A taste of freedom

Show solidarity with South Africans and buy their wine

The news from South Africa isn't good. The front-runner for president (Jacob Zuma) has been tried on charges of rape, has been embroiled, as vice-president, in a corruption scandal over defence contracts, has somewhere between three and six wives (he doesn't reveal the exact number) and has a total of 17 children by nine women. His eager heterosexuality is matched by his virulent homophobia, and he rallies his supporters with the Zulu anthem "Bring Me My Machine-gun".

Against the background of growing chaos, some small part of which can be gleaned from novels such as J M Coetzee's Disgrace, the brave middle classes, black and white, Calvinist and Muslim, urban and rural, struggle on, hoping that their country will continue to be the African exception, and that the fate of Zimbabwe is not just around the corner, notwithstanding one of the world's highest murder rates. The middle classes are the moral backbone of any modern society, but their virtues are seldom recognised. As for the bien-pensants, what do they care, now that their hour of glory has passed?

To support South Africa's middle classes, you should buy the product that they have made their own, which is wine. The industry was held back by apartheid; but global markets and modern viticulture have since opened the way to wines that have climate, soil and native grit on their side. The result can be witnessed in the Nelson's Creek Sauvignon Blanc from the Paarl region: a perfectly balanced wine, with all the gooseberry allure of the grape, but without the excessive perfume and wine-bar cheekiness that spoil so much of the New Zealand product. If you like Sancerre (and who doesn't?), you will like this just as much or more.

South Africa is also one of the few places in the world to export a presentable Chenin Blanc - as you will discover in the mineral-rich Old Vines Chenin Blanc, which glows with a golden life entirely uncharacteristic of that, on the whole, rather dreary grape. This wine comes from Stellenbosch, the 17th-century town that was the heart of the Dutch colonial settlement. (One of the tragedies of the country is that latecomers, the British included, never acknowledged the length or depth of the Boer settlement, or the Boers' claim to be the first to bring law to southern Africa.)

The Merlot from Bainskloof in the arid Breede River Valley is a clean, strong potion with a full berry-rich flavour, and deserves a plate of spicy sausages - preferably boerewors - to bring out its leonine strength. Equally vigorous is the complex blend from the well-managed vineyards of Mont du Toit at the foot of the Hawequa Mountains. If you want the authentic taste of South Africa, then this is the wine for you: rich, fruity and full of lingering sunshine.