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The Chocolate Block
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Queen Bee Viognier
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Morrisons The Best Chenin Blanc
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Lobster Shack Chardonnay Viognier Chenin Blan...
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Journeys End Bluegum Merlot
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Honey Drop Chardonnay, South Africa
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Three Gables Winemaker's Reserve Chenin Blanc
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Billy Bosch Pinotage Shiraz
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Lobster Shack Sauvignon Blanc
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Billy Bosch Highwire Chenin Blanc
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Graham Beck Brut NV
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The Escapist Sauvignon Blanc
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Excelsior Heritage Reserve Viognier
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Kumala Reserve Malbec
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About South African Wines

‘The most beautiful vineyard locations in the world, glorious stunning backdrops and breath taking sunsets, all this and the crafting of great wines’ - only historical isolation has stood in the way the of the much deserved success of the wines of South Africa.’

South African Vineyard with Mountain on the Back

South Africa has undergone a seismic change in terms of its wine industry, in the last 20 years, emerging from years of international isolation, through the years of apartheid. One of the most spectacular wine regions in the world, it is considered a New World country, yet its wine history dates back over 350 years to the 17th century and the Dutch East India Company, who planted grapes near Table Mountain.

Interestingly, in terms of style, South African wines often fit somewhere between New and Old World styles, with some Sauvignons that veer towards the classic French Loire style, and reds, which are also more European in character.

South Africa has been playing catch up with its other New World counterparts for years now, and has established itself as a key player on the international market, now accounting for 8% of all wine sales in the UK. It’s now the 7th largest wine producer in the world, and takes the number 6 position in terms of sales in the UK, which remains its most important export market.

South Africa’s average price point is the lowest of all the New World countries, but with the Rand strengthening in 2010, sales dropped back, as prices in the UK rose. This has now settled and sales are growing again, with a weaker Rand and stable prices, an advantage over some of the country’s wine competitors.

The Country And Its Recent Wine History

Western Cape Vineyard under the Mountain in the Sun

When the floodgates were opened, back in 1994, a tidal wave of support for South African wine hit the UK; the wines were new, more importantly, they were great value… and still are. In the early days, labour and land were cheap in South Africa, and lots of inexpensive Chenin and Pinotage flooded the market.

Over time, the reputation and quality of South African wine in the UK has grown, as the market has developed, and as the South African wine industry has regrouped, and focussed on quality development both in its vineyards and in the winery. One of the biggest problems in this development period has been the disease and viruses carried by many of the vines, which resulted in very vegetal, green, and sappy styles of red wine.

The pace of progress has been impressive, with new wineries, new plantings, the ripping up of diseased vines, new producers, new styles of winegrowing and winemaking. This is a nation, which takes pride in its heritage, but approaches its industry in a very forward thinking way. Over 40% of the vineyards have been replanted in the last 15 years, with a focus on red varieties, although new white varieties have been planted across the cooler regions.

There are now approximately 4000 vineyard owners, across the Cape, covering about 100,000 ha of land. Back in 1994 over 80% of wine production was white, predominantly from the ‘Steen’ grape, better known as Chenin blanc; fast forward to 2013, and that ratio has reduced with red wine now accounting for 44% and white 56%. Exports have quadrupled from 100 million litres in 1996 to over 400 million in 2013.

Following on from the stranglehold of the KWV Cooperative during the Apartheid years, producers, co-operatives and estate owners have built an exciting new industry, across many sub-regions of the Cape. With investment and a willingness to learn, they have embraced new techniques, replanted and have brought a whole range of new grape varieties to the international market.

Over the years, more and more sub regions have come to the fore, with different soils, and climatic variations, which provide a unique quality to the wines grown in each area. After 15 years of free trading ,and re emergence onto the international stage, South Africa has come into its own as a wine nation, knows what it does well, and what it needs to do better, and is swiftly developing regional variations and styles of wine, based on best grapes and winegrowing practices for each particular microclimate and soil types.

The most exciting element of watching the transition and growth is the enthusiasm, innovation and total commitment from so many of the winemakers and producers to make their wines as good as they can possibly be, and then push the boundaries further.

Biodiversity and sustainable winemaking are two of the key pillars of the South African wine industry. Most of the vineyards are located in one of the richest areas for flora and fauna in the world, known as the Cape Floral Kingdom, with over 10,000 different species of plants, 70% of them unique to the region. The majority of South African producers are now committed to a programme of sustainable wineproduction and winemaking, conserving the land and protecting the environment.

