South African Red Wines

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Introduction to South African Red Wine

Despite its long history, South Africa's wines are considered to be part of the New World as drinkers around the world are still discovering its best South African red wines. Since the introduction of South African wine to the country 300 years ago, it has blossomed into a winemaking powerhouse, taking account of 3.9% of the winemaking production in the world as of 2022.

Introduction to South African Red Wine

Despite its long history, South Africa's wines are considered to be part of the New World as drinkers around the world are still discovering its best South African red wines. Since the introduction of South African wine to the country 300 years ago, it has blossomed into a winemaking powerhouse, taking account of 3.9% of the winemaking production in the world as of 2022.

History of South African Red Wine

South Africa's long history of winemaking first started in 1659 when Dutch surgeon Jan Van Riebeeck was given the task of managing the station and planting vineyards to produce wine and grapes. Following the phylloxera epidemic, many vineyards in South Africa were replanted with high-yielding grape varieties such as Cinsaut, a red wine grape variety. The large glut of wine created a wine lake effect in the early 1900s, which led winemakers to pour their unsaleable wine into local rivers and streams.

The wine industry of South Africa received little attention for most of the 20th century due to the boycotts of South African products in protest of the country's Apartheid system. When the Apartheid ended, South African red wines experienced a renaissance. This led many producers to adopt new viticultural and winemaking technologies. They have also focused on well-known red wine varieties including Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon due to the international influences from flying winemakers abroad.

South African vineyards were once dominantly filled by white grape varieties before red new plantings shifted the numbers. In the last 6 years, however, producers have started to plant more whites, which is a reversal of the 10-year trend of plating more reds. Shiraz and Pinot Noir have been increasingly cultivated in the past few years.

Today, South Africa's predominant Mediterranean climate has led to the creation of unique wines with reach regions specialising in particular grapes that suit their area. Western Cape's Stellenbosch is relatively hot and dry so many South African reds thrive in this climate such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinotage and Shiraz.

What is Pinotage

Pinotage is a unique South African wine that's a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. This type of red wine offers delicate earthy aromas combined while on the palate, it offers red and dark berry flavours. Some Pinotage, however, would exhibit dark chocolate, and liquorice flavours.

Despite its reputation for being easily cultivated, the signature grape of South Africa has received criticism for its tendency to develop isoamyl acetate during winemaking which leads to the smell of paint.

Now, winemakers and marketers have embraced this grape which led to its expansion globally. It has gained increasing acceptance and favour internationally both as a varietal bottling and in blends such as Cape Blend, which is a red wine blend with Pinotage accounting for 30 to 70% of the wine.

What is Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted red wine grape variety in South Africa accounting for over 11.3% of the total vineyards. It has been used to produce varietal and blended styles.

Early Cabernet Sauvignon wines from South Africa were produced in locations that were cooler than the ideal, creating wines that have distinctive green bell pepper notes.

The South African style of Cabernet Sauvignon offers ripe fruit notes, not increasingly jammy and with ample acidity and moderate alcohol. Meanwhile, some would offer flavour notes of oak, black fruit and tobacco. It offers an impression of where New World fruits combine with the structure of the Old World.

What is Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is another red wine grape variety that's related to Cabernet Sauvignon, but usually softer, with lower sugar content, and has less alcohol. It is widely used in creating Bordeaux blends, commonly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It offers a variety of flavours such as red berries or fresh red fruit, violet and peppermint with finishes of a spicy white pepper undertone.

In South Africa, several producers have begun bottling single-varietal Cabernet Franc wines, with several winning awards for their display of the red fruits and purity.

Cabernet Franc is the 14th most planted grape variety in South Africa, where it's extensively grown in Stellenbosch, Western Cape. It has also become the favourite of the country's boutique wineries.


What is Merlot

Merlot is one of the most well-known grape varieties in the world due to its soft taste and velvety finish. South African Merlot wines are mostly dry with the aroma of dark berries and cherries with the flavours of ripe dark cherries and dark plum.

There are two main styles of Merlot. First is the "International style" favoured by New World regions that emphasize harvesting late to produce inky and full-bodied wines with high alcohol and intense plum or blackberry fruit flavours. Second is the Bordeaux style which emphasizes harvesting early to maintain the acidity and produce medium-bodied wines with moderate alcohol levels and fresh red fruit flavours.

Merlot is planted in great quantities in the Stellenbosch and Paarl regions and accounts for the third most widely planted grape variety.