Most wine drinkers are not that familiar with South African wines. Of course, if you have attempted to find a great South African wine, you have probably been disappointed because you might only be able to find cheap bottles. Most avid wine drinkers actually quit attempting to find a South African wine that they liked because they tried one of these sub-par versions of the wine. However, in the past few years, South African has gotten on top of their game and has started trying to produce some great high-quality wines. There is a lot for any wine drinker to learn about these delicious wines.
Understanding New World and Old World Wines
Old World wines are those that are produced in the Old World. These are wines that were created in Spain, Italy, Germany, and Portugal. While these regions still remain the most popular and famous for their wine production, there are some wines that you are missing out on if you are not trying the New World wines. Today New World wines are referring to wines that are made in a new region. One of these regions in New Zealand and another in Africa. There are wines that are being produced outside of Europe and these wines deserve your attention as well. One thing to consider is that these New World wines are being produced in areas that have warmer climates than the Old World. One of the things that you will instantly notice about these wines is that they do not advertise the place first, instead, they advertise the type of grapes that are featured.
South Africa is actually about three times the size of California. This is important to note when considering that this is a New World wine region. Grapes are not really a new crop in South Africa. In fact, grapes were first planted in the region in 1655 and then wines of Constantia were produced. These wines were unusually sweet and quickly became popular all over the world.
Moving forward to today, you will find that South African wines are a unique blend of the Old World and New World wine styles. These wines are often very sweet smelling, but they have a unique earthy flavor. It is a restrained wine that does not overwhelm, but instead simply satisfies. Since South Africa is a warmer climate, the grapes are always very ripe and this leads to them being produced where you get a higher alcohol concentration. If you want something that is going to have the highest alcohol content, you should check out the Western Cape region as this is where you will see that. You will also notice that these wines have been influenced by the cool ocean breeze that the coast sees and that offers a uniquely bright and acidic quality to the wine.
Understanding South Africa’s Wines of Origins
South Africa has a unique system of labeling and categorizing wines that are similar to the system in the United States (American Viticultural Area or AVA). What you will understand by learning about this system is how the wine is going to taste and what you can expect when you are purchasing a bottle of wine.
A to Z Guide to South African Wines
Alcohol Content — Wines from South Africa are often higher in alcohol content than wines from other regions in the world.
Badenhorst Family Wines — Badenhorst Family Wines is a wine producer conglomerate in South African that owns a number of different wine brands.
Bellingham — Bellingham is a producer of wines in the Coastal Region of South Africa.
Buitenverwachting — Sometimes the name of this wine producer is shortened to Buiten or Bayten. It is one of the most popular producers of Sauvignon blanc in South Africa. This producer also has a restaurant that is one of the most popular in the region.
Cabernet Sauvignon Blends — Cabernet Sauvignon is not always easy to find from the South African region. However, there are some blends that feature this favored wine. The Cabernet Sauvignons that are produced in South Africa is certainly available at a reasonable price which means that there is more to love and enjoy. These blends feature Cabernet Sauvignon and other styles of wine to create an interesting and unique flavor profile that is easy to fall in love with.
Cape Point — Cape Point is a producer of wines in South Africa.
Chardonnay — Chardonnay is a trickier grape to grow. In fact, this grape needs a combination of sunshine and cool air along with the right type of soil. There are a few regions in South Africa where you can get this type of grape to grow, but there are not many.
Chenin Blanc — The Chenin Blanc wine is made from Chenin Blanc grapes. These grapes were mistakenly referred to as Steen. This grape is known for its floral qualities. It was during the 1960s that it was discovered that these grapes were actually Chenin Blanc grapes. These are the same grapes that are grown in France in the Savennieres and Vouvray regions. This is a great grape to try if you are commonly a fan of Sauvignon Blancs or Pinot Gris wines. When produced in South Africa, these wines are dry and have been made with a simple touch of sweetness that brings out flavors of the yellow apple and jasmine.
Coastal Region — One of the regions where wine is produced in South Africa is the Coastal Region.
Fable Mountain Vineyards — Fable Mountain Vineyards is one of the producers of wine in South Africa.
