If you flick through SuperSport this weekend, you’ll find amongst the blur of football what could almost be a travel show, as a golf tournament does its best to compete with white beaches and turquoise waters for the attention of the cameras. After last week’s four-day safari that was the Alfred Dunhill Championship, and regular diversions to the adjacent Kruger National Park, the European and Sunshine Tours find themselves in Mauritius – an island that has enchanted me for over 20 years.
My first visit was in university, to visit a best mate who was Mauritian, and conveniently had a home just outside of Grand Baie. Cue rum-fuelled memories of misadventure and instant love of the country. With Creole-inspired cooking, a reef protecting the warm, calm sea, and an easy approach to life, it’s hard not to fall for the charm of Mauritius. And so I’ve been going back ever since, on holiday, or as was the case this week, for a couple of speaking engagements.
The AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open has become the country’s marquee sporting event, showcasing the Indian Ocean paradise to millions of people around the world, and bringing some of the world’s best golfers to a tournament that this week plays out at the splendid Heritage Resort. Ernie Els is not one of those golfers, but the iconic South African does have a presence at the tournament: his wine is an official partner of the event and was flowing freely on Tuesday night as the week’s festivities got underway.
For a country with strong Francophone roots, it’s no surprise that wine plays a big role in life on the island, and French wine abounds in restaurants and supermarkets. But the proximity of South Africa, coupled with the large number of South Africans who now call Mauritius home (pockets of Afrikaans interspersed the French and English spoken on Tuesday evening), makes Mauritius an important market for our wine – albeit a challenging one.
Once you’ve done the math on the cost of a bottle, you’ll work out pretty quickly that you’re going to pay a lot more in rupees than what you’d pay in rand. Imported alcohol is subjected to a hefty tax rate in Mauritius, and once the duties have been added to export costs, and hotel or resort mark-ups applied, your easy-drinking mid-week red suddenly becomes a considerable indulgence.
But the key advantage that South African wine does have (other than homesick expatriates wanting a taste of Stellenbosch) is quality. Whether it’s the entry-level fare or the more expensive wine, we offer better and better wine with every passing year, and while a degree of French bias certainly still exists, Mauritians – and Mauritian hotels, resorts and restaurants – appear to be well-aware of the standard of wine we offer.
And so Heritage offers chardonnay from Ataraxia and Bouchard Finlayson, and Hamilton Russell pinot noir – the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley giving Burgundy some polished African competition. And thanks to the Ernie Els Wines partnership, supplemented by the bubbles of Graham Beck, the South African industry will enhance its presence in Mauritius this week. Louis Strydom is one of our finest winemakers, and his range will ensure more converts to South African wine over the tournament.
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WHAT I’M DRINKING THIS WEEK: Adventurer Ron Rutland returned to South Africa last week after his celebrated cycle from London to Tokyo for the Rugby World Cup; we marked the occasion with dinner and some excellent wine, headlined by Normandie’s cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend. If a big, strong, unapologetically robust red blend is your ideal bottle, then this one’s for you. It has a lovely balance with some beautiful dark fruit – perfectly suited to a smiling vegan who’s ridden a bicycle for 20 000 kilometres for charity, and is delighted to be out of the saddle and back home. That Ron ordered a second bottle for dessert confirms just how much he liked it…