Despite the fact that South African wine is generally thought of as New World, the country has actually been producing wine for more than 350 years. However, it is only since the end of Apartheid in the 1990’s that the South African wine industry has really come into its own.
The heart of South Africa’s wine growing industry is The Cape and three of the country’s five growing regions are located here. Stellenbosch, one of these regions, accounts for a vast proportion of the country’s wine production, in particular, of international grape varieties.
Having said that, a wine search shouldn’t be focused entirely on Stellenbosch. Although the area produces great tasting wines, it’s also a firm favourite on the tourist trail, meaning that you’ll come across some fairly hefty prices compared to other South African wine regions. If you want to be sure that you get maximum value for money from your wine, yet get all the quality and taste of real South Africa, don’t forget to look to the lesser known areas and wine-makers.
Traditionally white grapes have dominated South African wine production. Chenin Blanc, which is more commonly known in South Africa as Steen, accounts for a huge proportion of the wine production. It produces a deliciously crisp dry wine, although it can be used to make some sweeter varieties. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are also popular with South African winemakers.
More recently, demand for South African red wine has taken off, with a number of international varieties, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, all key to this success. In addition, South Africa’s home grown red grape Pinotage, is at the heart of South African wine production. Pinotage was initially slow to gain popularity but has become increasingly sought after as winemakers get to grips with learning how to get the most from it.
Winemaking took off in South Africa when the migrating French Huguenots brought their winemaking skills to the country back in the 17th century. By the early 20th century, these skills had been rolled out across the country, although it could be argued that the quality of the wine being produced at this time was relatively poor. A master cooperative (KWV) was set up in order to help provide stability and supervise all production within the South African wine industry. However, this was privatised following the end of Apartheid. Since then, an exciting new generation of winemakers has been learning skills from other wine-making nations. New capital and training has been invested and winemakers have had more freedom to experiment. The result is the emergence of a generation of wines which rival those from the New World.
Unlike many other nations, wine from South Africa clearly straddles the Old World and New. Thanks to its warm temperate climate, South African wines are blessed with all the fruitiness of New World, yet have the wine growing history and finesse of the Old World.
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Louise Truswell works in and writes about the South African wine industry. To find out more and to browse through a range of South African wines, visit virginwines.com/wine-zone/south-african-wine
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