Franschhoek — Franschhoek is a town in South Africa that is known for its wine production.
Graham Beck — Graham Beck is a producer of wines in South Africa. In particular, they produce sparkling wines.
Groenekloof — Groenekloof is an area that is within Darling in the Coastal Region.
Hemel – en – Arade — Hemel – en – Arade is also known as “Heaven on Earth” valley and is a region where South Africa where wines are made.
Kanonkop — Kanonkop is a producer of wines in South Africa.
MAN Family Wines — Man Family Wines is one of the producers of wines in South Africa.
Methode Cap Classique — Methode Cap Classique is the version of bubbly that comes from South Africa. “Cap Classique” is the name for the traditional sparkling wines that come out of South Africa. It is a distinct style of bubbly wine. It is a wine that can be produced anywhere in South Africa. It gets the fizziness during a second fermentation that occurs in the bottle. It occurs in a process that is very similar to champaign. This is a category of wine that you have likely never heard of, but it is one that is rising in popularity among wine drinkers and one that you can easily impress your friends and family with.
Mulderbosch — Mulderbosch is a wine producer in South Africa.
Neil Ellis — Neil Ellis is a leading producer of affordable wines from South Africa.
Pinot Noir — There is not a lot of Pinot Noir that is produced in South Africa as the grapes do not fare well in the climate of the region. However, the Pinot Noirs that come out of the region is often compared to Oregon’s Pinot Noirs and therefore some people quickly find that these make it to the top of their list as a favorite.
Pinotage — A Pinotage is a unique and delicious wine. The Pinotage tasting has gotten a bad wrap and in many cases, people end up not even wanting to try it, but that would be a huge mistake. So many end up falling in love with this wine once they have given it a chance. While the scent of the Pinotage might not be the most pleasant (many end up saying that it smells like a barnyard and that it has a unique Band-Aid-like the scent as well), the flavor is one of the most delicious flavors that you will find with any wine. A good Pinotage will have a delicious sun-kissed blackberry and black cherry flavor. This is combined with roasted herbs and a slightly smokey hint. It often reminds wine drinkers of the French blends that come from Mourvedre, Carignan, Grenache, and Syrah.
Sauvignon Blanc — As the weather gets warmer, a good Sauvignon Blanc is just what you are looking for. The Sauvignon Blancs that are produced in South Africa are some of the most delicious wines that you will find. This is one of the wines that will also teach you about the balance between the New World and Old World wines. Do keep in mind that you are not going to get the intense wine that you would from other regions. However, you will get a mellow green note that is fresh and will allow you to have great wine for picnics or casual meals. This wine has notes that will remind people of the lawn, Sancerre (due to chalky minerals), and hints of white flowers.
Secateurs — Secateurs is a wine producer in South Africa. This producer is owned by Badenhorst Family Wines.
Semillon — Semillon is a golden grape that used to be sweet and dry. Due to its botrytis nature, it dominates the sweet wine region.
Shiraz — This wine is sometimes known as Syrah. It has the flavors of ripened blackberries and blueberries. However, in addition to the fruity flavors, you get the Old World earthiness that people really enjoy. There are sometimes hints of pepper or a meaty flavor that you do not often find in wine. These flavors are most commonly associated with the versions of the wine that are found in France, but some South African wines feature these. One of the best regions to find these wines from in Africa is Swartland.
Stellenbosch — Stellenbosch is a town in South Africa that is known for its wine production.
Storm Wines — Storm WInes is a producer of wines in South Africa. They are a part of Vrede Vineyards.
Swartland — Swartland is a large area that is north of Cape Town that is similar to the Rhone Valley.
Syrah — This wine is sometimes known as Shiraz. Please see Shiraz for a full description of the wine.
Tormentoso — Tormentoso is a producer of wines in South Africa.
Vrede Vineyard — Vrede Vineyard is one of the most popular wine conglomerates in South Africa. They are located within the Hemel – en – Aarde Valley.
Walker Bay — Walker Bay is a region of South Africa where chardonnay and pinot noir grapes are able to grow successfully.
