Hope for a new world

Wine - Roger Scruton drinks himself down under the table

In the days when you established your political credentials by declaring South Africa to be the source of all evil, there was a widespread view that the whites were somehow newcomers to that unhappy country, and had established themselves at the expense of the original inhabitants. This was true of the British who came in the 19th century, arbitrarily extinguishing the rights of both Zulu and Boer; but it was never true of the Boers themselves, who came before the major African tribes, and who were the first to farm in the Cape, the Hex River Valley and the veld. The antiquity of their claim can be seen most vividly in Stellenbosch (pronounced Stellenboss) - the 17th-century town lying in a vine-planted valley in the Cape district, where old Dutch farmhouses are scattered around clean white Calvinist churches, and where many proud and pious families have lived and farmed for three centuries or more. I remember Stellenbosch as a place of utter peacefulness and prayer-filled silence; and though the region is no doubt going along the sad road to anarchy described by J M Coetzee in Disgrace, wine is still produced there, and contentment is the inevitable by-product of wine.

The 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon included in this week's offer from Taste for Wine comes from the family-run Jordan vineyard, situated at the upper end of the Stellenbosch Kloof, where the best vines of the region are planted. South African grapes must generally be picked early if they are not to become too sweet; hence fermentation is started without the zest of autumnal yeasts. Maybe this accounts for the heavy character of so much Cape wine - as though it has not quite awoken from its long sleep on the vine, and is still dreaming in the heat of summer. I used to love this thick and somnolent flavour, and once stocked my entire cellar with wine from the vineyard called Allesverloren - named to commemorate the time when the Boers were finally and unjustly forced to lay down their arms. And I still enjoy it. I liked this black, fruit-filled and complex wine from Stellenbosch, which, along with the other wines on offer, won a well-deserved gold medal in the 2001 International Wine Challenge.

The white wine is a 2000 Sauvignon from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, a region that rivals the aristocratic Sauvignons of the Loire, retaining the cut-glass accent of the original, but with a fruitier style, like a countess who gets straight down to the kissing. This particular example has a kiwi-fruit aroma and a yeasty aftertaste - a perfect accompaniment, we found, to mackerel. The sharp, clean wine seemed to relish the oily fish as the countess might have relished her filthy gamekeeper.

The remaining two wines are Australian reds, both from 1999, and both thick and spicy in the true Australian style. The d'Arenberg winery seems to win every gold medal in the book, producing wines from all the best varietals while attempting, as in this Grenache and Syrah mix, its own versions of the French Mediterranean mongrels. We drank this with veal - not the anaemic and immoral variety that is sold in the shops, but the red-blooded, free-ranging veal from our neighbour's farm, which tastes of a life that has been lived and which cries out to be anointed with grape juice. The combination was delicious, and had we resisted the temptation to proceed to the Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon, we would have been right as rain the next morning.

Still, looking back on it, the evening was a great success, and even if you wonder why this particular Penfold product was voted red wine of the year when not a single Australian Shiraz, however blended, can match the true, quiet, peaceful Syrahs of Hermitage and Cote Rotie, you have to concede that it triumphantly achieves the main aim of Australian wineries, which is to price the real thing out of the market. A lot could be achieved by dropping crates of this wine instead of bombs on the Taliban. They might then forget the error of our ways, and recognise the error of theirs.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.