Wines to Try That Embody the Spirit of South Africa

South Africa has a long wine-making history (they’ve been making wine for over 350 years), and since apartheid ended, the wine industry has worked hard to produce quality wines and forge an international reputation.

Most of the vineyards in South Africa are in the Western Cape, and Stellenbosch, which is just outside Cape Town, is the most well-known region.

Cape Town as seen from the V&A Waterfront dining and shopping precinct

South Africa is a land of contrasts. Cape Town’s Table Mountain is a marvellous sight and the shanty towns stretch for miles along the highway to Stellenbosch where there are gated communities and electric fences around luxury houses. At the wineries, the tasting-room decor is opulent and the staff are welcoming and hospitable (for a small tasting fee).

Ernie Els’s winery showed South African hospitality at its best

It was around Stellenbosch, as well as further east in Franschhoek, where I felt the true spirit of South Africa. That spirit ran through the imposing mountains and the plains, was carried in the ocean air, and emanated from the baby baboons playing in the trees. I experienced this spirit as something ingenious, open, powerful, rich, and vast, and the South African wines I liked, which I outline below, best embodied that spirit.

Baboon on the Western Cape
Baboon on the Western Cape

Pinotage is a black grape variety developed in South Africa from the crossing of the French varieties of Pinot Noir and Cinsault. It is made in various styles, but the rich, spicy, meaty, full-bodied type is my favourite. Some Pinotages to try might include Spier’s 21 Gables Pinotage and Neethlingshof’s Owl Post Pinotage, among others.

South Africa also produces sparkling wines and the first wine house to focus production on sparkling wines was the house of J.C Le Roux. J.C. Le Roux’s sparkling wines vary from fun and fresh to the more sophisticated sparkling wines made using the traditional method, called Méthode Cap Classique in South Africa.

Rust en Vred Restaurant

International varieties, such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot are also grown, and make some exquisite red wines. The wines of Rust en Vrede (a winery that only produces reds) are all good and they are either single varietal wines of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot, or blends of these.

Chenin Blanc is also widely planted in South Africa, but in terms of whites, I think Sauvignon Blanc better encapsulates the spirit of South Africa. Try Sauvignon Blanc from La Motte and Groot Constantia (which is the oldest wine-producing estate in the country), among others.

The stunning landscape of South Africa’s Western Cape

Note: All links correct at time of posting.

Feature photo: La Motte, Franschhoek

More about Christina

I am a psychology scholar interested in what makes life both pleasurable and meaningful. I suppose I am an epicurean in the sense that I like good food and wine; but, like the philosopher Epicurus, who actually advocated for tranquility, my international wine and food adventures are more about finding peace than anything else. They are about connecting with others, connecting with the earth, and practising self-compassion. My favourite grape variety is Nebbiolo, I love the way poetry expresses our common humanity, and I believe it's possible to find love in each micro-moment of life. So perhaps it was inevitable I would create this site called Falling in Wine.

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