The essential guide to South African wine

Ten years ago, the South African wine was on the bottom shelves, and people rarely looked for them. Nowadays, they are emerging in the wine market with wines that can be only described through superlatives. Even though South Africa falls in the new world type of region for wines, it has somewhat long tradition in making wines, with the first grapes dating from 1655. Amusingly, according to  historical records at the time Europe was originally appalled by the sweet wines of Constantia.

Nowadays, the typical South African wine smells of ripe and feature notes of earthy flavors. Due to the climate, South African red grapes get thoroughly ripened before being harvested and due to this they exhibit the quality of being low in alcohol. The ones that are grown in the Western Cape are exposed to cool ocean breeze that keeps the bright acidity of wines, which makes the wines produced from this region to be food-friendly and fresh.

South Africa Wine
South Africa Wine is as incredible as the surroundings and growing climate – if you know how to spot a great one!

South African wine labeling

Most of the wines in South Africa are produced in the south-western region – known as the Western Cape. Each wine falls into a geographical area that is furthermore broken down in the distinct

Regions and districts.

South Africa follows a system known as Wines of Origin (WoO), based on the American (AVA) system. For an example, a bottle of Chenin Blanc with a label that says “Wine of Origin – Stellenbosch”, you immediately know some things about it:

  • First the region from where it is, in this case, Stellenbosch.
  • It is made from Chenin Blanc (at least 85% of it)
  • It has passed a taste test by the classifying committee

Producers are not obligated to label their bottles with “wine of origin”. But, if they don’t, they won’t be allowed to put the region from where it comes, that is vintage and the grape variety. Because of that most serious producers decide to the “wine of origin” label in order to claim the prestige of their area.

Popular South African wine grapes

The Cabernet Sauvignon and the Chenin Blanc are the two most famous wine grapes in South Africa. Other than them South Africa is the home of Syrah, Pinotage, Merlot, Colombard and even Chardonnay. Some vineyards grow other wines as well, but the ones mentioned cover the vast majority (more than 85%) of the wine landscape in South Africa.

South Africa wine regions

The principal wine regions in South Africa are Stellenbosch, Walker Bay, Swartland, Tulbagh, Bot River, and Paarl. There are other smaller wine regions, but these cover a significant percentage of the South African wine territory. Each area has its particular terroir which creates a wide pallet of diverse wines. Regarding diversity and different flavors, South Africa is head to head with Europe and other regions in the Old World.

Food pairing

Most wines from South Africa are known to be highly aromatic and rustic. That makes them great for pairing with all sorts of flavourful dishes. If you want to make the most of them, you need to pair them with some African dishes such as Bobotie, Boerewors casserole, and Chakalaka.

Final words

Wines from South Africa are no more inferior to wines from everywhere else. In the last ten years, much is changed. They have started making wines with quality that is recognized both in Europe and worldwide. Experts predict that much of that growth will continue and their wines will be more and more present on the markets. Also, there is a growing impression that a new generation of winegrowers and winemakers are the ones that are responsible for the expanse we are seeing. If they keep up to be dedicated as they were so far, more great wines are expected to come from that part of the world – we can’t wait to see how the next decade pans out.