Monday, December 14, 2009

Wine Country South Africa: Grape varieties

Picture: Copyright Wines of South Africa

This article is part of a series of articles on South Africa. It was

Written (in German) by Dirk Wuertz, Germany and
Translated by Christian G.E. Schiller, US and Germany

Dirk Wuertz is a higly regarded wine maker and an active wine blogger in Germany. I had his wine in the US in Manhattan’s trendy wine bar The Ten Bells and wrote about it here.

Before moving on to individual grape varieties next week in a video, here is some general information on grape varieties in South Africa, as a preparation. The source of the information is, as always, WOSA (Wines of South Africa) .

Cabernet Sauvignon

This classic grape variety is grown in virtually all areas in the Cape region, particularly in Paarl and Stellenbosch. In recent years, Cabernet Sauvignon has become the most widely planted red grape variety, currently accounting for 25 percent of the red wines.


This grape seems to like the climate of the Cape very much and produces very intense full-bodied wines. In recent years, Shiraz has been planted in particular in the warmer growing areas; it has a great future in South Africa.


In 1925 crossed a South African researcher at the University of Stellenbosch the Pinot Noir with the Hermitage (Cinsaut): That was the birth of Pinotage. This full-bodied wine tastes spicy and has a good aging potential. Pinotage now accounts for more than 20 percent of South Africa’s red wine.

Pinot Noir

Although this grape variety is only rarely grown in South Africa, it can be found in the cooler growing regions Walker Bay and Elgin, and it produces exceptionally good wines there.


This grape has traditionally been used for cuvees with Cabernet Sauvignon. However winemakers have started to produce 100% Merlot wines. This fruity, full-bodied grape can be found in Stellenbosch, Paarl and Worcester, as well as along the west coast.

Other red varieties

Cinsaut is often planted and used mainly for cuvees.. Ruby Cabernet is a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon with Carignan. Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Mourvedre, Malbec and Petit Verdot were introduced only recently and used for Cuveés only.


In recent years, many new Chardonnay vineyards have moved into the production phase. Whether fermented in barrels (barrique) or in steel tanks - the Chardonnay from the Cape region is always elegant in style, combined with refreshing fruit flavors on the palate.


The worldwide interest in this grape variety is increasing. In South Africa it fully shows its potential. The Viognier grape produces delicate and yet complex wines with aromas of peaches, apricots, honey and spices.


Two hundred years ago, Semillon was the dominant grape variety in the Cape region, but today it is rather the exception. Because it goes well with food, Semillion is becoming popular again for dinner, to benefit from its full-bodied flavor.

Sauvignon Blanc

South African Sauvignon Blancs enjoy an increasing popularity, due to their quality and complexity. The vineyards are concentrated in the cooler altitudes of Constantia, Paarl, Stellenbosch and the newer areas such as Darling on the West Coast. The wines are fruity, with an elegant finish, but also showing spiciness and minerality.

Chenin Blanc (Steen)

Although on a downward trend, the South African wine makers are pushing the Chenin Blanc grape, trying to improve the quality and diversifying into different styles. Chenin Blanc is a perfect companion for dinner.

Other white varieties

Cape Riesling (Crouchen Blanc), Colombard, Gewurztraminer, Muscat of Alexandria (Hanepoot) Muscadel, Nouvelle, Pinot Gris and Riesling.

The article appeared in German on December 9, 2009

Dirk Würtz
55239 Gau-Odernheim
Telefon: 06733 - 94 86 01

Schiller Wine - Previous Articles on Wine Country South Africa:

Facts and Figures


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