My love affair with South African wines started a year ago when I visited the Cape Winelands. Forty miles east of Cape Town lie some of the most picturesque wineries in the world. I was immediately enamoured with its magnificent mountain ranges, century old Dutch architecture, world class cuisine and splendid wineries. If you love fine wine and food this is the place to be.
My trip to the Cape Winelands included Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paarl, so when I asked to participate in a master class on South African white wines I was thrilled. The tasting was lead by Mark Angelillo from Snooth and Jim Clarke who heads up marketing for Wines of South Africa(WoSa). We tasted six fantastic South African white wines that would be perfect for the upcoming winter season.
South African Wine History
South African wine are often referred to as “New World”, but it is anything but new. South African wines have a long history going back 350 years when the Dutch East India company established Cape Town as a mid point en route to India. The first vines were planted by the Governor of the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck in 1655, with the first vintage in 1659.
In 1685 Simon van der Stel planted French Muscat on his property, which he lovingly named after his wife Constantia. Constantia grew as a region and began producing luscious sweet wines that received international acclaim. Gaining worldwide recognition in the late 18th century the sweet wines of Constantia were enjoyed by Russian Czars, British Monarchs, Napoleon, Marie Antoinette and Jane Austen.
The 19th century was a time of trials and tribulations. In 1886, like its European counterparts, Phylloxera hit and millions of vines needed to be uprooted. Vines were replanted and there was massive growth in vines, leading to oversupply and poor quality. In 1918 Charles Kohler attempted to fix the situation by forming Ko-operatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Beperkt (KWV). KWV was an organization aimed to bring stability, growth and prosperity to the grape growers. The framework was laid for the current winemaking industry.
Even with its long winemaking history, relatively few people had discovered the wines of South Africa. Due to the apartheid government there were many trade sanctions. After the end of Apartheid, the wine industry went through a major turnaround. Trade sanctions were lifted and wine quality improved. Over the last 20 years, South Africa has caught up with the rest of the world and is producing world class wines.
Today South Africa is the 8th largest producer of wine with over 250,000 vineyard acres, but only 6% of the wines are exported to the United States. During my travels to South Africa, I had the opportunity to taste a wide range of high quality wines. I began to wonder why these wines were not available in the United States. The winemakers all said that most of their best wines are consumed locally or the wines are exported to closer neighbors in Europe, Asia and Australia. The tides are turning and more and more high quality wines are being exported to the US, as consumer seek out these high quality wines that offer incredible value.
Red wine represents 45% of total vineyard area and whites are 55%. The main red varietal is Cabernet Sauvignon followed by Shiraz. Pinotage comes in third amongst the red grape varietals and is South Africa’s signature red grape. Pinotage was bred in 1925 as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault(at the time Cinsault was called Hermitage), thus the name Pinotage. Ask any wine connoisseur in the United States and they will typically turn their nose up at Pinotage, but I had an incredible experience with a wide range of Pinotages when visiting South Africa. Many fantastic high end Pinotages are slowly making their way into the US markets, so keep a look out.
The most widely planted white grape is Chenin Blanc. Chenin is King in South Africa, there is more Chenin Blanc produced here than any other region of the world. Today South African Chenin Blanc is experiencing a resurgence of quality. South Africa also has some of the most old vine Chenin Blancs than any other region. Though generally known as the signature grape of the Loire Valley, South Africa is establishing its own identity in producing high quality new world Chenin Blancs. Sauvignon Blanc is the second most widely planted grape, followed by Chardonnay in third place.
We tasted through six white wines that we all concluded would be the perfect wines for the winter. Tasting two Chenin Blancs, two Chardonnays one white blend, and one Sauvignon Blanc, we all noted that the quality was exceptional. When it is cold outside we typically reach for red wine, but these white wines had depth, body and complexity and would be perfect paired with your holiday meal or sipped by the fireplace. These white wines are great with light appetizers, rich stews, grilled vegetables or roasted chicken.
Snooth is offering these wines at a great price. Visit the site here for more details on the wines and their food pairings. Explore and expand your palate with South African wines. South Africa is delivering quality wines at exceptional prices points.
This Chenin Blanc has a splash of Palamino and a secret grape varietal. With a pale yellow hue, the wine had a flinty minerality with orange, peach and floral notes on the nose. The palate was medium bodied with a full rich texture and mouthfeel.
Made with a 100% Chardonnay grape. The wine had a soft golden color. The nose had apple, honey, citrus and spice. The wine was rich complex and had beautiful balance.
The wine had a bright yellow color in the glass with distinct aromas of citrus pear and ginger. The wine was round with a full body mouth feel, full with fresh fruit. With medium body this wine had a long finish.
This award winning wine has no oak, thus a fresh mouthfeel. The vines for this Chenin Blanc are at least 35 years old. The wine has citrus flavors with green apple and pineapple on the palate. The wine is fresh and crisp with a lingering minerality on the finish.
This Sauvignon Blanc wine can be had on its own or as an aperitif, having notes of citrus and passionate fruit. On the palate the wine is fresh, complex and balanced with a long mineral finish.
This beautiful white blend is made with 42% Viognier, 37% Chenin Blanc, and 12% Grenache Blanc. There are aromas of peach, apricot, and honey notes. On the palate the freshness continues with pineapple, lemon and nectarine. The wine is smooth and round with notes of an oak finish.