The most renowned South African vineyards are found mostly around the rugged landscape of the Western Cape, with many of the best hugging the steep slopes of its towering mountains or close to cooling ocean breezes.
With more than 300 hundred years of winemaking history under its belt, the country and its wines bridge the gap between the Old and New World and diverse wines that are worth discovering.
The vineyards of South Africa produce a wide range of wines which take advantage of the Cape’s mostly Mediterranean climate, the African heat tempered by both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the cold Antarctic Benguela Current which sweeps along the Cape’s western side and the abundance of mountains with vineyards planted high to profit from the cooling effects of altitude.
South Africa’s signature variety is Pinotage, the result of a crossing between Pinot Noir and Cinsault produced in Stellenbosch in 1924. The variety is rarely found in any other wine-producing country so has come to be an emblematic variety here in the vineyard. South Africa’s vineyards also boast wide plantings of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which often find their way into Bordeaux Blends. Regions like historic Stellenbosch are renowned for their elegant Cabernet Sauvignon which feature prominently on wine lists the world over.
Steen, better known elsewhere as Chenin Blanc, is the most widely planted white variety in South African vineyards. Old bush-vines produce some of the most concentrated Chenin Blanc in the world and South Africa is one of the few wine-producing countries that take the variety seriously outside its home territory in the French Loire Valley.
South Africa’s vineyards also boast wide plantings of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which often find their way into Bordeaux Blends. Regions like historic Stellenbosch are renowned for their elegant Cabernet Sauvignon which feature prominently on wine lists the world over.
Increasingly garnering praise for wines produced in its coastal or high-altitude vineyards, South Africa is emerging as producer of elegant, lean cool-climate wines. Winemakers in cool, maritime Walker Bay, particularly its Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) ward, are producing some promising wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which some critics go so far as to describe as Burgundian-style. Elgin’s relatively high vineyards, planted amongst the apple orchards east of Cape Town are a source of fine Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and some very successful Pinot Noirs. Cape Point and the historic vineyards of Constantia are a source of wonderful, herbaceous, mineral-driven Sauvignon Blanc.
One vineyard South Africa can be particularly proud of is the former Constantia wine estate, now in the suburbs of Cape Town. Divided into smaller properties after the death its founder, one of its subdivisions, Klein Constantia, was responsible for first creating the eponymous South African wine Vin de Constance, sought after by European royalty during the 18th and 19th centuries and more revered than most other wines of its time, other than perhaps botrytised Tokaji Aszú, dubbed the King of wines and the wine of Kings. Constantia wineries still produce modern versions of the luscious Muscat dessert wine.
No wine country worth its salt would lack a sparkling wine in its range and South Africa is no exception to this rule. Elegant traditional method Cap Classique bubbly is produced from the Champagne varieties Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and makes the perfect aperitif to sip in the well-tended environs of the many beautifully preserved Cape Dutch wine farms that dot the spectacular landscapes of the Cape winelands.
We all know that good wine often seems to taste best where it is produced, so a tour of South African vineyards is the ideal way to appreciate the range and quality of wines produced in the vineyards of South Africa’s Cape. Our local experts at Wine Paths are on hand to help you discover the very best South African vineyards and wines on a tailor-made holiday.