-drinking combination of soft tannins and blackcurrant fruit.

My favorite was the 2013 Classic chenin blanc. This grape variety is widely planted in South Africa and quite frankly can produce some pretty dreary wines designed to sell at the bottom of the range in supermarkets. But this chenin is delightful: Rich, ripe and zingy at the same time with profound depth of fruit character. Australian Richard Rowe, who became KWV's chief winemaker in 2008, should be proud of this wine.

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