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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Note: All links correct at time of posting.
Feature photo: La Motte, Franschhoek