South Africa’s wine industry is one of the most progressive, and vibrant of all in the country.
After the democratization of the government, all countries that had established trade embargoes lifted their economic sanctions and all industries started to concentrate on quality, consistency, and exports.
The population of South Africa consumes a limited amount of wine due to tradition and ethnic mix. Presently, the average per capita consumption is 7.9 litres.
During difficult sanction years South African exporters were limited to the United Kingdom market, and that of British Columbia against Ottawa’s recommendations.
This period was wisely used to refine wine legislation, change the mixture of grape varieties planted and purchase new equipment.
Presently the most popular white grape varieties planted are: chenin blanc, sultana, colombard, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and for red shiraz, pinotage, merlot, cinsault, cabernet sauvignon, mourvedre, carignan, and other experimental varieties.
Since 1991 wine exports grew from 25 million litres to 240 in 2003, almost a tenfold increase which indicates how popular this country’s wines have become, particularly since they are well made, flavourful, and represent good value.
Since then exports increased every year albeit at a slower rate.
There are 110 000 hectares under vines in 60 official appellations, of which the most important are: Constantia, Durbanville, Little Karoo, Olifants River, Paarl, Stellenbosch, Robertson, Worchester, and Tulbagh.
South African wines in general more acid-driven than fruit-driven and taste closer to European wines than New World wines with overwhelming fruit and super high alcohol levels.
The sauvignon blanc offers typical gooseberry and herbal flavours, the chardonnay is fruity and creamy, riesling minerallity and delicious. When it comes to red wine, South African wineries excel in shiraz (syrah), merlot, pinotage (a cross between pinot noir and cinsault) created by professor Perold of Stellenbosch University in teh 20th century).
The cabernet sauvignon yields fine wines, but is not widely spread. South African red wines are robust, dark, well extracted and balanced to provide maximum pleasure at reasonable cost.
KWV is the largest winery, with a huge portfolio at several quality levels, plus brandies. This winery’s Cathedral Church Cellar line is always very nice, and competitively priced.
Chenin blanc and colombard provide the distilling industry with the fruit, but their importance is now effectively decreasing.
The best wines come from family operated, closely supervised, small wineries that employ caring and professional winemakers.
The following wineries enjoy an excellent reputation, and their wines, pending vintage, stand out from the rest.
Bergsig, Bon Courage, Boschendal, Demersdal, Goede Hoop, Goedeverwacht, Hamilton Russel, Hartenberg, Jacobsdal, Kaapzicht, Kanonkop, Klein Constantia, L’Avenir, Le Bonheur, Meerendal, Meerlust, Middelvlei, Mooiplas, Muratie, Neetlingshof, Rust en Vrede, Theuniskral, Twee Jonge Gezellen, and Uitkyk.
When buying South African wines, it is important to remember that only the top red wines will continue improving with additional cellaring.
Most white wines (except those sweet) and mainstream red wines are meant to be consumed within a year or two of harvest year.