Wine ó Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine
Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine

By Tim Protzman

When winter chills and the light grows low and pinkish-gray in the western sky, we heap the logs on the fire, button up our sweaters and settle in for a cozy evening inside.

We take extra satisfaction in snuggling into our warm, downy beds and dreaming of bright tropical beaches, even as the snow hits the windowpane with a sound like rice being dropped on the floor.

Some of us imagine these things.

I dream of warm sunny wines, from Spain, rich, dry Australia and the pampas of Argentina. Iíve never been any of those places, but thatís what makes wine so fun. I can taste their county, their soil and their character, all from my chilly little living room.

In the Southern Hemisphere summer has just started. Itís like our mid-June. Farmers hope for enough rain to keep the ground moist. Harvests run from February through April.

My favorite Southern Hemisphere wine comes from South Africa. They have a long tradition of vine tending dating back to the Dutch Settlers of the early 17th century. I think that adds a little Old-World charm to the wine.

Itís not that I havenít had equally good South American and Australian Wines. Itís just that the most readily available wines from these regions, at least in this country, tend to be mass produced. They lack a high level of crafting. They taste fine, but arenít as indicative of their country of origin, as they are of a marketing style. They are fruity, low tannin, with a bit more acidicity than I like.  Iíve had excellent Australian and South American wines, and the rule of thumb I use is: the cuter the label, the less dramatic the wine.

 The five-day forecast for Cape Town, South Africa is partly sunny, mostly sunny, sunny, mostly sunny, partly sunny, with highs in the upper 70s and low 80s. The wines tend to be Rhone-style and spicy since they use a lot of syrah. Theyíve developed their own grape, a cross between cinsault and pinot noir called pinotage. Itís a rowdy grape that needs a good workout in oaken casks before itís ready to drink. Fairview Vineyards, with Charles Back as winemaker, makes several inexpensive, easily found wines. Iíve written before on his Goats do Roam and Goat Roti wines. These are spicy, rich and deep and go well with chili and hearty winter fare, especially stews and roasts. They run between $10 and $15 a bottle. Good pinotage is hard to find in most wine shops, but here are two very good to everyday examples of the Southern grape.

2001 Fairview Pinotage Ė $14.99. Rhone style with big tart cherry and plum tastes, some tannins which age will erase and a perfumey grenache/syrah bouquet. I expected a little more complexity, layers and depth.

Simonsig Pinotage- $9.99, Tastes part Burgundian, with the unmistakable hint of syrah. This was a nice wine without much form and depth. Subtle fruit flavors and nice finish without being tannic and cloying.


Some of the South African Shiraz/Syrahs can be tannic. So for good Shiraz I turn to a more expensive Australian. It wonít break the bank, but it will run around $30.

Penfolds Shiraz St Henri $35.99. Try this for an expensive mid winter treat. Itís spicy and sharp with ribbons of flavor and backbone. Currant, cinnamon and blackberry fruit with a structured taste that exposes the sun and soil of the hills and valleys outside of Adelaide.


Look for a red pepper and caramel pumpkin spice finish. Pricier than the usual Aussie fare, but a great example of fine wine craftsmanship. Warning: Once youíve tasted a finely made nicely aged Australian Shiraz, itíll be your yardstick by which youíll measure all shirazís. You may not be able to enjoy the more manufactured wines from Down Under.

    Price really isnít an issue for the wines of Argentina, where theyíve raised the grape Malbec to an art form. This grape lends itself to stunning reds that age well. It has the properties of a merlot and zinfandel cross, with a hearty rustic-ness that makes it a natural combination with savory meats, spicy stews and soups and dry cheeses.

Several good Malbecís are available at a super price. The come from the Mendoza region in the grass and forestlands east of the Andes. The weather is dry and the grapes ripen full of flavor and hot sunshine. Malbec is Argentinaís most cultivated grape, although cabernet and chardonnay have made great inroads in the vineyards, as all wine producers look for their equivalent of Yellow Tail, an Australian wine that went zero to 60 in achieving market share.

Alamos Ridge ($8.99), Navarro Correas ($8.99), Salentein ($15.99) and Trapiche ($14.99) all make darn good malbec that are full of herbs, a touch of pepper and a good strong backbone for waking up winter food. They capture the sun-drenched plains and the touch of frontier that still exists. Pair them with everything from roast chicken to Sloppy Joes.

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Find the wines discussed in Hippoís food section at state liquor stores. For exact locations of your favorite juice, go to

óTim Protzman

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