AMERICAN EXPRESS VOTED
AS ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING WINE TOURS TO SOUTH
In keeping with the spirit of renewal in the South African wine industry, in
recent years over 40% of the vineyards have been replanted as the industry has
realigned its product to compete globally, moving from volume production to
noble cultivars and quality wines. South African vineyards have been dominated
by white grape varieties but the trend now is towards a more market-driven
balance between white and red.
Noble varieties which have been cultivated increasingly in the past few years
include Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, which produce top-class white wines, and
Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Pinot Noir. A significant proportion of our red
wine vineyards are currently very young - 52% are under 10 years old.
Some of the oldest grape varieties (also called cultivars) date back to ancient
times and were developed from wild vines. The original wild vine belongs to the
genus Vitis and it is generally accepted that it was cultivated for the first
time in Asia Minor, south of the Caspian and Black seas.
All the wine grape varieties cultivated in South Africa, which were originally
imported from Europe, belong to the species Vitis vinifera. Unfortunately the
roots of European vines are susceptible to an insect disease called phylloxera
and, in order to avoid it, they are often grafted onto American rootstock which
is largely resistant to the insect.
A vine yields its first crop after three years and is fully productive after
five. On average, the South African vineyard is replaced after 25 years but this
depends on factors such as the area in which it is situated and how heavily it
has yielded. Generally, its lifespan may be anything between 15 and 30 years
although vines as old as 100 years still in production can be found.
The vine is a remarkable plant which lends itself to selection, propagation and
grafting factors which make possible a continuous improvement in both plant and
quality. Although most of the vine varieties cultivated here today were
originally imported, up to now six local crossings have been released. The best
known of these is a red variety, Pinotage, a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Hermitage
(Cinsaut), which is cultivated locally on a fairly large scale.
The Worcester Region has the most vineyard plantings (19% of all vines),
followed by Paarl and Stellenbosch (17%), Robertson (14%), Malmesbury (12 %),
Olifants River (9%), Orange River (9%) and Little Karoo (3%).
The Worcester Region also produces the most wine (24%), followed by Olifants
River (17%), Robertson (14%), Paarl and Orange River (12%), Stellenbosch and
Malmesbury (9%), and Little Karoo (3%).
Cabernet Franc -
Related to Cabernet Sauvignon, this variety is usually softer, has a lower
sugar content and contains less alcohol. Used as a component in classic,
Bordeaux-style blends but also for varietal wines. Small but increasing
vineyard area. Unless specified, 'Cabernet' refers to the Sauvignon and not
the Franc variety.
Cabernet Sauvignon - An
increasingly significant variety at the Cape, it's the foremost variety of
the Bordeaux region of France. Cabernet Sauvignon produces top-class wines
that develop well with age into spicy, full, complex wines. As in Bordeaux,
it may be blended with Merlot or its relative, Cabernet Franc.
Carignan - Flourishes
well in warm, dry areas. Originated in Spain, also widely planted in the
south of France and grown in North Africa. Insignificant plantings in South
Africa. Produces a light dry wine or is used as a blending component,
particularly in Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz.
Cinsaut - Previously
known as Hermitage. A strong bearer and very versatile variety - it can be
used to blend with Cabernet, to produce reasonably priced early drinking
wines, or as quality wine for brandy distilling. It is also often used for
rosé, port and jerepigo wines. South Africa's most widely planted red
varietal, it is fast being replaced by more noble varieties.
Gamay Noir - Mainly
light red wines in the nouveau style are made of this grape in France's
Beaujolais region. Several reds are made locally in a similar early drinking
Grenache (Noir) - One
of Spain's most important varieties, this hardy grape is resistant to
drought, wind and sun. Typically used for blending with Shiraz, Merlot and
Malbec - Once a
significant part of Bordeaux’s blend but no longer found in the region’s
best vineyards, this spicy variety is now mainly grown in Cahors in western
France where it’s known as 'cot’. Argentina’s signature variety, it’s also
grown in Chile. Very small plantings in SA, varietal and blended bottlings.
Merlot - An early
ripening variety, traditionally used as a blending partner to add softness
and breadth to Cabernet Sauvignon but now increasingly being bottled as a
varietal wine, with some superb results locally. Planted in increasing
quantities, particularly in the Stellenbosch and Paarl regions.
Mourvèdre - Originated
from Spain, where it's known as Monastrell (in California and Australia it's
known as Mataro). The spicy notes make it a good blending partner with
cultivars like Shiraz. Small vineyard area locally.
Muscadel - This variety
produces a very popular sweet red wine, particularly in the Little Karoo.
Miniscule plantings in South Africa.
Nebbiolo - Big, tannic
wines with lengthy ageing potential are made from this grape in its home
terroir of Piedmont in Italy. Tiny plantings here.
Petit Verdot - This
superb variety is used in small percentages in Bordeaux-style blends and can
also be made into cultivar wines. Limited plantings locally.
Pinot Noir - The king
of Burgundy but notoriously difficult to grow elsewhere. Although not yet
widely planted, this variety is now producing excellent wines in the cooler
viticultural areas of South Africa. Wines tend to be lighter in colour with
distinct vegetal flavour and aroma. A large proportion is used in Cap
Classique sparkling wines.
Pinotage - A local
cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (Hermitage), created by Professor
Abraham Perold in 1925, this variety combines the noble characteristics of
the former with the reliability of the latter. Unique to South Africa, it
can produce complex and fruity wines with age but is also often very
drinkable when young.
