Grape Escape to South Africa

Posted on October 22, 2010

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Nectar of the Gods
by AnneLise Sorensen

My review originally published in New York Magazine

At New York City’s first South African wine bar, the boldest personalities at the table are the wines.

New York City’s first South African wine bar is much like the country’s signature Pinotage: earthy and bold. Cypress trees rise to the ceiling and candles flicker on dark-wood tables. Just as Pinotage was once something of a secret, so’s Xai Xai (aptly pronounced “shy” – like, “he’s so xai xai”). There’s no sign out front, and the bar is far from its oenophile counterparts in Soho, wedged into a Hells Kitchen street more often associated with beery taverns.

Pinotage wine has a weighty, smoky finish reminiscent of a fine whiskey.

The wine list’s short but superb. The Southern Right Pinotage flaunts all that’s excellent about the wine, with a weighty, smoky finish reminiscent of a fine whiskey. Chenin Blanc has long been the dominant white grape of South Africa, and it yields some excellent vintages, including the brisk Teddy Hall. “The wines speak for themselves,” says South African co-owner Brett Curtin, citing the country’s 300 years of wine history.

Try the plump coil of farmer’s sausage.

Some of the small plates can be middling, like the droe wors (dried sausage sticks), which have all the flavor of a Slim Jim. Tastier is the bilton (beef jerky), feathery with a meaty tang, and the plump coil of farmer’s sausage pressed onto a mound of pap, a mild maize porridge that tastes a little like Cream of Wheat. But, by the second bottle of Pinotage, who really cares?

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