Exploring the Marvels of The South African Wine Regions

Within the embrace of enormous mountains, radiant sun and endless vineyards, a haven for wine enthusiasts unfolds.

The South African wine region. South African wines have become serious players in the wine world; surprising both connoisseurs and newbies alike. With the perfect climate for winemaking, warm sunshine and captivating landscape, it is no wonder that the local wine (and tourism) industry is thriving. But what should you know about the South African wine region? And among the thousands of available wines, which should you try first?

Well, buckle up - you’re about to find out.

The Varieties That Put South African Wines On The Map

As mentioned, the South African wine region could not have had a more perfect setup: Sunlight, altitude, ocean breeze, mountains and the most diverse soil in the world. Naturally, this would mean every possible grape you could think of grows here. And this is most definitely the case - with most wineries growing anything from 3 to 26 different varieties.

However, three grape varieties truly stand out as some of the best in the South African wine region - all for very different reasons:

Chenin Blanc: Chenin Blanc is the most widely grown variety in the country - mainly because of its versatility. The grape is used to make a huge range of wines, from dry, to semi-sweet to sweet and even sparkling. This gem has shown not only its versatility, but also its outstanding profile with intense fruit notes, complexity, and ageability. For any enthusiast, this South African wine is the one not to be missed.

Pinotage: Pinotage is a variety native to South Africa, made in 1926 by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault (that time known as Hermitage). And thus, Pino-tage was born. This variety truly combines the best of both varieties - the freshness and allure of the Pinot red fruits, with the spice of the Cinsault. While the variety received a lot of backlash in the past due to its dominant chocolate-coffee flavors, new-generation winemakers have changed their winemaking approach to move away from the coffee traits, while focusing more on the natural aspects of the wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon: While Bordeaux stands as the Cabernet King, South Africa crafts its own narrative with this grape. Specific South African wine regions - like Stellenbosch - have the perfect blend of ocean breeze, altitude and soil to make a world-class Cabernet. Rich, powerful yet vibrant and soft. It’s an experience like no other.

A great example of this is the 2011 Neil Ellis Webb - a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Syrah - which captures the complexity and depth of the Cabernet and its accompanying varieties.

Or for a more traditional style, the 2019 Le Bonheur Prima Rouge (a premium Bordeaux Blend) is sure to leave a lasting impression on you.

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The Must-See South African Wine Regions

While South Africa is often called ‘a wine region’ on its own, it’s actually made up of several regions and sub-regions that are all responsible for their own style of South African wine.

For someone visiting the country on a wine tour, each of these regions stands out for their own landscape, wine styles, culture and experiences. 3 Regions well worth visiting are:

Stellenbosch: This is the wine capital of South Africa - renowned for those Bordeaux varieties (like the Cabernet) - but also for its iconic scenery. This gem is a mere 40-minute drive from the city of Cape Town with rolling mountains and vineyards as far as the eye can see - this is a wine region not to be missed for anyone looking for the real South African wine experience.

While the region is renowned for its reds, the white varieties are exceptional too. Chardonnay, in particular, has turned some heads - one of which includes the 2020 Le Bonheur Estate Chardonnay. The winery has some of the oldest vines in the country, offering remarkable complexity and depth to the wines.

Paarl: Paarl is a Stellenbosch neighbor in theory, but in reality, the regions are vastly different. With a quick 20-minute drive north of Stellenbosch, you can reach Paarl and its extraordinary vineyards. This region is much lesser-known but offers an incredible range of robust (yet smooth) red wines. The region is also known for its unique range of local cheeses and tasting experiences worth trying at least once.

Franschhoek: 30 minutes east of Stellenbosch you’ll find the city of Franschhoek, a town that takes you back to the early South African history - with historic architecture and culture. The region has some of the most renowned wineries in the country, making it a must-visit for wine aficionados.

The Best Times to Visit The South African Wine Regions

Timing is everything when it comes to savoring your way through South Africa's Winelands. Each season offers a unique experience, enabling you to tailor your visit based on what you want to experience.

Spring (September to November): This is the time the vineyards awaken with new life - filling the vineyards with blossoms, greenery and the first signs of growth. This is an exceptionally pleasant time to visit the area since the weather is mild, the vineyards are beautiful and it’s out of the tourist season.

Harvest Season (January to March): January and February are some of the hottest months of the year - making them ideal for a summer vacation. This is also when most grapes are harvested - allowing a range of activities for tourists or locals to partake in. This includes wine tours, harvesting or even winemaking.

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Last Thoughts

The South African wine region is something not to be missed for anyone who appreciates good wine, unique culture and a tasting experience like no other. Not only are the wines exceptional, but the locals have crafted an entire culture around unique and memorable wine tastings. So for anyone thinking of visiting the region (or simply trying the wines) - it is highly recommended.

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