Western Cape Region — This region offers a unique wine that features a bright and acidic quality due to the cool ocean breezes and how these influence the growth of the grapes.
Wine of Origin — The labeling system for wines that are used in South Africa. This system allows one to understand more about the wines simply by looking at the label.
Wine Production — Most of the wines that are produced in South Africa is produced in the southwestern part of the country. These wines are actually categorized by breaking down the wines into categories by the region, district, and wards.
Some Recommended South African Wines to Try
Neil Ellis 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, $15
If you are hoping to find a good South African Sauvignon Blanc, one of the best choices is the Neil Ellis 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. This wine costs $15 and is from Groenekloof. This is a wine that will brighten your day with a special tang like grapefruits and herby quality that will be reminiscent of fresh herbs.
Cape Point Vineyards 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, $25
The Cape Point Vineyards 2013 Sauvignon Blanc is not the easy drinking thirst quencher that you might be used to. While still a delightful choice for before dinner, this wine can be paired with some richer foods and will still satisfy you. We love this bottle when we are eating a delicious halibut with a cream sauce. This one has a rich delicious flavor of raw hazelnuts and white peaches that are enhanced by a touch of Semillon.
Wines Produced by Buitenverwachting
Wines that are produced by Buitenverwachting which is a wine farm and restaurant in South Africa. Many times the name of this producer is changed or shortened to either Buiten or Bayten.
MAN Family Wines, under $10 per bottle
MAN Family Wines offers a nice cheap Chenin Blanc that is a great starter wine if you have never tasted this type before. This wine is from the Coastal Region where these grapes are often produced. The 2014 MAN Family Wines Chenin Blanc features a deliciously clean and crisp flavor that offers notes of white peach and ripe cantaloupe. This is a great wine to pair with a delicious seafood dinner or to simply enjoy when you are trying to relax for an afternoon.
Fable Mountain Vineyards 2012 Jackal Bird, $25
The flavor that you get from the Fable Mountain Vineyards 2012 Jackal Bird is one of those full-bodied flavors that you will love to impress guests and visitors with. This wine has rich flavors of Marcona almonds and yellow cherries. This is a blended wine that combines the Chenin Blanc with Rhone varieties including Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, and Grenache Blanc. They are a weightier wine with a fuller body.
Tormentoso’s 2013 Pinotage, $13
Tormentoso’s 2013 Pinotage is a delicious choice that is easy to find and easy on the bank. This delicious wine is a great way to enjoy fresh blueberry flavors and fresh red plums. It is a delicious choice for a simple dinner like a good hamburger.
Kanonkop Kadette, $12
Kanonkop Kadette is a Pinotage blend that is great for beginners. It offers a unique mixing of Pinotage with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. This allows for someone who has not previously drunk a Pinotage to begin understanding the flavors of this full-bodied wine.
Kanonkop 100% Pinotage, $40
Kanonkop’s 100% Pinotage is a delicious wine that is full body. It is a wine that allows you to explore the new flavors that the grape can reach as it continues growing and embodying new heights.
Secateurs 2012 Red Blend, $14
Secateurs 2012 Red Blend is a nice mix of Shiraz and Cinsault that is produced in South Africa. This is a great wine that highlights the juiciness of the wines well. It also highlights the flavors of anise and strawberries. It is a medium-bodied wine.
Bellingham’s “The Bernard Series” 2011 Small Barrel S.M.V., $40
Bellingham’s “The Bernard Series” 2011 Small Barrel S.M.V. is a great wine that comes from the Coastal Region of South Africa. This is a great choice if you are familiar with and like Australia’s Shiraz styles. It has delicious notes of black cherry and dark chocolate. Plus it has granitic tones, which many enjoy a nice glass of Shiraz.
Hamilton Russell 2012 Chardonnay, $25
Hamilton Russell 2012 Chardonnay is a uniquely delicious and rich bodied wine that has a creamy texture. It offers the flavors of ripe peaches and has toasty notes. They also have a sharp minerality. It is a delicious wine that comes from the Hemel – en – Aarde region.
