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Elin’s Wine Pick: Mandela’s Legacy In A Bottle

Makaziwe Mandela, Nelson Mandela's daughter, and Tukwini Mandela, her daughter and Nelson Mandela's granddaughter, with the family's wine. Credit: Elin McCoy

After the death of great South African leader Nelson Mandela, I’ve been thinking about his political and moral legacy and a family wine I encountered in October. This 2012 House of Mandela Thembu Collection Pinotage, with its earth, plum and cherry flavors, is an easy-on-the-palate red produced by his daughter and granddaughter. Think of it as part of Mandela’s wine legacy.

An affordable red from South Africa’s signature grape Pinotage, it’s graced with a colorful label based on Mandela’s traditional dashiki shirts. Part of the profits will go to the family foundation and to the Africa Rising Foundation, which aims to alleviate poverty. It’s certified Fair Trade, which means producers get a set minimum price for their grapes and workers get a living wage.

Elin McCoy's Wine Of The Week

2012 House of Mandela Thembu Collection Pinotage

Price: $15

Region: Western Cape, South Africa

Grape: 100% Pinotage

Alcohol: 14.3%

Serve with: Spicy pizza, rich beef stew

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Back in October, I tasted through the House of Mandela lineup with Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe (Maki) Mandela, 59, and her granddaughter, Tukwini, 38, the team behind the wines. “When we explored the idea,” Makaziwe Mandela told me, “we found out very few black people owned wineries.”‘

The two women asked U.K.-based Master of Wine Lynne Sherriff to help them find winemaking partners to create their wines. (They hope eventually to have their own winery.) Highly conscious of their family heritage, they gave Sherriff a list of requirements: In addition to producing quality wines, the wineries had to be family owned, use good labor practices and respect the country’s biodiversity. They selected several, including Fairview Estate, and use winemaker Erlank Erasmus to oversee the 10 wines, but members of the Mandela family taste and vote on the blends. Of the three whites and three reds in the more affordable Thembu Collection, this Pinotage was the most interesting.

A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, the Pinotage grape was created by a South African professor in 1925 and is regarded as the country’s own variety. The best wines from it have the bright fruity flavors of Pinot Noir as well as the robust, plummy-earthy ones of Cinsaut. Most of the grapes for this House of Mandela version come from the hot, dry Swartland region north of Cape Town, a hotbed of old bush vines and winemaking experimentation.

Mandela, who loved white wines, gave his blessing to the House of Mandela wine enterprise. Which makes this 2012 Thembu Collection Pinotage a worthy drink to celebrate peace on earth this holiday season.

Top composite photo:

Makaziwe Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s daughter, and Tukwini Mandela, her daughter and Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, with the family’s wine. Credit: Elin McCoy