South African Wine and Grape Varieties

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007 at 12:00 am

South Africa wineWineries in South Africa has a wide selection of grape varieties that are made into the country’s finest red wines. The different grape varieties grown on a certain area depend on several factors such as location, topography, climate and soil conditions as well as other indicators.

Different grape varieties thrive on varying conditions. In order to have grape harvests that are suitable to me processed into the country’s finest red wines, it is important for growers to have a pretty good idea on what variety of grape should be grown in a certain region.

South African wineries take great care in growing their red grape varieties. Of the many red grape varieties being grown all over the world, South Africa has several of these growing well in the type of environments that the country has been blessed with. Here is a list of the red grape varieties that are predominantly grown in most of South Africa’s famed wineries.

Cabernet Sauvignon – The Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the most popular of the red grape varieties from which some of the finest red wines in the world are made from. The red wines of bordeaux are made from this grape varietal.

Cabernet Sauvignon in South Africa is usually blended with other grape varieties such as the Cabernet Franc as well as Merlot to achieve a flavor that can be described as having blackcurrants with woody notes. Cabernet Sauvignon are usually aged in small oak barrels with some of the finest wines taking several years to reach their desired peak.

Merlot – This red grape variety probably takes second place when it comes to premium red wine blends. What makes Merlot so well loved is that it can be very fragrant and may have softer notes that that of Cabernet Sauvignon wines. This grape variety is also best when aged in oak barrels but usually requires less maturation time than Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot grown in South Africa usually does not require being blended with other grape varieties as it can stand out quite well in itself.

Cabernet Franc – This grape variety that more or less has the same properties as Cabernet Sauvignon albeit less pronounced. It is often processed as a blend to Cabernet Sauvignon wines and is considered as an important part of the wine blends found at the Cape.

Pinotage – This is a locally developed South African grape variety that is a cross between a pinot noir and cinsaut. It is a hardy vine that produces full bodied wine with good fruit flavors and a distinctive spiciness in it yet with some sweet overtones. Extended maturation produces the best wines from this red grape variety.

Pinot Noir – This grape variety is known for producing some of the more complex and elegant tasting red wines. New vineyards in South Africa show great promise in growing this valuable grape variety to produce elegant wines with a lively and fruity flavor with ripe cherry notes.

Cinsaut – One of the parents of the Pinotage grape variety, cinsaut is oftentimes used to blend with other wines in order to give quality to early aged grape varieties. Cinsaut is formerly known also by the name of Hermitage in the Western Cape of South Africa where it was largely grown.

Shiraz – This grape variety produces rich soft wines known for their smoky and chocolate aromas. The shiraz matures faster than Cabernet Sauvignon and is usually used to blend with other wines in order to speed up accessibility.

Zinfandel – This red grape variety is being planted only in a few of the Cape’s many wineries. Zinfandel is capable of producing good examples of quality wines especially for those that has gone through the ideal oak maturation.

South Africa’s orchards and wineries also produces a wide range of grape varieties that are produces into fine white wines. Although not as highly regarded as the country’s selection of fine red wines, South Africa is also slowly building up its roster of fine white wines. Its fine selection of fine white wines come from growing these white wine grape varieties.

Chardonnay – This white wine grape variety is probably the most popular dry white wine grape variety in the world. Not only is it available in South Africa, it is also planted in almost every wine producing country in the world. A good reason why chardonnay is a popular white grape variety is because it is one of the easiest of grape varieties to grow.

Chardonnay generally benefits from being matured in oak and barrel aged. But wine producers must be careful not to over- oak them as this has been a common fault of some the first Chardonnnay white wines that were produced in the Western Cape. Such practice may let oak overpower the elegant and zesty citrus notes of the white wine.

Chenin Blanc – This grape variety is the considered as the most popular white grape variety in South Africa as about thirty percent of the vineyards in the Cape producing fine wines from Chenin Blanc. Also being commonly referred to as "Steen", Chenin Blanc produces a wide range of wines ranging from sweet to dry, including sparkling and still wines. Its dry wines have interestingly fresh and fruity notes. Its sweet dessert wines are fast becoming more fashionable in the local scene.

Colombard – This grape variety that is planted in South Africa produces fresh white wines characterized with crisp acidity. Fine Colombard whites often possess tropical fruit aromas and are ideal choices to pair with seafood. This white grape variety is also being cultivated in South Africa for brandy production.

Rhine Riesling – This grape variety is also known as "Weisser Riesling" in South Africa. With only a bit of aging, this white wine grape variety can develop a resinous or oily character that is considered as a desirable white wine trait in Europe.

Cape Riesling – This grape variety is thought to be related to Crouchen Blanc a French variety used for table wine production. When processed it develops a pleasant honeyed flavor and steely notes with some maturation.

Sauvignon Blanc – South Africa is quickly becoming known as a world class producer of the Sauvignon Blanc wine variety. The various microclimates found in the wine regions in South Africa ideally suited to the growing of this variety. The taste and characteristics distinctive of South African Sauvignon Blanc white wines can be dry with some grassy notes.