The Cape also has the perfect climate for vine growing; at the southernmost tip of the African continent, the wine regions enjoy an almost Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers, and cool, wet winters. The scenic beauty of the mountain ranges and protected valleys offer the perfect environment, whilst the proximity to both the Atlantic and the Indian oceans, and the cool sea breezes provide the ideal conditions for the ripening of the grapes. The hot sun ripens the grapes, whilst the cool sea breezes, and colder nights ensure that the acidity levels are maintained in the grapes, and a longer ripening period , especially for the reds.

South African Wine Regions

All the wine growing regions of South Africa are in the southern tip of the country, spreading across about 250 miles, east and north of Cape Town, staying relatively close to the coast. The most coastal, and maritime-influenced regions lay claim to some of the best Sauvignon blanc and Pinot Noir wines, whilst Stellenbosch is known for some of the best reds in the country; further inland, the warmer, mountain enclosed areas of Robertson and Worcester are producing some great Chardonnay, Chenin and Viognier, as well as rich, sumptuous reds, whilst inland Swartland is showing some great Shiraz and Rhone style wines.

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What Wine Grapes Are Grown In South Africa?

Chenin blanc dominated wine production until 15 years ago, with South Africa’s unique and indigenous red grape Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault), the mainstay of the reds, which only accounted for around 15% of production.

Today, most of the international varieties are present, and are grown in specific areas, which are best for their individual styles.

Below is our guide as well as some food and wine matching tips so you can get the most of these beautiful wines;

South African Chenin Blanc

The most widely planted grape variety in South Africa, it was traditionally used, as an inexpensive blending wine, but is now producing some absolutely top quality wines, throughout the region. Known as the ‘king of Chenin’, wine producer, and personality Ken Forrester is probably the best ambassador for top quality Chenin production.

The Chenin grape is still very underrated in the Uk, but is starting to make inroads, with its fruity, appealing charm. It adds ripeness and richness to a blend, but on its own, delivers delightfully fruity wines, ranging from bone dry, through to richer styles. With great ageing potential, and high acidity, it is a very versatile grape, and in South Africa, produces wines of depth, and ripe fruitiness, with aromas and flavours of quince, apricots and baked apples.

What does it go with?

Due to its inherently fruity style, this is a great white to go with slightly spiced dishes, but also a classic with any meat with a fruity sauce, such as roast pork and apple, or duck .

South African Chardonnay

Traditionally Chardonnay was made in a full- on, oaky style, but with the current trend, for fresher, fruitier, less heavy styles of this wine, South Africa is producing some great examples, focussing on the creamy, peach and baked apple aromas and flavours, rather than the heavy, toasty oak character. Danie de Wet, of DeWetshof estate, is one of the leading producers of this new style of wine.

Typically, Chardonnay produced in the cooler regions will be lighter, fresher, and with a more citrussy, mineral tang, whilst the warmer regions will produce fuller, bigger, toasty, ripe styles.

What does it go with?

Chardonnay is a very versatile wine, with a soft, rounded, creamy style. It’s best suited to rich fish dishes, such as salmon, creamy fish pie, a dead cert with buttery roast chicken, pork in a creamy sauce and also perfect with brie and other soft cheeses.

South African Sauvignon Blanc

The current darling of the South African wine scene, and likely to stay! Sauvignon blanc in South Africa, has had a meteoric rise to fame in recent years, with numerous producers planting and harvesting in the cooler regions, especially Elgin, Darling, and oddly, Robertson ( which is not a cooler region). Fresher, sappier, and more zesty than other New World Sauvignon blancs, the wines generally have a citrus, and herbaceous style, rather than the more typical tropical fruits. Lively , tangy and edgy.

What does it go with?

Look no further than freshly prepared seafood, simply pan-fried fish, and zingy green salads. It’s a natural match with asparagus, and also a perfect match to thai and Chinese dishes, where it’s aromatic, lime-fresh flavours perfectly balance the spiciness of the oriental flavours. Will also work with mild Indian curries, and is a delightful match with goats cheese salad.

South African Viognier

Grown in the slightly warmer regions of South Africa’s wine areas, this is often used , in small quantities to produce Rhone style reds ( where traditionally 10% of Viognier is added to the red blend), but increasingly is establishing itself as a top quality single varietal. Originally from the Rhone valley, this grape is all about aromatic, spicy, juicy, apricot and peach fruit – like a waft from an overflowing fruit bowl on a summer’s day! It’s naturally lower in acidity than many white grapes, so it needs to be harvested and made carefully to maintain the freshness and balance. At its best, it is succulent, fleshy, and full bodied as a white, packed with luscious Mediterranean fruits, with a squeeze of citrus to keep it fresh.

What does it go with?

