ELMARIE SWART & IZAK SMIT
The Essential Guide to South African Wines:
Terroir and Travel
Wine Appreciation Guild:
1st ed., 2008 (first published in 2006 by Cheviot Publishing: Cape Town, SA, updated in 2009)
Reviewer: Nick Vink
Authors Elmarie Swart and Izak Smit have produced a 200-page book whose purpose is to provide a one-volume overview of the South African industry with a very specific focus on terroir, using the concept of geographical ‘pockets’ to describe sub-districts of South Africa’s Wine of Origin classification of regions.
The book comes in five chapters, starting with an overview of the industry, then the descriptions of the ‘pockets’, a chapter on wine tasting, one on wine buying, and finally a short chapter on selected aspects of ‘local knowledge’.
Chapter 1 (A recent overview of the South African wine industry) contains some useful information that explains the industry in its historical context and in the current context with its focus on social upliftment and environmentally responsible wine production. Most useful, however, is the sections on the unique geographical, climate and grape variety combinations that make up terroir in the South African industry, and the description of the timeline as the grapes grow and ripen and become ready for harvesting.
There are two things I don’t like about Chapter 2, with its description of the different wine regions. First, as mentioned, the authors refer to sub-district demarcations as geographical ‘pockets’ (so, for example, the Stellenbosch region consists of the ‘Polkadraai pocket’ the ‘Stellenbosch Kloof pocket’ and 10 more. As a quick look at Google will attest, this is not a term that has caught on in South Africa, nor is it used anywhere else in the world. Second, in each ‘pocket’ the ‘top producers’ and their ‘flagship wines’ are identified and named. However, the reader is not told on what basis this selection is made.
Nevertheless, this chapter has many strengths, not least of which is the magnificent photographs (not confined only to this chapter – they are a feature of the whole book). Then there is the advice to travellers (along with GPS coordinates) and the very knowledgeable descriptions of each area and its wines. This description makes up the bulk of the book, and the chapter is rounded off with a description of garagiste wine making in South Africa, of brandy production, and of sparkling wine.
Chapter 3 has a section on wine tasting and understanding of wine styles, and a short description of the prevalent styles for the different wine cultivars. Chapter 4 is a bit more of a potpourri of issues with some tips on wine collecting – but nothing on wine selling, probably because the writer assumes all wines that are collected are primarily for own consumption rather than as an investment. This despite the title of the chapter: Profit and Pleasure. The obligatory ‘food and wine pairing’ section follows. Chapter 5 contains some useful tips for travellers.
University of Stellenbosch