Essentials Series: South Africa
South Africa is a bit of a dark horse in the world of wine production. The country has actually been producing wine since the 1650’s with the Dutch East India Company in Capetown but the Wine of Origin system wasn’t implemented until the 1970’s which is when their markets really took off.
The Wine of Origin System (WO) is a kind of geographical and logistical system that designates production regions, districts, and wards. Any wine that is labeled a “single vineyard” wine can only come from a very specific area of fewer than 5 hectares, and an “estate wine” can only be labeled as such if the vineyards it was farmed from are adjacent to each other. A ward is similar to a European appellation in that it’s a geographical area with a distinct soil type and climate.
While South Africa actually has a long history with wine production, it’s actually considered a New World wine region, although the actual flavors tend to criss-cross between Old World and New World.
South Africa, similar to France, is actually home to many wine varietals. You can find high-quality, mostly affordable wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz/Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and even Cabernet Sauvignon blends.
It’s the terroir of this region that is so fascinating and makes South Africa a unique wine-growing country. Because of its location at the southernmost point of Africa, it’s seated right between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The cooling breezes plus the warm Mediterranean temperatures have combined to create a unique terroir of diverse soils and varying climate, which is why there are so many different varietals produced here.
Cape Town is by far the largest wine producing region within South Africa, incorporating the wards of Constantia, Hout Bay, Durbanville, and Philadelphia. Constantia Valley is definitely the foremost, and oldest, ward within this region, mostly because of its perfect placement on the southern slopes of the Table Mountain range. Due to its location and local breezes, the climate is perfect for growing Chardonnay, which is what Constantia is mostly known for.
Stellenbosch, the second oldest wine region in South Africa, is just east of Cape Town and has a wine-making history that extends back to the 17th century. It is responsible for about 14% of the country’s total wine production each year, and that is mostly red wines- particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinotage, and Shiraz.
For much of the 20th century, the region of Paarl was the center of South Africa’s wine producing industry, until Stellenbosch and the neighboring regions really came into their own. The Berg River runs directly through it, allowing for irrigation of the valley in the hot summer months. Paarl grows a variety of grapes but the most successful are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Shiraz, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc.
If you’re looking for a bottle of something new that won’t break your bank, look for something that hails from South Africa. You’ll be hooked!