Last night at dusk I slipped into Xai Xai on West 51st–a dim lit wood centric South African wine bar. At six, the small bar was nearly full, but the tables were empty. I sat by the window without a draft, in warm light that was readily absorbed by a dark slate floor. With brick and textured walls, high ceilings, wood rafters, enchanting tunes, and beautiful cypress logs- ancient and stripped of bark-as columns on the floor, the space was a warm reprieve from the midtown autumn chill outdoors.
Within an hour every seat was filled and Farrel and I were poilshing off a pinotage–a South African varietal created in 1925, from a cross between pinot noir and cinsaut. Served in an elegant 250 ml decanter aside a large bowled glass, the False Bay Pinotage, 2006, is an inky, deep garnet colored wine. Possessing black fruit and tar on the nose, the notes on this medium bodied wine turned to black cherry, plum, chocolate, and spice. A medium acidity gave way to some tannins, yielding a silky texture that felt soft but structured in the mouth.
The menu offers 25 white wines by the glass, including Sparkling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Voignier, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Rosé, at $11-$18 per (250 ml) glass. The reds ($11-$20) include Pinotage, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and a handful of others–from such places as Western Cape and Stellenbosch. For snacking, there are twelve small plates–Bunny Chow, Biltong Bruchetta, Ostrich Tatar, and cheese.
Having heard a few good things about Cabernet Sauvignons from South Africa, I opted for the Stark Conde, 2005, from Stellenbosch ($18/$54 bottle). Garnet colored with an earthy bouquet of wet leaves and spice, this pleasantly tannic cabernet was smooth with notes of leather and dark berry fruit.
The service was excellent, as is the attention to detail–the glassware, serving platters, woodwork, and light. It’s a welcomed addition to the neighborhood, one on which the word has long been out.
[Where: Xai Xai, 369 West 51st Street, New York, NY 10019]