Roobernet - A 1960s
local cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Pontac, it has an unusual (for
reds) grassy character. Withstands diseases particularly well. Can be made
into a cultivar wine, also a good blending partner, particularly in
combination with Pinotage for a uniquely South African blend.
Ruby Cabernet - A
Californian cross between Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon, this prolific
producer is suited to warmer areas.
- A noble variety of French origin. Better known as Syrah elsewhere, the
largest production of Shiraz is now found in Australia but local plantings
are increasing strongly. Made in several different styles here, it yields
deep purple smoky and spicy wines which develop a complex character with
Souzào - Originally
from Portugal, this is one of the traditional port varieties. Its high fruit
sugar content and strongly pigmented skin give taste and colour.
Tinta Barocca -
Considered one of the best varieties for the production of port in South
Africa. It produces earthy, organic red wines and is excellent for blending.
Touriga Nacional -
Regarded as the best variety for port, it's one of the oldest cultivars in
the Douro area of Portugal. Produces wine with a very dark colour and a
strong ripe berry character with around 13% alcohol.
Zinfandel - This
leading Californian variety is planted on a limited scale in South Africa.
White wine varieties include:
Bukettraube - Developed
in Germany, produces quality wines with a distinctive Muscat bouquet. South
Africa is one of the few wine-producing countries worldwide to bottle
Bukettraube as a single varietal wine.
Cape Riesling (Crouchen
Blanc) - The variety was wrongly regarded for many years as Weisser Riesling
(Rhine Riesling) but was later identified as the Crouchen Blanc of France. A
shy bearer which can produce quality white wines with a delicate yet fruity
bouquet and sharp grassy aroma, if growth and ripening conditions are ideal.
Chardonnay - A native
of Burgundy, this variety’s widely planted throughout the New World.
Locally, much experimentation has been taking place with barrel fermentation
and oak ageing of Chardonnay, and excellent wines are being produced. It is
also used in some of the base wines from which Cap Classique sparkling wines
Chenel - A local cross
between Chenin Blanc and Ugni Blanc which produces a white wine of
Chenin Blanc (Steen) -
The most widely cultivated variety in the Cape, growers are raising the
standard to new levels. Characterised by its versatility, Chenin Blanc
produces good natural wines covering the whole spectrum from sweet to dry,
as well as sherry and sparkling wine. Its fruitiness finds favour with a
wide range of palates. It is also used for distilling brandy and spirits.
Clairette Blanche -
Although it is seldom used as a single variety, its presence is essential in
many of our light, fruity wines - unusually low in alcohol and acid content.
Colombar(d) - Planted
especially in the Breede River region, this variety produces a quality wine
in the warmer areas. Good acid content ensures fresh, interesting wines with
a pleasant fruity flavour.
Emerald Riesling - A
relatively new variety from California which made its commercial debut in
1981. The wines are flavourful and fruity.
Gewürztraminer - A
prominent spicy flavour and taste; usually produces a light, off-dry wine.
Muscat d'Alexandrie (Hanepoot)
- One of the world's most widely planted and versatile varieties, locally it
was probably developed from 'Spaanse dryven' (Spanish grape) cuttings
introduced to South Africa by Jan van Riebeeck in the 1650s. Nowhere else
does it form such a high percentage of a country's total grape harvest as in
South Africa, where it is used especially for dessert wine, as well as
natural wine and raisins. Hanepoot delivers a strong, flowery bouquet and
intense honey flavour.
Muscadel - Used chiefly
in dessert wines, it gives an intense, raisin-like bouquet and was
historically associated with the famous Constantia dessert wines. Red and
white grapes grow mainly in the Breede River region. It belongs to the
Nouvelle - This grape,
a crossing of Semillon and Crouchen Blanc (better known as Cape Riesling),
was developed in South Africa by Professor CJ Orffer of Stellenbosch
University. While plantings remain tiny they are increasing, mainly for
inclusion in blends. It produces wines with a strong grassy, green peppery
Palomino (White French
Grape) - A heavy bearer, low in sugar and acid. Used mainly for making
sherry and brandy. It produces a neutral wine, best enjoyed young.
Pinot Gris - Planted on
a very small scale in South Africa. The wines are full and well balanced.
Sauvignon Blanc - In
combination with Semillon and Muscadel these grapes produce some of the most
exceptional white wines of Bordeaux, including the sweetest Sauternes and
driest Graves. These wines have a distinctive green peppery or grassy
character, and are often aged in wood (sometimes labelled Blanc Fumé).
Extensively planted in the 18th century, Sauvignon Blanc has now regained
popularity and considerably increased its share of plantings.
Semillon (Green Grape)
- Produces a full yet subtle wine with little acid; often used in blends.
Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano)
- Slightly neutral, thin wines which are used almost exclusively in brandy
Viognier - Becoming
increasingly fashionable internationally, this variety has been grown for
centuries in the northern half of the Rhône valley in France. An early
ripener, it produces delicate complex wines with peach, apricot, honey and
spice aromas under the right conditions. It is also sometimes blended with
Shiraz (to a maximum of 20%).
Weisser Riesling (Rhine
Riesling) - Has adapted well to South Africa's soil and climate. Produces
very full, flavourful wines with excellent fruit acids that develop well
with bottle ageing. Wines have a honeyed spicy nose and a flowery sweetness.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
CLICK HERE FOR RESERVATIONS ON THE BLUE
JOURNEYS OF DISTINCTION