Exploring Wines of South Africa

I must confess I know little about South African wines. I have had possibly a dozen over the years. At this year’s TexSom I attended a similar called “The Old Vines Phenomenon.” It highlighted South Africa’s Old Vines Project that seeks to preserve the vines that are 35+ years old as part of the countries wine heritage. Other this class I have not had any formal education on South African wine, till now. I recently participated in a Snooth Wines of South Africa Master Class featuring Jim Clarke. If you are interested in learning about Wines of South Africa keep reading…

History of Wine in South Africa

South African wine traces back to the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century. Cape Town offered a stop for ships sailing along the spice route to India. Wine was produced in the region at that time for sailors, believing it would prevent scurvy and other afflictions on their long journey. In 1658, French grapes such as Semillon, Muscat, and Chenin Blanc were grown in South Africa and in 1659, the first vintage of wine was produced. In the 18th century ostrich feather industry was expanding, coupled with phylloxera being discovered in 1886, many vines were ripped out to be replanted with other crops. Overtime this was reversed and by the early 1900’s wine was being overproduced, quality suffered, supply far exceeded demand, prices plummeted, resulting in wine being dumped in rivers and lakes. Quality was at an all-time low and workers were suffering economically. Collective bargaining established limits on the sale price of wine to protect the workers but failed to address the issue of overproduction.

In 1994, the end of Apartheid resulted in a significant change in the South African wine industry. As Apartheid ended so did the sanctions on the country, exporting of goods returned, and wineries of all sizes began popping up. Exportation of wine to the global market meant quality mattered. Today, the wine industry in South Africa is still young, but the focus on quality is high, as indicated by the wine in the glass, as well as French winemakers establishing wineries in South Africa to be a part of the global movement. The South Africa wine industry is a global leader in environmental sustainability.


Quick Statistics on South African Wine

  • South Africa represents the 8th largest wine producer in the world (1,414,474 tons in 2012)
  • There are 250,000 vineyard acres
  • 3,323 primary wine producers
  • 2% of vines are 20+ years old
  • 417 million liters of wine exported
  • 6% of South African wine is exported to the US, compared to 21% to the UK
  • White wine varieties represent 55% of all vineyard plantings
  • Chenin Blanc is the most widely planted grape at 18.2%, South Africa has the most Chenin Blanc plantings in the world, 18,169 in 2012
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is the second most planted grape at 11.80%
  • Pinotage, a deeply divisive grape that is either loved or hated, is a South African grape created from Pinot Noir and Cinsault

Map of South African Wine Regions:

I hope someday I can share with you this region from a personal experience with my own photos. Until that day I will share with you my thoughts on the six wines of the Snooth tasting:

2016 A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Chenin Blanc: Chenin Blanc with a sprinkling of Palomino and another secret grape;  pale lemon; medium aromas of stone fruit, citrus, pineapple, jasmine, honey, and flint; slightly rich, creamy texture balanced with medium acidity; refreshing, pleasing with a long tart fruit minerality finish; I have enjoyed this wine many times over the years; in fact at my husband’s big birthday bash last year I chose this wine as the white wine to serve all our friends, it was a huge hit!

2016 Raats Original Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch South Africa: pale lemon; medium aromas of stone and orchard fruits, pineapple, lime zest, white floral notes, crushed stone; linear and focused on the palate, crisp with medium acidity, mineral and tart fruit driven palate, medium lime zest finish.

2016 Glenelly Glass Collection Unoaked Chardonnay Stellenbosch South Africa: pale lemon; medium aromas of fresh green apples and pears, fresh lemon, yellow floral notes, ginger; refreshing on the palate with crisp apples and pears, driven and focused, medium acidity, medium finish; winery was established by Bordeaux legend May Lencquesaing of Chateau Pichon Longueville

2016 De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay Robertson Valley South Africa: medium- lemon; medium+ aromas of ripe stone and tropical fruit, Honeycrisp apple, trailing spice notes, honey, graham crackers; creamy with a zestiness on the palate, butterscotch presents itself on the palate, along with baked apples and toasted graham crackers; rich and round, medium acidity follows a tart fruit finish.

2014 Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc Stellenbosch South Africa: pale lemon; medium aromas of ripe stone fruit, grapefruit, gooseberry, grassy notes, tropical fruit; crisp and refreshing with racy medium+ acidity, light on palate, medium finish.

2016 Boekenhoutskloof The Wolftrap White Blend Franschhoek South Africa: 42% Viognier, 37% Chenin Blanc, and 12% Grenache Blanc; pale lemon; medium aromas of ripe stone fruit, tropical fruit, apricot, gardenia, savory herbs, crushed stone; nice on the palate, wraps the mouth in a creaminess but finishes with medium acidity and tart fruit.

We often think red wines to pair with winter foods. However, often times white wines are the ideal lift our palates are craving. Snooth has some mouth-watering winter pairing suggestions for these 6 wines.  These wines are available for purchase in a 6-pack from Snooth for only $79. Click here to see the food pairings order these wines to add to your winter enjoyment. Cheers!


10 responses to “Exploring Wines of South Africa”

  1. Some of my fav! Are you familiar with Moreson Wines? The son presents to my classes when in town. I would love to go tour wineries there and trying to put a trip together last two weeks of August! See you tonight! Leta

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. When you get to tasting some SA red wines look for Bruno Raats’ Red Jasper blend and his Cab Franc, two of my favorites.

  3. You are so right about craving delicious white wines in the winter! I find that any dish featuring roasted vegetables is a natural match with Chenin Blanc, and South Africa certainly knows how to craft some good ones. Thanks for sharing your notes.

    • I agree with you. In fact I will be working on an article soon for more winter whites. Hearty reds are great this time of year with the cuisine but sometime I need a lighter approach. Cheers.

  4. South African wines have come so far in the past 15 years. I remember it being the cheap stuff that broke college kids drink when I lived in England. Happy that it is gaining its voice and some nice quality is coming out of there now.

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