South Africa has a wonderful climate and geography for growing wine grapes. Most of South Africa’s wine is grown along the southwest coast. The weather is warm and dry, and also fairly predictable. The grapes in this area are mostly irrigated, and the weather safe for the grapes. There is hardly ever a frost or cutting rain to damage the grapes.
When Europeans first arrived in the 1700s they immediately noticed this and began planting grapes. For the most part they made lower cost wines to export back to Europe. The majority of South African wines today are made from French and German vines.
There is an organization that regulates the wines produced in South Africa called the WO (Wine of Origin Scheme) and having a WO on the bottle’s seal indicates that all of the grapes originated from the specified region.
While South Africa has been a significant exporter of Sherry-style wines, the country produces a wide range of wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and sparkling wines.
A wine that was established in South Africa is Pinotage, which is a light red similar to Beaujolais. It was created by crossing the Cinsault and Pinot Noir grapes as an experiment in the 1920s and first became known in 1961 at a wine competition. As is common with wines that become popular, over the years the wine was produced on a wide scale and along with over production came the reputation of having lower quality. The Pinotage fell out of “flavor” until another wine competition brought it back in the 1990s. A Pinotage association was formed to control quality and while Pinotage is made in other parts of the world such as New Zealand, this wine’s heritage is based in South Africa.
Since the abolition of Apartheid, a greater market has opened up for South Africa as a recognized new world wine region. Next time you’re in the wine shop, take a trip from the Napa section to the South Africa section and try something new.