Storm Wines Pinot Noir 2012, $45
Storm Wines Pinot Noir 2012 is from Vrede Vineyards and is one of the best wines that you can find if you are looking for a great Pinot Noir. While not a lot of Pinot Noir is produced in South Africa, this wine will leave you lingering and wanting more from the region. If you have ever fallen in love with a Pinot Noir from Oregon, you will find that you quickly fall in love with this one. It has a nice blend of acidity, is medium bodied, and features soft tannins that you are sure to love.
Cabernet Sauvignon Blends
Mulderbosch Faithful Hound, $19
Mulderbosch Faithful Hound is a blend of wines that are made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Merlot. It is a really nice bottle of wine for under $20 and often is one that holds up well when compared to wines that cost considerably more. It is a definite choice if you are looking for a delicious blend of wines. The wine is full bodied and combines elements from both the Old World and the New World. It features the brightness of mint, the flavors of ripe juicy cherries, and the subtleness of cedar. It offers something to enjoy that is truly earthy and smooth.
Methode Cap Classique
Graham Beck’s Brut Rose, $15
At around $15 per bottle, there are few wines that are as delightful and impressive as Graham Beck’s Brut Rose. This wine combines a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which is then fermented in the bottle until it becomes bubbly. The wine features a unique aperitif and allows for wine drinkers to get notes of red apple, rose petals, and red raspberries.
Traveling to South Africa? Check Out The Top Four Wine Tastings and Winery Tours
La Rochelle Wine Tours
La Rochelle offers a number of unique wine tours and experiences that you can take part in. They offer tours to some of the most popular regions: Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. They also offer tours that include cheese and chocolate pairings.
Camino Wine Tours
Camino Wine Tours offers many different types of tours and experiences if you are in South Africa. Winemakers Way is a tour that teaches about the art of making wine. There are tours that depart from Stellenbosch and travel to Cape Town and those that start in Cape Town and travel to Stellenbosch. They even offer a unique bubbly tour that takes you through wineries in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
Franschhoek Wine Tram
The Franschhoek Wine Tram is a unique experience that allows you to board a tram and travel throughout Franschhoek experiencing different wineries. They even offer some tours that combine unique South African adventures with the love of wine tasting.
Vine Hopper offers a lot of different options if you are looking for a great wine tour. They have a hop on a wine tour that runs so that you can get off, explore different locations, and hop on a later tram if you would like. They also offer guided bicycle tours which allow you to explore the beautiful scenery that nature provides while being able to explore the wines of South Africa. There is a hop on and hop off Southern Route tour, Eastern Route tour, and even a bicycle ride from Stellenbosch to Franschhoek.
Can’t Travel to South Africa? Don’t Worry Here Are Some Simple Tips to Help You Host Your Own South African Wine Tasting
Hosting a South African wine tasting is a great way for you to be able to enjoy some time with your friends and/or family. This is a great way to celebrate the wines of South Africa without having to leave your home or travel out of the country. Don’t worry you will not need to update your passport.
#1 — Know Your Theme
When you are hosting a South African wine tasting you will want to familiarize yourself with different South African wines. On top of that, you will want to consider how to decorate for the event and how to tie it all into the delicious wines from the region. You can decorate with items or the colors of South Africa to give it an authentic feel. One great idea to bring even more culture into your party is to pair each of the wines with a traditional South African dish. These food and wine pairings are a perfect way to ensure that everyone will be able to enjoy what they are eating.
#2 — Decide What Size You Want Your Party to Be
Do you want your party remembered for years to come? Do you want your party to be an intimate affair with your closest friends? One thing to consider with wine tasting is that often a smaller group can better discuss the wines and open up with one another about what they enjoyed. You can also share more information about the wines, the regions that they have come from, and more.
Some people decide with bigger parties to have stations set up and entertainment in the background. This is a great way to introduce different wines and pairings to friends and family. Just be sure that you have enough seating for each of your guests to relax and lots of small seating areas set up for small groups to be able to converse with one another.
