South Africa has a long viticultural heritage and can date its first plantings to 1655, with the first wines being produced in 1659.
(4 min. read)
Along with its signature Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, South Africa boasts a wide range of international favourites like Syrah, Cabernet and Chardonnay, making it a go-to destination for approachable, affordable wines. It's home to a vast range of characterful, premium-quality wines that encompass many of the world’s most popular varieties and styles. Winemakers continue to explore and refine their understanding of their unique terroir which, coupled with a widespread commitment to sustainability, has propelled South African wines to the fore of the world stage.
South Africa’s signature red grape, Pinotage, is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault.
A South African specialty, Pinotage can produce lithe Beaujolais-like wines with bright red berry tones or, when sourced from old bush vines, rich, full, spicy wines. Syrah exhibits elegant, rich dark fruit and spicy pepper notes here, with warmer sites reflecting a more overt fruity character. An individual winery’s choice of the type of oak, and how they use it, greatly influences the style. Grenache is ideally suited to warm, dry conditions, and in South Africa it produces wines with ripe berry and spice aromas and flavours. In South Africa, Cabernet Sauvignon is used in blends and as a varietal wine. SA Cabs offer a winning combination of ripe New World fruit and Old World refinement.
First brought to the country in the 1920s and planted in an experimental vineyard at the University of Stellenbosch, Chardonnay didn’t become a part of South Africa’s fine-wine scene until the mid-1980s.
Chardonnay does exceptionally well in cooler coastal sites, and styles run the gamut from light and steely through to rich and buttery. Burgundian-style barrel fermentation and lees stirring create wines with a notably premium character. South Africa is also renowned for its Chenin Blanc, along with other favourites like Sauvignon Blanc. Chenin from cooler sites like Elgin tend to be unoaked and have delicate fruit tones; warmer areas like Stellenbosch produce Chenin with more intense tropical fruit, with some seeing oak. We regularly offer a range of South African white wines in Vintages. Look for them in upcoming releases.
Across South Africa, producers have ardently pursued the implementation of sustainable winemaking practices.
In 1998, South Africa introduced the Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) sustainability initiative and today, over 95% of the country’s growers and wineries have adopted sustainable measures aimed at supporting conservation and protecting and encouraging biodiversity. In 2010, the South African Wine and Spirit Board created a seal that qualifying wines can carry. This seal certifies the authenticity of the wine’s vintage, variety and region and verifies that the wine was produced in accordance with sustainable practices. You can enter the numbers of the seal on your wine at sawis.co.za/sealsearch.php to trace the wine’s origins all the way from the bottle to the vine.
The list of socioeconomic initiatives in South Africa is also impressive and far-reaching and includes, among others, Wine & Agricultural Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA), established in 2002; Wine Training South Africa (WTSA), founded in 2005; and the Pebbles Project, begun in 2004, which focuses on providing education to children and families in the agricultural communities of the Western Cape.
For more information on wine-related sustainability initiatives in South Africa, visit:
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