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South African Wines – Great quality wines in the Cape Winelands near Cape Town

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South Africa’s long tradition of wine making is showcased with crisp white wines and French-style reds throughout the Western Cape

Mountain View Cape Town

Mountain View Cape Town

With the end to Apartheid in 1994, South Africa began to emerge as a world-class wine region.  With a long history of grape growing, dating back to the 17th century, throughout the South African Winelands, winemakers have undergone an ambitious program of vineyard replanting, technology upgrades and a renewed focus on quality improvement that they hope will drive an increase in wine exports. Of course, lucky US wine consumers will be the benefactors of this explosion.

The Mediterranean climate around the prime grape-growing regions near the city of Cape Town, provides an ideal environment for producing quality grapes.  The Benguela Current, a cold current that flows up from Antarctica, also provides a positive influence on the geographical region of South Africa’s  Western Cape.

Some of the top-producing wine-growing regions for South African wines are:

  • Stellenbosch – Known the world over for its dominate red wines, it is also the oldest and most respected region in South Africa
  • Paarl – Located north of Stellenbosch, it is home to many of the “household name” brands exported to the U.S.
  • Constantia – Formerly an area for sweet, fortified wines but now producing dry, white wines
  • Elgin – Situated at a higher altitude above Stellenbosch, making it a good region for Sauvignon Blanc, which prefers a cooling climate
  • Walker Bay – This cool-weather region is ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

South Africa has a wine for all tastes, producing a wide range of styles from dry to sweet (late harvest) and from still to sparkling (Cap Classique). Presently, the country grows 21 red wine varietals and 20 whites.  Some of the key South African reds include:

Touriga Nacional – This grape is indigenous to Portugal and is a key player in the production of Port.

Pinotage – This grape is unique to South Africa.  It is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut.  The result is a wine that is quite complex, fruity and best drunk young. It has a reputation as being a wine you either love or hate.

Carignan – This native of Spain grows quite well in South African soils.  It is a key blending wine with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

Gamay Noir – This light red is typically produced in a Beaujolais style.

Roobernet – This local wine has an atypical grassy characteristic, given that it is a red.    It is commonly used as a blending partner for Pinotage, and is a cross between Cabernet and Pontac.

Some of the more interesting white varietals grown throughout South Africa are:

Bukettraube – This wine has a bouquet similar to Muscat and is produced as a single varietal, a rarity in the wine world.

Cape Riesling  (Crouchen Blanc)– This quality wine has a delicate, fruity bouquet and grassy aromas.

Colombard – It has a pleasing fruity flavor profile along with good acidity, making it an excellent food wine.

Hanepoot (Muscat d’Alexandria) – Fermented to produce a dessert wine, it has a honey flavor.

Chenin Blanc (Steen) – This grape is the most cultivated in the Western Cape.  When I first tried it some years back, it single-handedly turned me back into a white wine drinker.   It is made in a spectrum of styles from sweet to dry, in sparkling and still.  It pairs nicely with seafood, which I love and has a refreshing fruitiness.

Nouvelle – Developed by a professor at the University of Stellenbosch, it is a cross between Semillion and Ugni Blanc.  It resembles Sauvignon Blanc in its grassiness and green pepper flavor profile.

South African Wines of Origin are an interesting mix of Old World and New World wine styles, providing a nice balance of structure and excellent food pairing with careful attention to flavor expression.  I anticipate wines from the South African Cape Winelands to become more readily available as quality continues to improve.

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