The first two selections this week are both good values from South Africa, a country that is collectively making better wine every year. This probably surprises many of you because I have not been an advocate before for many wines from this country but as is becoming apparent in my tastings, the wine world is rapidly expanding. This is a phenomenon that is not just limited to South Africa, but we have recently been very impressed with wines from Bulgaria, Lebanon and Portugal, all of which you will probably see as weekly features in the months to come. What is behind this transilience is the free flow of information between winemakers and an understanding in many countries that wine is a much more profitable agricultural product than traditional farming. Of course there are always requirements for growing good quality grapes that do not occur in all countries but don’t feel limited to drinking wine only from countries you know. Within 20 years I predict you will be drinking a lot of wine from places that are just now entering the game.2011 Excelsior Chardonnay ($10)2009 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon ($10)I was looking for a new “party wine” and to my surprise these stood out in a relatively crowded field. What’s cool about them is that they come from a family owned farm in South Africa and are produced only from grapes grown on their estate. The De Wet family traces their ownership back to the colonial period of SA but the current family has divided the estate, in what I am told is an ugly split. One half of the estate makes their wine under the Excelsior brand, the other side under a different label. I met Freddie De Wet of Excelsior a couple of years ago and he still harbors a good deal of resentment towards his brother. (Sad how money divides families.)The Chardonnay is from their three best blocks and is Robertson appellation. The growing conditions in this are are cool, often compared to Carneros, and is still heavily planted to fruit trees like apples and pears. Seventy-five percent of this Chardonnay was fermented and aged in tank on it’s lees, the remaining quarter in French oak barrels (all neutral) on lees too. The result is a wine that shows an exotic, orange marmalade, lemon curd, magnolia blossom and pastry cream aroma and nicely focused fruit on the palate. Although not technically “un-wooded” this one is more minerally and Chablis-like, a killer value for anyone looking for a wine to compliment seafood or light, creamy cheeses.Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon is surprisingly good, not only because it is inexpensive but also because it is South African! The fruit for this wine is hand harvested and was fermented in stainless steel tanks. Once dry, forty percent of the wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels for nine months.I was impressed with this wine’s color and the nose is a charming combination of raspberry and blackberry jams, some fresh blueberry, toasted wheat bread, French roast coffee beans and black peppercorns. The feel in the mouth is surprisingly forward and bright, more fresh fruit than jammy, with good length, soft tannins and low acidity. If you gave me this wine blind there is no way I would put it into South Africa.2009 Isenhower Last Straw Red BlendReg. $24LAST CHANCE $19For the past couple of years this has been one of our more successful blends so the distributor gave us a little deal to help clean up the last of the 2009 before the 2010 arrives later this month. Unlike prior bottlings where Brett Isenhower used Last Straw for a vehicle to sell his press wine, the 2009 was made from young vines not deemed ready for the $35 level. As a result this wine is a much more normal blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petite Verdot and 5% Merlot, all grown in their estate Walla Walla Vineyard.When you pour a glass the first thing that will grab you is the sweet caramel and espresso notes, complimented by hints of cooked black cherries, dried red plums, black currant jam and black peppercorns. Take a sip and you will get hit with a wave of dense, black fruits framed by soft and integrated wood tannins, that persist into the finish. Good now, this wine will age nicely for three to five years. Serve with a big, thick T-Bone or grilled pork tenderloin.