This somewhat mystical and widely misunderstood wine region is three times the size of California and has been growing wine grapes since 1655. It's the oldest of what is known as the "New World" wine regions and the wine that they produce is distinctive and has terroir and character all of its own. Consistency throughout the producers is perhaps a bit more jaded in the sense that some producers make a rustic and more "French-style" wine, while others produce a much more modern and ripe style, focused more on fruit expression and extraction.... Read More
This somewhat mystical and widely misunderstood wine region is three times the size of California and has been growing wine grapes since 1655. It's the oldest of what is known as the "New World" wine regions and the wine that they produce is distinctive and has terroir and character all of its own. Consistency throughout the producers is perhaps a bit more jaded in the sense that some producers make a rustic and more "French-style" wine, while others produce a much more modern and ripe style, focused more on fruit expression and extraction.
The majority of South African wine production takes place in the southwestern part of the country, known as the Western Cape. The wines are divided categorically into large geographical areas that are then further divided down into regions, districts, and then into wards. An example would be the famous appellation of Stellenbosch, which is a district within the Coastal Region. The South African system of region delineation is much like that of the US system of American Viticultural Area (AVA). If you were to see a Cabernet Sauvignon that says "Wine origin Stellenbosch" on the label, you can be confident of a few things right away: number one the wine has passed a quality standard taste test, it's made from at least 85% of the stated variety, and 100% of the fruit is from Stellenbosch. Wine producers are not forced to label their bottles with a certain Wine of Origin, however, if they don't then they cannot use a vintage, a grape varietal, or a region on the label.
Great South African grapes and wineries to seek out
One of South Africa's true value wines that offer great complexity and good varietal integrity is Sauvignon Blanc. They are kind of a mix between new world and old world styles. They have the freshness and bright green notes of a New Zealand Sauvignon blank, but they also embody the chalky mineral notes found in Loire's Sancerre. One particular producer to seek out would be South Africa's oldest estate winery known as Groot Constantia. This historical winery has such a record of quality throughout the last couple of centuries that Napoleon, Bismarck, and King Louis Philippe of France all admired the wines from them. The Sauvignon Blanc is particularly spectacular from them and is a wine that has great complexity and exciting aromas of gooseberry, ripe fig, and green pepper.
South Africa is normally known for its Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon. What they don't quite get enough credit for is their Chardonnay and that's normal because a lot of them are mediocre. There is one producer though that makes one of the world's finest Chardonnay's and that's Hamilton Russell. Rich, complex, ribboned in texture, and incredible lazier-like acidity, the Chardonnay from Hamilton Russell ranks with the best produced in the world. They are the most southerly wine estate in the country and thus have a cool climate influenced by the ocean. The 170-acre farm is home to 52 acres of stony, slate filled, and clay-rich soils, which are the ideal soil types for growing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
When mentioning South African wines it's of course incredibly important to take a look at Pinotage. A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, Pinotage produces light red wines that can be stunning when made correctly. While Pinotage has received its fair share of criticism over the years for being a wine that lacks ripeness of fruit and having a slight absence of purity, there are great artisan producers that concentrate their efforts to make a wine with deep complexity and rounder fruit flavours.
Finally, we must mention a rising star in the South African wine industry, the region known as Swartland. This area is making a name for itself for producing wines with Rhone varietals as well as local grape varieties. The Swartland Winery is one of particular note as not only do they produce sublime wines but they don't carry the price tag of other more known areas such as Stellenbosh!
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