Challenging Custom: Cape Chenin and Pinotage in Burgundy

Tuesday, 29 June, 2004
Melvyn Minnaar
The availability of South African wine in the very heart of wine heaven, set in motion a mini search to find more.

For all those romantic notions of food markets and wine cellars in the gastro-heartland of France, it is a home truth that most local shoppers take to their supermarché for provisions

It is no surprise that more and more French find their fromage at the fridge counters in Champion, Attac or Auchon, and their bottles of vin for the long-lingering lunch (yes, that is still, thankfully, a confirmed ritual!) at the same super store.

If charming Beaune, locus in Burgundy of arguably the world's finest wine, is blessed with delightful wine shops in the walkabout cobble-stone centre frequented by tourists, one suspects that most residents pick up their consumables from the supermarkets on the outskirts.

For a visiting outsider, anticipating and pre-programmed for poetic prandial pleasures, it means a switch in attitude. But then, for some tourists visiting foreign supermarkets with their unusual and unknown labels and products is one of those small pleasures of travel.      

The patriotic display of a wide selection from the many, many vineyards and cellars of the immediate Côte de Beaune region is particularly impressive in the Beaune local supermarket. Labels on the shelves present a celebratory choice as a bird's eye view of Burgundy itself, extending south towards the affordable delights from the Côte Chalonnaise and north to the highly-acclaimed and expensive Côte de Nuits. (Maybe there's something for our supermarketeers to learn here.)

Proving that their pride is not jingoist - or perhaps because they like the challenge - wines from elsewhere are also available, even from foreign countries.

It is among these that a visiting group of chenin blancs fans from Paarl - their Cape loyalty temporarily suspended in the task of Burgundian indulgence - was pleasantly surprised to find the single, but significant presence on the Champion supermarché shelves of Boland Cellar's popular 2003 vintage offering. A bottle was quickly acquired. Motivated by sentiment (or to show-off to local hosts) it was a deed justified, not least by the very reasonable euro price at which it was offered. The availability of South African wine in the very heart of wine heaven, set in motion a mini search to find more.

One would expect to find only the best at any of the branches of the famous Nicolas wine stores, and the one in the heart of Beaune provided much pleasure for visiting South Africans when among a small, but showy selection of Cape wines, Sentinel Pinotage flashed its label.

When the cork was pulled in French company some hours later, none in the (re)search party could escape the significance of sipping South Africa's own in the very birthplace of one of its parents here in Burgundy - the Pinot noir Paradise.  

* On return home, the same crowd drank a different toast to the news that the Sentinel Pinotage 2003 had walked off with the Fairbairn Capital Trophy in its class!