Getting To Know South African Wines

Getting To Know South African Wines

South Africa has a long history of wine making and it is said that their wines are a combination of New World and Old World styles.

Wine making in South Africa dates back to the 17th century. Cape Town was settled as a resupply point on the voyage from Europe to India. The colonists of the area planted grapes to make wines in order to resupply the ships making the long voyage. They became famous for making a sweet dessert wine called Constantia. 

The wine growing regions of South Africa extend out from Cape Town in the southwestern portion of the country, also known as the Western Cape. This region is generally known for having a warm climate, which is great for producing ripe, full-bodied reds. In areas close to the coast, the ocean breeze helps moderate the temperature and help grapes retain their acidity. It is said that South African wines are a combination of new world and old world styles. The ripe, fruit-forward, full-bodied and high-alcohol characteristics are traditionally associated with a new world style wine. But South African wines also bring crisp acidity and earthy characteristics that are more commonly associated with old world styles.    

Grapes

Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted varietal in South Africa, where it is commonly called “Steen." This French varietal is extremely versatile and adaptable to both warm and cool climates.  It can have light apple and pear flavors in cooler climates, or intense peach and orange flavors in warmer climates. Chenin Blancs are also known for floral aromas and a distinct “wet wool” smell. Coming from a warmer climate, the Wildekrans Estate Chenin Blanc exhibits more of the stone fruit and tropical fruit notes with a bit of honey on the finish. 

Parts of South Africa can be a bit too warm for Chardonnay, but it does well in areas that get the cooling influence from the ocean, areas like Walker Bay and Robertson Valley.  De Wetshof Estate Winery is one of South Africa’s most recognized producers of Chardonnay and is known for bringing Chardonnay to the Robertson Valley region.  Their “Bon Vallon” Chardonnay is an unoaked style (what the South Africans call “unwooded”) that exemplifies the combination of new and old world styles with new world tropical fruit flavors and old world minerality and acidity. 

While you may find Pinotage grown in other areas of the world, it is most closely associated with South Africa. This cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault was created at Stellenbosch University in the early 1900s. Pinotage has a bit of a bad reputation for having aromas of paint, rubber or asphalt, however these aromas can be mitigated with certain winemaking techniques. The Wildekrans Estate Pinotage is made by lightly pressing the grapes in order to not extract too much bitterness from the skins. After fermentation, the wine is barrel aged for 18 months so it can soften.  

Grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot do very well in the warm climate, so it is not uncommon to see Syrah-based or Bordeaux-style blends from this region. The modern-day Klein Constantia Winery is the descendant of the winery associated with the historic sweet Constantia wine which was popular in the 1700s. Today, they make a wine called “Vin De Constance” in honor of that historic wine. They also produce wines from a variety of international grapes including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their Estate Red Blend is a full-bodied blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec.     

 

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