An intensely aromatic and fruity wine, this will pair very well with any fruit- infused dish, such as duck or pork, but works especially well with north African tagines and fruity couscous dishes. It’s great with sweet and sour Chinese dishes, and also full flavoured, but soft rind cheeses.

South Afircan Shiraz

From the Syrah grape, originating in the Rhone Valley in France, Shiraz has taken the New World by storm. Most famous for the production of some of Australia’s top red wines, Shiraz is also creating a storm in South Africa, where the climate suits the production of this hearty, full flavoured style of red wine.

Grown and produced in Stellenbosch, Paarl, Swartland and other internal wine areas, the wines are rich, packed with spicy black fruit flavours, a hint of mixed spice and an edge of mocha. Wines vary from the simple to the intense, complex and iconic. Mark Kent’s wines at Boekenhootskloof are testimony to this. South Africa is a perfect location for Shiraz.

What does it go with?

Look no further than seared steak, barbecues and hefty stews! These warming, rich, moreish wines need rich, flavoursome dishes to accompany them. the richness of the wine will also go perfectly with spiced roast lamb, and matches very well with Indian red meat dishes. Also great with a slab of good cheddar.

South African Cabernet Sauvignon

The second most planted grape variety after Chenin blanc, but South Africa has struggled with this grape variety, due to the level of disease in the vineyards and on the vines, which resulted in very ‘green’, almost ‘tomato stalk’ and vegetal aromas and flavours. There are still many of these around, but due to the intense culling of diseased vines and replanting, there are now some top quality cabernets coming out of South Africa. Less fleshy, and more herbaceous than many New World countries, South African Cabernet tends to have a medium bodied structure with a raw blackcurrant and leafy quality, but tempered with a ripe, minty edge, and a pure black fruit intensity. Frequently blended with Cabernet Franc and merlot for the classic Bordeaux style blend.

What does it go with?

Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural match with roast lamb, roast beef, and steak! Due to the naturally higher tannin levels, this is less good with oriental dishes, but works beautifully with a classic slab of cheddar or rich lamb and beef stews. Also great with venison.

South African Merlot

One of the classic grape varieties in traditional Bordeaux blends, the Merlot grape is extremely well suited to South Africa, with its ripe, fleshy, early ripening style. It’s still often used as a key part of a blend, often used to soften the more austere Cabernet Sauvignon, but is increasingly coming into its own as a single varietal, making top quality wines, particularly in the warmer regions of Stellenbosch and Paarl. Ripe, plummy, with a chocolatey edge, and a rich, velvety style.

What does it go with?

Merlot is naturally lower in tannins and acidity than many other red wines, so it will work better with spicy food, but less well with savoury roasts. It’s normally a great crowd pleaser and spot on with meaty pasta, everyday dishes such as shepherds pie, and sausage and mash. Because of its low tannins, it’s also a good red to cope with spicy Indian food, and a perfect match to Mexican fajitas.

South African Pinotage

The best known and native grape of South Africa, and unique to the country; it’s a cross between the elegant Burgundian Pinot Noir and a more workhorse of a grape, Cinsault ( or Hermitage). Pinotage is definitely a ‘marmite’ kind of grape; it is loved and hated by wine drinkers, in equal measure! At its worst, it has a vegetal, almost rubbery quality; but at its best, it produces some rich, ripe, spiced plum, and violet scented wines, with full- on mocha and black fruit flavours. Produced in Stellenbosch, Paarl, and the more internal wine regions, newer plantings and healthier vines are helping the quality image, although Pinotage production is still in decline.

What does it go with?

These are big, bold, gutsy wines, best served with stews, casseroles, and barbecues. Spare ribs, and lamb shanks would also be good matches.

South African Pinot Noir

The temperamental red grape of Burgundy, which needs a cool climate and a gentle hand, this grape is a relatively recent addition to the South African quality wine repertoire, but is growing in reputation and quality levels. With its low tannins, and lighter, delicate style, it needs a cooler climate, closer to its native Burgundy. The southernmost wine regions of Elgin and Walker Bay provide the perfect environment for the production of top Pinot Noirs, with Hamilton Russell, as the leading exponent of this style.

Elegant and perfumed, these wines have a softness, yet a rich silkiness of fruit – gentle tannins, and rich, raspberry fruit flavours.

What does it go with?

Pinot Noir is a dream with most game – duck, pheasant, venison etc. it’s naturally sweet ripeness and low tannins make a great match with the naturally sweet fleshy flavours of duck or game. Superb with aged, soft cheeses, it’s also one of the best wines to pair with Asian red meat dishes, as the gently sweet fruit and low tannins will not clash with the hit of spices.

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South African Wine Reviews

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