South African wines have come a long way. Ten years ago it wouldn't be uncommon to hear most people say, "South Africa makes wine?" Today, South African wines have a higher profile but have still gone unexplored by many wine drinkers. To understand the challenges winemakers have faced, here’s a brief history of the South African wine industry. The first wine made in South Africa, as recorded in the diary of Jan Van Riebeeck, was February 2nd 1659. Because of the threat of hungry birds, farmers were forced to pick grapes early so acid was sky high, creating harsh wines of low quality. Things were not totally bleak as Simon van der Sel, the Cape Colony’s first Governor, gained some international acclaim with a noteworthy sweet wine.
In the early 19th century, the Cape passed from Dutch to British control. With an increase in settlement and shipping came an increase in the number of vineyards and by 1825 wine accounted for more than half of the Cape's exports, but quality was still considered poor.
A change in the right direction came in 1918 with the formation of the KWV, a co-operative formed with the intention of creating unity among South African wine farmers and improving quality. The KWV grew and in 1940 the government gave them the power to set prices for table wine as well as setting quotas for wine production. Despite its intentions, the system at this point incentivized quantity over quality. Farmers grew as many grapes as possible and then sold them to the co-operatives who would make the wine. Despite this lack of motivation from KWV, quality wines were starting to be made but Apartheid-induced sanctions kept these wines from being exported and kept the country isolated from the rest of the wine world.
1994 saw the end of Apartheid and is also seen as the start of the modern wine industry in South Africa. During the 90's, the KWV dropped the quota system and price setting, eventually becoming a private company which now exists as a wine producer, not a regulatory body. Winemakers at this point had the freedom to grow and innovate with an eye toward producing high quality wines.
South Africa grows international varietals such as Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc are their two most planted grapes. They also have one grape unique to the region. Pinotage, a crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault, was created in 1925 by South African scientist, Abraham Perold and it has become South Africa’s signature grape.
Here is a sampling of some of the South African wines we currently stock.
|Remhoogte Pinotage $18.99|
"Lam" Pinotage $14.99
We offer two Pinotage which exhibit two different sides of the grape. The Remhoogte Bushvine shows more of the traditional characteristics of the varietal. It is full bodied with red fruit, black pepper, tobacco and is slightly smoky. Our other offering is the Lammershoek "Lam" which expresses more of the characteristics of Pinot Noir. This wine is light and elegant with pleasing red fruit. We recommend this one with a light chill.
|Terre Brulee Chenin Blanc $15.99|
Terre Brulee Le Rouge $14.99
We currently carry two wines from the Terre Brulee winery. The Chenin Blanc is dry and refreshing with citrus, honeysuckle and bright acid. The Le Rouge red, a blend of Shiraz and Cinsault, is savory with blackberry, light spice and enough oak to give it good weight and structure.
Kanonkp has established itself as a one of the best producers of South African Wines. The Kadette, a blend of primarily Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon, is a full bodied wine with black fruit, raspberry, and mocha with light earthy notes.
|Kanonkop Kadette $14.99|
Morgenster Lourens River Valley $31.99
For those looking for a more serious wine, we recommend the Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2010. A blend of mostly Cabernet Franc with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, this hearty wine delivers cherry and black fruit, chocolate and sweet spice with well-integrated tannin.
From this point on, wines from South Africa will continue to improve and it won’t be long before they take their place among the great wines of the world.