The Wine Scene of South Africa

The Wine Scene of South Africa


           New world wines have been making an impression for decades, but one region continues to fly under the radar.  With its unique climate and grape varieties, South Africa is a region not to be ignored.  Walking into a big box wine store, you won’t find a South Africa section.  You’ll need to dig, often in areas labeled ‘Other Whites’ or ‘Other Reds’ even though these wines are anything but.  They are versatile, complex, and sure to make an impression.  Plantings like Pinotage and Chenin Blanc grow beautifully in the cooling influences of this hot climate.

            For grapes and grapevines to grow successfully, they need the perfect combination of heat, sunlight, water, and nutrients.  Too much or too little of these elements can cause a number of problems, producing an underwhelming vintage.  Located between 32° and 35° south of the Equator, you might assume that South Africa’s climate is too hot to grow successful grapevines, but many vineyard areas are influenced by cool currents and winds.  The Benguela Current flows past the southern tip and up the west coast of Africa, cooling coastal areas such as Walker Bay and Stellenbosch.  South Africa is also influenced by south-easterly summer winds, known locally as the Cape Doctor.  These winds bring air cooled by the ocean further inland, reducing temperatures by a few degrees.  Because areas of South Africa are subjected to these cooling influences, they can grow grapes like Pinot Noir that need these cooler temperatures.  The warmer areas of South Africa are home to grapes like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon making this region versatile enough to accommodate many grape varietals.

            While many international grape varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are grown in South Africa, a red variety unique to this region must be included in the wine conversation.  Pinotage is a crossing between Pinot Noir and Cinsault.  It can be made in a range of styles and is sometimes blended with other international varieties to create a ‘Cape Blend’.  Pinotage can be made in a light and fruity style with notes of red berries.  Some winemakers are using old bush vines to create wines with fuller bodies and notes of rich spices.  When fermented with heavily toasted oak staves, Pinotage can take on coffee and chocolate aromas.  You may have to dig deep for this hidden treasure in your local wine store, but it’s worth the effort.

            Ready to try your first Pinotage?  We offer the Kanonkop Pinotage from Stellenbosch, South Africa.  A beautifully aromatic wine with hints of cinnamon and red currants on the nose.  On the palate, notes of plums, blackberries, and vanilla melt into silky tannins and integrated oak.           

            With its cooling influences and mountainous backdrop providing steep slopes for vineyard planting, the winemakers of South Africa can produce wine in a variety of styles.  Next time you feel yourself leaning towards a California Cabernet or a Bordeaux blend, ask your local wine proprietor to show you a Cape Blend or Pinotage.  This could be the wine breakthrough you never knew you needed!

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