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The Best Big Wines for Big Game Vacations

The Best Big Wines for Big Game Vacations

A South African wine pairs exquisitely with a South African safari (Photo: Ewan/Flickr)

While on safari in South Africa, your days will look something like this: game drive, eat, drink, repeat. The most important part of the day is obviously the game drive, during which you will hopefully find South Africa’s Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros, and buffalo). However, don’t overlook the other activities, especially the drinking. South Africa is a country known for its delicious wines, and between sundowners, dinner, high tea, downtime, and nightcaps, there will be plenty of opportunities while on safari to sample the country’s best vino.

To help you find the best South African wines to enjoy in the bush, we’ve consulted with Clive Vollenhoven, the sommelier at Madikwe Safari Lodge, to come up with The Big Five Wines. Here’s what you need to know about South Africa’s Big Five Wines and what Big Five animals they pair well with — in terms of viewing, not eating!

Elephant: Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2009


(Photos: Carlos Reis/Flickr & Thelma mountain vineyards)

For the largest animal in South Africa, you must find a wine that is equally grand, which is why Clive recommends a Cabernet Sauvignon. Just as the elephant can overpower smaller animals, Cabernet Sauvignon has the power to overwhelm lighter foods. With strong flavors of ripe black currant and coffee, Thelema’s Cabernet Sauvignon has a strong and firm finish. Plus, the elephant is one of the most social animals out there, and after a good glass of this wine, you may be feeling just as social.

Related: A Practical Guide to Being an International Wine Snob

Rhinoceros: Knorhoek Cabernet Franc 2012


(Photos: Thiago Santos/Flickr & SA Wines Online )

While the rhinoceros is not as large as the elephant, it’s just as powerful. In the same way, Cabernet Franc is just as powerful as a Cabernet Sauvignon even though it is not as full-bodied. The rhino is one of the oldest animals you will find on the planet, dating back to prehistoric times, and Knorhoek is one of the oldest in South Africa, making this pair ripe with age.

Buffalo: Ronnie Melck Shiraz 2011


(Photos: Ray Muzyka/Flickr & Muratie)

The buffalo might be the most dangerous animal in the bush because of its moodiness. You never know what to expect with a buffalo, just like with a Shiraz. It’s difficult to predict the taste of a Shiraz; it is spicy and temperamental like our moody friend the buffalo. While Muratie’s Ronnie Melck Shiraz 2011 is not as overwhelming as a Franc or Sauvignon, it is still a big-bodied wine with great potential, says Clive, which is exactly how people describe the buffalo. He may not be as big as the lion and elephant, but he should not be underestimated.

Related: Welcome to the Jungle: The Safaris You Want to Do Now

Lion: Morgenhof Estate Merlot 2010


(Photos: Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr & Morgenhof Estate Merlot) 

Believe it or not, the lion is a pretty lazy and slow animal. Yes, he’s the king of the jungle and can take on any animal, but unless he’s provoked, he’s pretty docile. “The Morgenhof Estate Merlot is like the lion, as it is a lazy, slow-going wine but still stands its ground with strong foods like meat dishes,” Clive notes. 

Related: Not Just for Jeeps: Out-of-the-Ordinary Safaris in India

Leopard: Altydgedacht Wines Pinotage 2011


(Photos: Peter Steward/Flickr & Altydgedacht)

One of the hardest animals to spot while on safari, the leopard is known as a sleek and sexy animal that will stealthily stalk its prey before pouncing. The Altydgedacht Pinotage matches up with the leopard as the Pinotage is equally hard to find, especially outside of South Africa, but when do you find it, it’s glorious. The Pinotage’s entry on the palate is silky, with elegant soft tanning rounding off the wine, complementing the leopard’s demeanor.

Maggie Parker is a New York-based journalist specializing in travel and entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @maggie_wp

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