I've written sporadically about spirits and cocktails for HuffPost, so does that qualify me to review wine as well? Ummm ... sure! At least that's what I told the folks who wanted to send me a couple of bottles from Sebeka, a new company that's now the top selling South African wine in the United States.
It's not like I'm a total ignoramus when it comes to wine. I took a sensational class last year, and I go out drinking with enough oenophiles who say things like "Dude, can you taste just a hint of tobacco in there? That's friggin' insane," so that my palate is at least somewhat refined when it comes to this stuff.
But I still didn't want to take any chances, so I decided to host a dinner party and have other people try the wines as well. That way, even if my taste buds and/or descriptive abilities failed me, I'd have some backup. On Sunday night, I sat down with my wife, five friends, a mess of Indian food (a pairing recommended in the tasting notes) and a bottle each of Sebeka's 2006 Shiraz-Pinotage "Cape Blend" and its 2006 Sauvignon Blanc.
We swirled our glasses and held them to the light. We swished the wine around in our mouths. We furrowed our brows and made funny sounds. We did everything real live wine experts did -- except spit, because I own no spittoons. And even if I did, I'd be danged if I was going to clean them out at the end of the evening.
Now, keep in mind that these wines retail for a recession-friendly $9 each. Fancy-shmancy, they ain't. When we sampled them before eating, we thought that the fruitiness (namely green apple, pineapple and citrus) of the Sauvignon Blanc was a tad intense, though quite pleasant. The Cape Blend, on the other hand, lacked the peppery spice we expected of a Shiraz, and was so jammy in its blueberry and raspberry notes that we wanted to pour some on a slice of bread and eat it with peanut butter.
But these are table wines, after all, and the true test would come when they were paired with food -- samosas, tandoori-grilled meats and veggies, spicy tomato-based sauces and the like. And here, both wines really stood out. What had been cloying became bold, and the flavors that had overwhelmed our palates before rose to the occasion and held their own with the powerful flavors of the food. The spice of the Cape Blend and the mineral overtones of the Sauvignon Blanc, both of which had passed us by in our first tasting, were coaxed into the foreground by the Indian seasonings.
The only problem with the Cape Blend and Sauvignon Blanc was that, just as we were getting into them and really beginning to wax rhapsodic, we ran out. Next time I have to either invite fewer friends or requisition more bottles. And by this time I had also stopped taking notes, so I forget exactly what complimentary things we said. But I do remember thinking that the Sauvignon Blanc went particularly well with the carb-heavy rice and bread dishes, while the Cape Blend was brilliant with the spicy, intensely flavorful meat kebabs.
So, in a nutshell, the verdict was unanimous among the Wine Tastin' Seven, as we now like to call ourselves -- Sebeka makes two damn tasty table wines. The bigger the flavors of your food, the more these babies shine. And for all we know, there's more where that came from. I'd be happy to try Sebeka's entire line, hint hint.