Why are South African Wines so “Lekker”?
By Jenna Higgins, Viticulture and Oenology student at Stellenbosch
In farthest corner of South Africa, in the very heart of the Western Cape lies one of the country’s biggest attractions, its wine route. A few years ago, global wine lovers were not fully aware of the spectacular wines South Africa has to offer, a secret well-worth discovering. With a large variety of top quality wines, its hard for not to fall in love with our unique take on winemaking.
In my opinion, this is what makes South African wines great. Many of the world’s cultivars can be grown in our Mediterranean and Semi-Arid climates, including the ever so difficult to pronounce Gruner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Barbera, Bukettraube, Tempranillo and many more. This guarantees that, no matter where you’re from, we will almost always have the right bottle of wine for you. Quality is our main focus, with hands-on winemakers from boutique wineries to co-operations, we truly put our greatest efforts into every aspect of the winemaking process. In my opinion, you well rarely meet a South African winemaker without purple wine-stained hands from February to April (during our very busy harvest period). We are actively involved in every step, from the grapes hanging in the vineyard to the wine in your glass.
The South African wine industry focuses on seven main cultivars, Chenin Blanc (Steen), Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Pinotage. Although these cultivars are mostly world renowned, South Africa has managed to bring a bit of versatility to the table by producing an array of different winemaking styles for each cultivar.
From juicy, full bodied and ever-so-tantalizing red wines, to flirty, sparkling and dainty bubbles, there is a wine for every occasion. In South Africa, a braai (barbeque) is not a braai without a good bottle of wine to enjoy amongst friends and family. If your neighbours are getting too loud, it’s probably because they’re enjoying the wine a little too much. When I think about wine, the wine itself is only a small feature of the memories it brings. Whether its sitting in front of a blazing fire on the coldest of winter nights, sipping a glass of Cape Vintage or a full-bodied Pinotage, South African wines bring a uniqueness to any event. Each bottle comes like a perfectly wrapped gift, its contents refined to: culture, laughter, ambience and hard-work – who wouldn’t want to open that present?
Not only do we have our own superhero-like cultivar, Pinotage, that can be made in any wine style imaginable, including red, white, rosé, dessert and MCC wine styles, we have also mastered and coined our very own winemaking methods such as Cape Vintage and Methode Cap Classique. The South African wine industry prides itself on innovative and creative winemaking, so that each bottle that is opened holds a little bit of pizazz and wonder. From the vineyard to the bottle, nothing is done half-hearted in this country.
Chenin blanc and Chardonnay are in steady competition with each other when it comes to winemaking styles. Both cultivars can be enjoyed in the now popular unwooded style, which focuses on the crisp and fresh characteristics of the grape-derived aromas and flavours. One can expect lively bursts of citrus, honey, pineapple and stone fruit flavours amongst both of these wines. Both cultivars, however, are also thoroughly enjoyed as a lightly to heavily wooded wine, wherein one could expect aromas of creamy butterscotch, caramel, popcorn and vanilla, alongside a much fuller mouth feel. The innovative winemaking doesn’t just stop there, both Chenin blanc and Chardonnay are used as base wine components for our lovely Methode Cap Classique (MCC) wines, which are made in a similar method to French Champagne.
Joining Steen and Chardonnay as an MCC cultivar is the now world famous South African Pinotage. Pinotage is an incredibly robust cultivar, it’s winemaking possibilities know no limits. Our Superhero-like cultivar expresses powerful aromas of red fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and mulberries when made in a lighter, more romantic unwooded style, however it changes almost entirely when a wood component is introduced. With a dash of barrel aging, Pinotage quickly transforms into a more robust, full bodied red wine with aromas of mocha, chocolate and cinnamon spices joining the party. This wine style is best enjoyed on the coldest of winter nights and comes second only to the Cape Vintage winemaking style. Cape Vintages are made to resemble the hearty, full and warming dessert wines of Portugal, Port. What makes this cultivar so unique is that it is truly South African, it is not grown anywhere else in the world.
These are just a few examples of our robust and ever-growing wine range, and I haven’t even mentioned our impressive wine blending skills! If you’re looking for a bottle of wine to enjoy on its own or on your own (we make our wines very hard to share, you’re left wanting to keep its tastiness all to yourself), with friends or family, with food or at a celebration, try something different – drink South Africa!
Want to read more articles from Jenna?
Please check her personal blog at http://www.newworldwinemaker.com/profile/jen/
Want to read more about the South African Wine Varietals and producers?
WOSA is the official body representing all South African producers