Country Focus: South Africa
Every edition we ask John Mansfield of The Society of Vintners about what’s happening in the world of wine. This issue, his focus is South Africa…
South African wine represents exceptional value at the moment, with the average price lower than wines from virtually all other major regions. This year’s weather has resulted in healthy vines and good grape concentration, so the 2017 vintage will have some exceptional wines.
South Africa’s vineyards are concentrated around the Southern tip of Africa, where the mighty Atlantic and Pacific oceans that meet there influence the climate. Regular coastal fogs and cooling sea breezes along with a moderate Mediterranean climate enables some fabulous wines to be produced.
Of the key wine regions, Swartland, Paarl, Robertson’s, Olifants River and Breedekloof all saw increases in 2017 over the previous year. Slightly smaller yields were noted in the Northern Cape, Stellenbosch and Worcester and a much smaller harvest in the Klein Karoo. All of that will influence price and availability.
What many people will not realise is the sheer variety of wines that are produced in South Africa. It’s no exaggeration to say there’s a complete rainbow of grapes – quite fitting for the ‘Rainbow nation’.
The top varieties are:
Chardonnay – Where much experimentation has been taking place with barrel fermentation and oak ageing so that excellent wines in a number of styles are now being produced.
Chenin Blanc (Steen) – The most widely cultivated variety in the Cape, where growers are raising the standard to new levels.
Colombar(d) – Planted especially in the Breede River region, this variety produces a quality wine who’s good acid content ensures fresh, interesting wines with a pleasant fruity flavour.
Muscat d’Alexandrie (Hanepoot) – Probably developed from cuttings introduced to South Africa in the 1650s, Nowhere else does it form such a high percentage of a country’s total grape harvest as in South Africa. A marvellous dessert wine.
Riesling (Rhine or Weisser Riesling) – Has adapted well to South Africa’s soil and climate, producing very full, flavourful wines with excellent fruit acids that develop with bottle ageing.
Sauvignon Blanc – There are some leading local examples, which have garnered international attention.
Cabernet Sauvignon – Increasingly significant at the Cape, Cabernet Sauvignon produces top-class wines that develop well with age into spicy, full, complex wines.
Cinsaut (Noir) – Previously known as Hermitage and once South Africa’s most widely planted red variety. Often blended with Cabernet, to produce reasonably priced early drinking wines, it’s also often used for rosé, port-style and jerepigo wines.
Pinot Noir – Gaining favour with vintners, this variety is now producing excellent wines in the cooler viticultural areas of South Africa. A large proportion is used in Cap Classique sparkling wines.
Pinotage – A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. Unique to South Africa, it can produce complex and fruity wines with age but is also often very drinkable when young. Rapidly finding favour worldwide both as a varietal and in ‘Cape blends’ – which generally denotes a red blend with Pinotage making up 30 to 70 percent of the wine.
Shiraz – Production of this noble variety of French origin – where it’s known as Syrah – is now accelerating in South Africa. Made in several different styles, it yields deep purple smoky and spicy wines, which develop a complex character with age.
Inkara Shiraz – A multi-award winning wine that got 91 points from Master of Wine Tim Atkin. Big, heavy, well rounded and the perfect accompaniment to red meat, game and BBQ flavours.
Bon Courage Dry Gewurztraminer – Commended in the International Wine Challenge 2017, this wine goes brilliantly with spicy Chinese and Thai food.
Bon Courage Unwooded Chardonnay – Gold Medal winner at the Chardonnay du Monde, Burgundy 2017, this wine is immensely food friendly, especially with summer salads, white meats and seafood.
Cape Marlin – A Chenin Blanc that’s an excellent example of the value and quality available from the Western Cape. Goes great with shellfish and mild cheeses.
Kleindal Bouquet Blanc – A gentle blend of Colombard and Muscat de Frontignan from the Robertson region. Aromatic and semi-sweet but with a fresh clean finish, making it a perfect match for spicy foods and sweet desserts.