South Africa is known for being one of the “New World” winemaking countries but it has a longer winemaking history than we might think, dating back more than 300 years. There is no doubt that this African country has significant oenological potential and for some time now, South African wines have been some of the most sought after and best value.
Let’s find out how South Africa became a new discovery, making wines that are getting more and more popular around the world and gaining new followers every day.
A bit of history
South Africa is the oldest winemaking country in what we know as “The New World”. The first vines were planted in 1654 in Cape Town and served mainly to supply the Dutch East India Company. In this African country, vine cultivation was mainly for the purposes of making distillates like brandy until Simon Van der Stel, the first governor of Cape Town, decided to plant vineyards on his land, which he named Stellenbosch, which literally means “the Van der Stel forest” in order to produce better quality wine.
So South African wine started to gain a better reputation and spread throughout the world until Apartheid policies limited and stifled the wine sector as well. Then when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, South Africa began opening up to the world again. The country went through an intense revolution that made it possible to open borders and lift trade barriers to make its great wines known all over the world.
In South Africa, wines are regulated by the Wine of Origin (WO) system which sets out the different production areas that are divided into Regions, Districts and Wards. The Coastal Region stands out as one of the most important in South Africa, a region that also includes the well-known Cape Town Districts like Stellenbosch, Swartland, Paarl and the District of Constantia. The latter is home to Klein Constantia, the most legendary winery in South Africa and the birthplace of the historic Vin de Constance, a sweet wine made with the Hanepoot variety (Muscat of Alexandria) and dating back to 1685.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc, the most cultivated varieties
The characteristics of the Cabernet Sauvignon red variety that grows in South Africa lie between the characteristics California’s Cabernet Sauvignon wines and the renowned Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Bordeaux. South African Cabernet Sauvignon wines are flavoursome, complex and fruity, making an excellent bridge between old world and new world Cabernets.
The name, Boekenhoutsklof (Boekenhout ravine), which is difficult to pronounce, is completely different to the result: a concentrated, extraordinarily full and rounded Cabernet Sauvignon with a perfect balance between acidity and fruit and almost endless pleasure. That is what Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon is like. It is made with a very gentle vinification that produces this elegant and subtle example of what new world Cabernet Sauvignons can be at their best. Extraordinary!
The Chenin Blanc grape, known locally as Steen, has been widely used for the production of brandy. It is a very versatile variety, so winemakers have decided to take advantage of its qualities and make sweet and dry white wines in the style of the renowned Loire Valley wines from France. The Chenin variety is floral, with peach notes and when fermented or aged in wood it produces wines with more body and toasted notes.
Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc is a little gem made with South Africa’s quintessential white variety. And we say that it is a gem because it provides the perfect opportunity to get to know South African white wines through an ecological, wood-fermented wine that is aged under lees. This is an aromatic and profiled wine with a vibrant acidity that is worth much more than it costs. Not to be missed!
Pinotage, the native variety
This variety is a cross between the Pinot Noir and Cinsault varieties but it has its own personality and characteristics that are completely different to Pinot Noir, its closest relative.
The wines it produces tend to be more dense and have a higher alcohol content than those made with Pinot Noir. They offer juicy flavours and aromas of raspberries, blueberries, chocolate, tobacco and spices. It is common to find it in coupages with other grapes.
Pinotage is such an interesting variety that it continues to be explored to better understand its unique potential.
This is the perfect red wine to start exploring the virtues of the Pinotage grape. Robertson Winery Pinotage is made in a style that makes it very easy to drink, it has a light barrel aging, so wood and fruit are perfectly balanced and there are flavours of strawberries, plums and ripe cherries. This red wine is also excellent value for money.
The Syrah variety and its “greatest hits”
This grape grows very successfully in South Africa. Syrah wines made here have flavours of spicy black fruits with nuances very similar to chocolate. This variety has a wide range of styles depending on where it is grown: the tastiest wines are made in colder regions like Stellenbosch or Paarl and the more intense reds come from drier regions like Robertson and Swartland.
Although The Chocolate Block is not a single-variety Syrah red wine, it is one of the greatest hits that is made mostly using this variety in a coupage that varies depending on the vintage and includes grapes like Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault or even the Viognier white variety. The Chocolate Block is now South Africa’s most sought after wine. Concentrated, tasty, sensual and with an exquisite liquorice and chocolate finish. Pure rock and roll!
What about you? Do you already have a favourite South African wine? This is just a small selection of what this great winemaking country has to offer. If you want to continue your wine journey, take a look at the Decántalo catalogue and enjoy some South African wine from the comfort of your own home.