South African Wine
South Africa has a long history of vineyards going back to the 1600s but it really made its mark on international drinkers from the 1980s onwards. It now boasts one of the most dynamic wine scenes in the world, driven by small independent winemakers untethered to tradition, creating exciting wines with a great emphasis on sustainability and fairtrade practices.
Key Wine Regions
Nearly all the wine is produced in the Western Cape. The key areas are Stellenbosch, where ancient soils in plains beneath granite mountains offer the best sites, cooled by the ocean breeze from the Atlantic. The region is best known for producing full-bodied Cabernet Merlot blends and rich Chardonnays and Chenin Blancs, but also offers some good Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.
There are cooler microclimates like in Elgin, which produces some fresh Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The hottest region is Paarl where you'll find very ripe, fruit-forward examples of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Syrah.
Swartland is another notable region, where a focus on old bush vines and lesser known grapes like Cinsault makes for some of the country's most unique wines.
Key grape varieties:
Pinotage - A cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage (South African term for Cinsault), this grape can have fruit flavours of strawberry and plum. It is often smoky with a slight tar note and makes juicy easy-drinking reds and richer full bodied wines, depending on how it is handled.
Chenin Blanc - a widely planted grape that is referred to as 'steen.' It produces wines with flavours of melon, lemon and some tropical hints and herby characters. It can be fresh and fruity or stand up to barrel-ageing, where it develops waxier, honeyed notes over time.