South African Wines

There was a time whenSouth African wines barely reached the bottom of grocery store shelves. Most of the wine produced in the country was directly distilled into brandy. Today, the story is changing because South African wines are some of the finest wines produced in the world. Having almost no indigenous grape varieties (with the exception of one!), in opposition to Italy or Portugal, South Africa has always mainly used grape varieties of French origin. Most of its regions are located near the coast and the Cape , and benefit from the refreshing influence of the Southern Ocean . This situation, combined with the presence of very high mountains in the background, generates conditions allowing the production of a wide range of wines.

In order to have a clearer vision of the different wines of this country, we will treat them by grape varieties or, if you prefer, by grape varieties.

Cabernet Sauvignon

South African Cabernet Sauvignon has a flavorful complexity and plenty of power, making it a delicious alternative to Bordeaux wines. Imagine black pepper , roasted pepper coupled with red berries, blackberry and plum . You will find magnificent examples in the regions of Paarl, Stellenbosch or Franschhoek. It can also be blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Syrah

Very different from what we know from the Rhône Valley, South African Syrah is becoming popular because of its flavors of spicy dark fruits and dark cherries with a chocolate-like richness. Since it grows throughout South Africa, it has a wide range of styles. You will find finer, more elegant wines from cooler regions such as Paarl and richer, more intense wines from dry regions such as Swartland.

Pinotage

Here is the famous indigenous and emblematic South African grape variety. Pinotage , a South African red grape variety created in 1925, is a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir. The name Pinotage is a bit misleading because it closely resembles Pinot Noir. It would be easy to assume that they taste similar but that is not the case. In fact, this South African grape is more like Syrah, although Pinotage is technically related to Pinot Noir. It offers raspberry and blueberry flavors coupled with spicy chocolate and tobacco . The wines are much denser, more alcoholic and smoother than Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir

Less suited to the hot South African climate, Pinot Noir is planted in small quantities on coastal sites where it is cooler, where it can ripen quietly and fully express its varietal aromas. The result is a multitude of great wines whose quality impresses wine lovers around the world. The vast majority of high-end reds are aged in wood (partly in new barrels) which gives them aromas of toasted bread and spices.

Chenin Blanc

Also called “ Steen ”, it is the most widespread grape variety in the country, red and white combined. Producers today are taking better advantage of its versatility and creating great wines, both dry and sweet. The simplest versions are easy-drinking wines with stone fruit flavors. However, more and more producers (e.g. Domaine Alheit ) are today turning to old vines pruned in goblet form, allowing them to obtain more concentrated and complex flavors. The use of oak is not automatic but gives more body as well as aromas of toasted bread.

Sauvignon Blanc

This grape variety is also very widespread because it is produced in a wide variety of styles. The best ones come from the coolest regions and offer very pure flavors of citrus , fresh herbs and seafood (like Southern Right - Sauvignon Blanc ). In warmer areas, it will be imperative to pick the grapes earlier to ensure relatively high acidity, and therefore freshness for the wine.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is capable of producing wines of exceptional quality, particularly in the freshest sites. Vinified using Burgundian techniques (fermentation in barrels and stirring), it produces great wines with character and complexity. It is also found in a style aged in stainless steel vats, which produces wines with fruit and freshness.

Muscat of Alexandria

It is also locally called Hanepoot but is not as widespread as other grape varieties. It is used to make sweet wines for dessert from grapes dried on the vine and affected by noble rot (like Sauternes). He is at the origin of one of the greatest sweet wines in the world: Le Vin de Constance.

Constance wine (e.g. Grand Constance de Groot Constantia ) is undoubtedly one of the most unknown legendary wines in the world. At the time it was considered among the best wines produced. Napoleon Bonaparte consumed it every day to relieve his loneliness during his exile on the island of Saint-Hélène. The history of this legendary wine dates back to the 17th century when Simon Van der Stel, second governor of the Cape, established his own vineyard. The result is a sumptuous sweet wine with a golden and dense color, a nose marked by aromas of pine and smoke, with impressive length.

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