When one thinks of Calitzdorp in the Klein Karoo and the Swartland, there are few similarities apart from the fact that they’re both farming areas with a very similar dry and sunny climate that produce excellent wines. However, only a few know that the start of the port industry in Calitzdorp (now the “Port Capital of South Africa”) is actually thanks to the Swartland and a fortunate “accident”.
After a visit to the Swartland in 1973, the Nel family of De Krans on the outskirts of Calitzdorp decided to plant shiraz grapes. It took a few years for them to discover that the vines they planted were actually tinta barocca! This became the first Portuguese cultivar planted in the Klein Karoo, and because of the unique terroir of Calitzdorp (similar in climate to the Duoro Valley in Portugal), these grapes flourished … and the wines bear testimony to this.
In a similar “accident” about 20 years later, tinta amarela vines were mistakenly planted after being certified as tinta roriz, and so the port industry in South Africa became synonymous with Calitzdorp in the Klein Karoo. What a wonderful twist of fate (also the name of one of De Krans’s Portuguese blends, to pay tribute to this piece of history)!
Regardless of the success of the port wines of De Krans and Calitzdorp, one won’t find the word “port” on any label of a South African produced port-style wine since the end of 2011, as was agreed between the European Union and the South African government. But the Cape Port Producers Association (CAPPA) had already decided to use the word “Cape”, paired with the specific style (eg Cape Ruby, Cape Vintage etc) in the late 1980s, so this did not have much of an effect on the sales of port-style wines in South Africa and abroad.
For many wine drinkers the mere thought of port wine is quite daunting – be it the (possibly overwhelming) different styles, the dark bottles, the higher alcohol, or the fact that it is something one’s grandfather and his buddies used to drink after dinner. But this “holy cow” has been buried some time ago!
Not only is it important to realize that port-style wines are not for winter use only, but also that they are much more than delectable dessert wines.
A port wine such as the De Krans Original Cape Pink makes for a refreshing cocktail mixer, for example with ginger ale, crushed ice and mint. And the De Krans Cape Tawny Limited Release and the Espresso are both wonderful served chilled in summer (visit the De Krans website for a list of fun cocktail recipes including the chilled Espresso Martini).
Treat yourself and/or your guests to a special glass of Platter 5-star De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve (the estate’s flagship) with well-aged cheeses, or their Espresso, a dessert wine with subtle grounded coffee flavours on the aftertaste.
But why wait until after dinner? Why not surprise your guests with an entire menu paired with different port-style wines from De Krans? While the De Krans Cape Pink is delicious in a cocktail, with some desserts it pairs perfectly. These include a white peppercorn pannacotta and a rosewater ice cream. The De Krans Cape Tawny is great for a starter, paired with onion soup, or with a cheese, nut and honey platter for dessert. The Cape Vintage is the ultimate complement to any baked dessert, like chocolate fondant or crème bruleé.
In addition, a port-style wine like the De Krans Premium Cape Ruby is wonderful for cooking (yes, go ahead and add generously to your “potjie” or any meat dish in a slow cooker while having a glass on its own). The wine is fruity and soft and will take your meat dish to the next level.
Now that you know a port wine should be treated as a wine, attention should be paid to how they should be stored. Just like a red wine, a port-style wine shouldn’t be kept open for more than two weeks, with the exception of a Cape Tawny (maximum four weeks due to its oxidative nature). Be sure to watch out for those half-empty bottles next to the refrigerator in your favourite restaurant – they may be there since last winter! If kept closed, the port style wines can be kept much longer. While the Tawny is at its best after bottling and will not improve much over time, port-style wines such as De Krans’ Cape Vintage Reserve can be stored for 25 years and longer (in favourable cool conditions, with the bottles lying down).
On a final very important note, chuck away those small sherry and liqueur glasses and serve all port-style wines in a normal red or white wine glass – allowing it swirl and twirl and show off. Are the small glasses cute? Yes. Are they practical and allowing you to taste the port to properly? Not really.
Needless to say, when it comes to where, when and how to drink port wines, there really is no correct answer. As long as you drink them, experiment, enjoy and embrace the versatility these wines have to offer (in a big glass, of course).