Located at the tip of the African continent, South Africa is home to some of the most diverse vineyard lands in the world.
Originally founded in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company as a replenishment station for Dutch merchants sailing to and from India, Cape Town, South Africa, became a bustling trading port — and a vibrant wine industry quickly followed.
While the first vineyards were planted in 1655 and soon began producing wines from Cape grapes a few years later, it has taken a very long time for South African wines to gain international recognition. When apartheid ended in 1994, South Africa started exporting its wines, showing the world what they were producing.
Popular varietals in South Africa include chenin blanc, Pinotage, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, and of course, Cinsault.
South Africa is an interesting blend New World and Old World, taking advantage of classic Old World-style charm while using modern winemaking techniques that emphasize New World fruit-centric trends. This combination of styles — combined with the unique and varied terroir of the different regions — results in wines that run the gamut from simple-yet-charming, to powerful-yet-elegant.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jim Clarke, the U.S. marketing manager for the Wines of South Africa. He showed me why South African wines provide some remarkable values and why they should be on your wine radar. Here are a few of his favorites.
The Stellenbosch region is home to over 100 wineries that are scattered throughout an area that reaches from lush inland valleys to slopes that run down to the sea. Named after the majestic views of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch, the Simonsig Estate has over 50 acres under vines.
The ancient soil types consist of sandstone, decomposed granite and shale — perfect for growing vines that produce wines with minerality and depth. The 2016 Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut is a sparkling wine made from 53% chardonnay, 46% Pinot Noir and 1% Pinot Meunier, and that takes full advantage of the terroir.
The term Kaapse Vonkel is the original word for sparkling wine produced in South Africa and literally means Cape Sparkle and uses the Methode Cap Classique (aka Method Champenoise) to produce a wine that has lovely aromas of delicious red berries and wild strawberries. Flavors of green apple, orchard fruit and raspberry are carried across the palate on a wave of tiny, precise bubbles. Bright acidity and notes of lemon-lime zest on the finish leaves a dry, yet lingering aftertaste. $24
Grapes for the 2016 Savage “White” wine are sourced from a number of higher altitude and maritime vineyards around the Western Cape. Made from a blend of 44% Sauvignon Blanc, 36% Semillon, 11% Clairette Blanche, 9% Chenin Blanc, winemaker Duncan Savage creates a white wine that is both charming and seductive.
Aromas of apricot and nectarine dominate the fragrant bouquet. Flavors of green melon, white fig and fresh orchard fruit are accentuated on the palate by the crisp, citrusy acidity. Notes of ripe, white peaches and honeysuckle have a wrestling match on the tongue as they glide toward a long, delightful finish. $30
I don’t think you can talk about South African wines without mentioning Cinsault, the hearty red grape most closely associated with the Rhone Valley in France. Of course, it found a new purpose in South Africa when it was crossed with Pinot Noir back in 1925 to create Pinotage — a variety that many think of as South Africa’s national grape. But Cinsault is a heat-loving grape that thrives in the warm South African growing season, which is one reason it has really taken root and become the country’s red wine of choice.
Nestled on the slopes of Simonsberg Mountain, sits the historic farm of Natte Valleij, home to the 2017 Natte Valleij Cinsault. This easy-drinking wine offers up gobs of red cherry and red raspberry aromas on the nose. In the mouth, the wine is full of black cherry jam, sweet plums, and Asian spices with just a touch of spicy black pepper on the lengthy finish. $19
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