South Africa

A guide to wine regions in South Africa

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Wine was being made in South Africa as early as the mid-17th century, and an unfortified dessert wine called Constantia, made from a blend of white wine grapes on the country's southwestern coast, became internationally famous in the 1800s. The Constantia region still produces good wine, both dry and sweet, though it is no longer considered in the top echelon. South Africa has a red wine grape of its own, pinotage, an unlikely but successful cross between pinot noir and the Rhône variety cinsault, which produces medium-body, earthy wines that are rarely great but often very pleasant. The variety does well in the Stellenbosch region, just east of Cape Town, as do cabernet sauvignon and merlot. White wines made from chenin blanc (which used to be called steen in South Africa, though that usage is dying out) and sauvignon blanc have also been successful in Stellenbosch. Paarl, north of Stellenbosch, is the home of KWV, the Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika (Cooperative Winegrowers Association of South Africa), which virtually controlled the country's wine industry, as by far its largest producer and bottler and also its de facto regulatory agency, from 1918 until the 1990s. Paarl is the home of the Wellington and Franschhoek Valley sub-regions, the latter particularly known for its white wines. The Breede River Valley, in central South Africa, is the home of the Worcester region, which produces as much as a quarter of all the country's wine and is best-known for its dry and sweet whites. Overberg, south of Worcester, has a cooler climate than most other wine regions in South Africa and has proven particularly hospitable to pinot noir and chardonnay. There are several other wine regions scattered around the western half of the country; the coolest climate of all is found in KwaZulu-Natal, a recently developed vineyard area, where pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinotage are the stars.

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