South Africa Print
 

Introduction to South Africa

Most of Africa is too hot to grow grapes successfully. However, South Africa is position at around 32° latitude (which is the same as the southern coast of Australia and wine growing districts of Chile and Argentina). The Cape (the tip at the south-west of the country) also benefits from cool breezes from the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

Until the 1990s, South Africa was run by a monopoly (KWV) which meant no free trade was allowed. Therefore, the South Africa that we now know is a relatively new wine country. This has enabled South Africa to copy Australia’s shrewd labeling methods (i.e. promoting grape varieties).

There are some straightforward rules regarding labeling:

  • If vintage is displayed on the label: 75% of wine must come from that vintage (85% if sold in EU)
  • If grape variety is displayed on the label: 75% of wine must come from that grape type (85% if sold in EU)
  • If vineyard is displayed on the label: 100% of wine must come from that vineyard if sold in EU.

 

Wine Regions

There is a relatively simple hierarchy of areas (from largest to smallest area):

  • Regions
  • Districts
  • Wards
  • Estates

Please note that not every ward is part of a district; nor is every district part of a region.

Regions

These are the largest area and are split into 5 regions.

  • “Western Cape” is a catch-all region which encompasses all regions. This (similar to Australia’s “South-Eastern Australia) allows blending across multiple regions without falling foul of EU regulations.
  • Breede River Valley is further inland than many other areas, and contains 2 notable districts: Worcester & Robertson.

 

Districts

Districts are smaller than regions – there are 16 districts. The most notable are:

  • Durbanville: benefits from sea breezes and produces good Sauvignon Blancs.
  • Stellenbosch: slightly warmer than other regions because it is further inland (although still relatively near the coast). It is famous for Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends, but also produces other good wines.
  • Paarl: further inland still, and slightly warmer. The main grape here is Shiraz, but some incredible wines are also being produced from Petit Verdot and Malbec.
  • Overberg: famous for containing Walker Bay (known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay).

 

Wards

Wards are smaller than districts and are a group of vineyards. There are around 50 wards. For example:

  • Constantia: the oldest ward in South Africa, but not part of a district. It benefits from ocean breezes and produces excellent Sauvignon Blancs.
  • Walker Bay: a cooler region which produces good Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.

 

Estates

These are single vineyards.

 

Grape Types

Red grapes are by far the most popular grapes grown in South Africa, with Pinotage being a famous native cross.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon: blended with Merlot or used on its own.
  • Merlot: blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or used on its own – produces wines like those from Bordeaux’s Pomerol appellation.
  • Syrah/Shiraz: the wines produced from this grape type vary from Rhone-like Syrahs to Australian Shiraz. They are also referred to as both Syrah and Shiraz.
  • Cinsaut: produces high volume of grapes.
  • Pinotage: a cross between Pinot Noir x Cinsaut. Although a variety of different wines are produced from the grape, it is often full-bodied, with rich, spicy berry flavours. Sometimes, especially in aged versions, you can also find meaty, rubber or banana flavours.
  • Chenin Blanc: the most grown white (20% of total vines grown). Also known as “Steen”.
  • Chardonnay: grown in various places and producing some very good wines.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: successful in a range of styles – from light & crispy, to full-bodied and oaky.
  • Muscat of Alexandria: some marvelous dessert wines made from this grape, which is known as “Hanepoot” in South Africa.