When you know how many people you are going to invite it is time to send out the invites. There are a lot of great sleek styles that you can choose from and you can easily ensure that you will have a great turn out whether you send them by mail or email. Some people really love getting a special invitation in the mail, so that might be something to do in order to switch things up a bit. Another thing to do when you are including the date and time is to make sure that you have adequate transportation information since there will be alcohol there.
#3 — Find the Perfect Wines
Before you can do a tasting, you have to find the best wines. Check out the above list and choose a wine from each category. This is the greatest way to be able to make sure that you are exploring the area. If you are sticking to the South African theme, look up recipes that pair with different wines, or check out the chart that we have created for you.
- Pairing #1 — Neil Ellis 2013 Sauvignon Blanc with Salmon Tartare with sesame-crusted warm oyster, chilled potato, leek cream, and ginger soy dressing
- Pairing #2 — MAN Family Wines Chenin Blanc with seared scallops, bacon foam, and corn puree
- Pairing #3 — Tormentoso’s 2013 PInotage with Chicken Bobotie
- Pairing #4 — Bellingham’s “The Bernard Series” 2011 Small Barrel S.M.V. with Bibltong
- Pairing #5 — Hamilton Russell 2012 Chardonnay with cheddar style cheese
By using these pairings you will give your guests a nice selection of wines and foods that are from the region of South Africa.
#4 — Plan Your Recipes and Purchase the Food
The next thing that you should do is be able to plan your recipes and purchase the foods that you are waiting for the pairings. Make sure that you check the recipes twice and pay special attention to the seasonings and spices that were needed. In addition, consider some nuts and cheeses or other simple things that you can set out for people to grab on their way. Have a fall back plan for these recipes too in case you can’t find needed seasonings or spices.
#5 — Plan Some Exciting Wine Tasting Activities
Wine tasting games are a great way to have entertainment while being able to enjoy some delicious wine at the same time. One of the activities that you can do is to have a blind tasting in which guests try to guess the style or type of wine that you are drinking. If you are going to do this, you need to prepare with notecards and pens and pencils for guests to use. You can even give them a list of the wines that you will be serving if you want to make things a little bit easier. Another game that you can do is to purchase a create your own trivia set and create questions and answers. You can even arrange an interesting surprise for the winner of the games.
#6 — Get Ready for Your Party
The best way to have an amazing party is to be really prepared. First, you will want to set up the wine glasses. Make sure that you have enough to have one white and one red per person. Then you will want to find a cute way to label the wine glasses whether it be by using an erasable glass marker or by using a charm that matches for each person. Finally, if you are including a sparkling wine make sure that you have enough champagne flutes for each guest as well.
#7 — Have a Sip and Spit Option
As you drink more wine, you are going to have a hard time being able to distinguish flavors and things that you will want to know more about. Choosing to have a place for guests to spit the wine after they take a sip. This is a way that you can do a more professional tasting where you can really notice the notes and highlights of the house. The container needs to be big enough for them to dump their leftover wine from their glasses into as well.
#8 — Create a Beautiful Tasting Presentation
When your guests arrive, consider having a small presentation put together to explain wines of Africa. Talk about the regions, the producers, and information that they would not get by just tasting the wines. Dive as deep as you think that your guests will enjoy and make sure that you are making notes about the different things that you want to highlight. Consider preparing a slide show or gathering pictures of the region to pass or display so that your guests get a feel for where this wine comes from.
#9 — Enjoy Your Night
Make sure that you have fun and enjoy what you are doing! This can be a truly unique and enjoyable experience and by taking the time to relax and enjoy the night, your hard work will pay off. Don’t get upset if things do not go exactly as you planned them. You are going to do a great job and this is something that will be great and super enjoyable.
South Africa is not the typical place that you think of when discovering new wines, but it might be your new go to when you want new wine after experiencing what they have to offer. With so many great choices and the things that we highlighted for you, there are some options that you can enjoy with being able to find a great new wine to drink. The top choice for us would be to start with a Pinot Noir as those wines are delightful and offer more than other wines. Our suggestion is to eventually try them all and to see if you find a new favorite wine to love!