26 September 2023

South African Wine

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By Christine Salins.


For a region that is part of the so-called New World, South Africa has a long history of winemaking, with the first vines planted in the mid-1600s. It is a major player on the world stage, being the eighth largest producer and the sixth largest exporter of wine in the world.

Although Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (Shiraz) are the most common red grapes, the country’s signature red is Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Rarely found outside of South Africa, it produces the spicy, earthy, fruit-driven reds the country has become known for.

The country’s most commonly planted grape variety is Chenin Blanc (locally known as Steen) and there are many fine examples of this crisp dry white. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also widely produced and popular internationally.

For visitors to South Africa, touring the wine regions is a lovely thing to do, as the country is blessed with spectacular vineyard landscapes and sophisticated cellar doors where you can wine and dine at prices that are low by international standards.

Boschendal Estate in the Franschhoek region was recently designated the most beautiful vineyard in the world by luxury travel brand, CV Villas. It analyzed Instagram data to come up with this result, first compiling a list of 200 beautiful vineyards then seeing which hashtags had been shared the most.

Boschendal, founded in 1685, is one of the stops on the hop-on, hop-off Franschhoek Wine Tram. Its wines are among the comprehensive line-up of South African wines stocked by The Saffa Shop in Melbourne (available online).

Also in Franschhoek is the bucolic Babylonstoren, producer of the Chenin Blanc reviewed here. Like Boschendal, it offers a complete visitor experience with a farm hotel, paddock-to-plate restaurant, and farm shop.

Nearby Stellenbosch is home to Delaire Graff Estate, a destination for wine, food and art. This Relais & Chateaux property has lodges, a spa, boutiques and galleries. Lunching on the terrace here was one of the highlights of my visit a few years ago, the imposing Simonsberg providing a spectacular mountain backdrop.

The cellar door at nearby Tokara Wine Estate is a picturesque setting for a wine tasting before walking through the vineyard to a wonderful delicatessen selling gourmet food and gifts. Tokara focuses on Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and also has an extensive olive grove.

If you want to taste some fabulous Chenin Blanc, head to Kleine Zalze in Stellenbosch. Its Cellar Selection Bush Vine Chenin Blanc is sometimes available in Australia at Dan Murphy’s. Kleine Zalze produces Chenin Blanc in a range of styles and price points.

When I visited some years ago, I tasted both their middle-tier Vineyard Selection and their flagship Family Reserve, both of which were outstanding. Made with fruit from 50-year-old bush vines, they are fermented in oak (6 months for the Vineyard Selection, 12 months for the Family Reserve) which adds a beautiful subtlety and elegance. As well as a 47-bedroom lodge and golf course, Kleine Zalze has a wonderful restaurant, Terroir.

For a dose of history, a must-visit is Groot Constantia, established in 1685, the oldest wine-producing farm in South Africa. Located south of Cape Town in the foothills of Table Mountain, its manor house and cellar are some of the finest surviving examples of Cape Dutch architecture. Its wine appears in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and in Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It was also served to Napoleon during his exile on Saint Helena.

You’ll learn many more snippets like these if you dip into the fascinating world of South African wine. Both of the wines featured below are available in Australia.

Babylonstoren 2020 Chenin Blanc: Tasted with friends in Brisbane over an outstanding meal of home-made fish tacos served on the back deck, this was the perfect match – crisp and refreshing with pineapple, guava and tropical fruit notes, along with hints of pear and melon. Pale lemon in colour with an ever-so-slight creamy elegance, it was such a joy to drink. A tiny proportion (10%) was aged in French oak, cement eggs and clay amphoras. Now might not be the right time in southern climes but file it away for future reference.

The Winery of Good Hope 2020 Pinotage: This Stellenbosch winery claims to be fully accredited for “environmental, ethical, and social-upliftment practices”, hence its name, The Winery of Good Hope. Light to medium-bodied, this aromatic Pinotage has blueberry, blackberry, almond and mocha notes, with a touch of sour cherry and pomegranate tartness. A little funky with a pleasing long finish. We enjoyed this easy-drinking red with burgers; it’s a good all-rounder.

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