A Beginner’s Guide to South African Wine
South Africa is extremely busy making really great wine! Let’s get caught up, shall we?
Grapes were first planted in 1655 and soon after, the sweet wines of Constantia (which is near Cape Town) were lauded all over Europe. Due to their generally warm climate, South African red grapes boast distinctive ripe & silky fruit all while offering hints of earthiness as well.
If you are looking for a popular grape to start off with – Sauvignon Blanc will give you great value from excellent producers. Wine which reminds you of an afternoon picnic, quenching your thirst through fresh hints of flower and chalky minerals that might remind you of Sancerre. When thinking South Africa, one is reminded of a special grape from found in the 60s – Chenin Blanc, the same grape that made French regions like Vouvray and Savennières famous. If you like Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc, then we highly recommend you give this grape a try. South African examples are usually quite dry or made with just a little touch of sweetness that enhances its yellow apple and jasmine scent.
Here is a list of notable – must try grapes, along with examples which can be purchased at our Gosling store locations.
Pinotage: Pinotage holds a special place in local hearts, because it is the only grape that is unique to South Africa. It was invented at Stellenbosch University in 1925. It is a hybrid of pinot noir and cinsault. Pinotage is a bold and complex wine with a deep red color. Depending on the age of the wine, you may taste notes of red berries, spice, and chocolate or coffee.
Cabernet sauvignon: Many estates in Cape Town make great cab sav. It is a darker, deeper red than pinotage and often has a more complex flavor. It has bold tannins, and you’ll often pick up black fruits, along with peppery notes and even a tobacco flavor.
Merlot: This is a little softer on the palate than cab sav. It has gentle tannins, and loads of delicious fruity flavors. It used to be mostly used in blends, but you’ll find 100% merlot at a lot of estates these days.
Shiraz/syrah: Most South African producers call this wine shiraz, but it’s the same thing as syrah. It’s quite a versatile grape, so the wines vary from place to place. It’s a rich, deep wine with a distinct spiciness, and often a nice chocolate/coffee finish.
Cape Blend: This is, as the name dictates, a blend of different types of grape. It is local to the Western Cape region. It has to have at least 30% pinotage to be a Cape Blend. Other grapes used include merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, Shiraz, or other less common varietals.
Sauvignon blanc: South African sauvignon blanc is world famous. It’s light and crisp, with that distinctive summery acidity that makes it the perfect drink on a sunny day.
Chenin Blanc: Chenin is another great wine to sip on a sunny day. It usually has some wood contact, giving it more complexity than a sauv blanc, but it isn’t as rich as a chardonnay. It’s often a great food wine.
The Big Easy Chenin Blanc is loaded with ripe mandarin and lime on the nose, leading to notes of early spring jasmine and cling peaches. The tropical palate is richly textured with hints of wild herbs and Indian spice, adding complexity and good depth. Price: $18.00
One of the genuine South African 'First Growth' estates, Jean Englebrecht's Rust en Vrede . This is like Cru Classé Bordeaux with added power and intensity, yet still the potential for ageing can clearly be seen in the wines structure and purity of fruit. Price: $33.50
Golden Kaan Sauvignon Blanc, this is a fresh and vibrant Sauvignon Blanc. Gooseberry and tropical nuances on the nose are followed by a crisp, clean palate with a long and zesty finish. This is surely one of the best Golden Kaan Sauvignon Blancs produced in recent years. Price: $19.40