South African wines: the best wines from South Africa

South Africa has established itself in the global wine industry with its diverse range of wines, with delicate white wines, sweet straw wine and great red wines, where they are famous for their signature variety the Pinotage grape.

The majority of South Africa’s vineyards are located in the Western Cape region, where they are generally no further than 50km from the coast to allow the cool breeze to reach the vineyards. The Mediterranean like climate being tempered by the colder ocean breezes in combination with their access to soils which were formed over 600 million years ago leads to high quality wines. Some of their renowned wine regions are, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Swartland, Elgin and Overberg to name a few, renowned for their unique characteristics where different varieties are dominant based on local conditions.

While South Africa is globally recognized for its Pinotage variety, which is a local crossing between Cinsault and Pinot Noir and is rarely found outside of South Africa there is a rise in the use of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the latter two often used for the Bordeaux style blend. However the majority of grapes produced are of the white varieties, accounting for 55% of the grapevines planted, with the majority being the Chenin Blanc, though losing popularity to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc over the years as more internationally recognized varieties have seen an increase in demand overseas.

Regions in South Africa

Paarl  |  South Africa  |  Stellenbosch  |  Swartland

Best of Wines: specialist in exclusive South African wines

Best of Wines offers a distinct selection exclusive South-African wines. We offer a large stock of the best wines from South-Africa, especially wines from Stellenbosch, Constantia, Paarl and Swartland. These are without a doubt some of the most renowned wine regions in the country. 

Some of the most prestigious wine producers are:

  • Lismore Estate: The vineyards are located in a cool climate with large temperature differences. Lismore is the instigator of Wine of Origin Greyton.
  • Mullineux: This winery is committed to expressing the terroir of its vineyards in the Swartland region with its granite, schist and iron-based terroirs, producing Syrah and Chenin Blanc wines as well as beautiful straw wines. 
  • De Toren: Released their first vintage 1999 from Stellenbosch, famous for their left bank Bordeaux style Fusion wines. The Fusion V, a blend of 5 Bordeaux varietals and De Toren Z from the block Z vineyards a right bank Bordeaux style. These are highly rated wines.
  • Porseleinberg: A winery situated on a dry schist based soil in the mountain range of Swartland that produces one of the most epic South-African Shiraz wines. They only produce one wine, which is highly recommended by professional wine reviewers.

These are just a part of the exceptional wine producers in South Africa.

Legendary wines from South Africa

All wines in South Africa
South Africa

History of South Africa's winemaking

The first grapevines where introduced in 1655 to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company, which were intended to avoid scurvy on their voyages between Batavia and The Netherlands. At the end of the 17th century the Constantia wine estate was established with aimed to improve the quality of the wines in the area, during the 18 th century the Chenin Blanc based sweet wines gained European renown and in the 19th century even Napoleon Bonaparte had been ordering vast amounts while being in exile on St Helena. A great influence on the quality of winemaking in South Africa was after the mass migration of the French Huguenots to South Africa, they brought vast amount of knowledge of traditional wine making methods which greatly improved the quality of the wines, they mainly settled in the now called area of Franschhoek.

Unfortunately, like the rest of the world they got stuck by the phylloxera invasion in the 1860s and it devastated the vineyards which resulted in replanting of large amounts of high yielding vines like the Cinsault variety.

With the now overproduction of available wine grapes created new problems for the South African viticulture. To combat the uncontrolled production of grapes the ‘Kooperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereeniging’ (KWV) was established in 1918, they restricted the production of wine but resulted more in harming possible innovation than limiting high yields. They limited the release of wines for fixed prices which led many farmers to use their grapes for the making of spirits like Brandy and fortified wine. Later in the 20th century the oppressive apartheid system in South Africa had led to global trade sanctions, making it impossible to export the wines across the international market.

Now over the past 30 years, South Africa has undergone major changes in the viticulture of the nation, realizing its possibilities with its unique climate and landscape being able to produce high quality wines, garnishing increasingly popularity amongst the rest of the world, and the high demand for quality wines. They have been adjusting the varieties and with legislation easing the possibility for locations of the vineyards have given South Africa the opportunity to create some outstanding wines.

The grapes of South African Wines

South Africa has a slight larger amount of white grape varieties than ones used for red wines, with Chenin Blanc having the largest share, it is also known as ‘Steen’ in the Afrikaans language and is a staple for the South African white wines being a very diverse grape, being used in many styles of wines like sparkling wines, fortified wines and brandy, though it has been losing popularity to the more international known varieties such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. With Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc increasing in popularity in recent years, with global demand rising.

While warmer climates typically favour red grape varieties in South Africa the varieties for red wines are in the slight minority. The signature grape of course being the Pinotage, being almost exclusively grown in South Africa, used to create a diverse style of wines from their quality red wines to rosé and sparkling wines. It is often combined with other varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot which are used to make Bordeaux style blends.

The terroir of South African wines

The South African wine regions mostly resides in a Mediterranean climate and remain relative close to the coast to benefit from the colder, moisture rich breezes from the ocean, with the exception of the Orange River region, a flat barren landscape amidst the Kalahari Desert.

Due to the mountainous landscape there is a large diversity in rainfall amongst the regions, and with the altitude differences big diversity is created in cooler and hotter areas, with seasonal fog and the strong ‘Cape Doctor’ wind, create an optimal environment for diverse vineyards.

The soil diversity ranges from ancient soil deposits of 1000-500 million years ago which have been pushed up by tectonic events and after large deposits of sandstone and erosion of the sandstone resulting in combination of the famous mountains of the Cape region.

The common soil types of sandstone, granite and shale of the area all have their own characteristics, with over 50 unique soil types in the area. A combination of eroded sandstone and granite together with the ancient shale provide a good balance of nutrient poor and rich diversity with good water-retention in the shale while the sandstone and granite allow for water runoff.

Classifications of South African Wines

The South African wine appellation system, established in 1972, plays a crucial role in preserving the uniqueness of the country's terroir. This system classifies regions, districts, and divisions based on natural factors, providing winemakers the flexibility to craft their wines without rigid regulations on grape varieties or production methods. Much like the French appellation system, the South African counterpart has robust protocols in place.

Under the "Wine of Origin" (W.O.) classification, wine regions are categorized based on consistent growing characteristics. Among the five geographical units, the Western Cape is significant, housing key Wine of Origin areas such as Paarl, Stellenbosch, and Franschhoek.

Deciphering South African wine labels can be intricate. The Wine of Origin (WO) program governs labelling and categorizes wines into geographical units, including regions, districts, and divisions. Comparable to the French concept of appellations, "wards" indicate specific terroirs. Additionally, there are variations in grape names; for example, Chenin Blanc is referred to as ‘’steen’’ (stone in English), and Cape Riesling is known as Crouchen. Unique terminology like Method Cap Classique (MCC) is used for sparkling wines to signify the traditional champagne method. Understanding these nuances is essential for accurately interpreting South African wine labels.

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