In recent years, South Africa has started to make a name for itself for producing innovative, unique and high quality wines. Although it still has some way to go to rival the Old World wine regions like France and Italy, you will now find South African wines in most shops and on a lot of restaurant wine lists.
In this blog, you can discover all you need to know about South African wines, and find out about some of the lower calorie South African wines we have available at DrinkWell.
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History of South African Wine
Although it is technically known as a ‘new world’ wine producing country, South Africa’s history of wine production actually dates back to 1655, when the first vineyard was planted. As a country with a diverse (and sometimes troubled) history, it is unsurprising that the wine industry in South Africa also has a bit of a rollercoaster of a past.
The first wine in South Africa was produced at a station on the Cape of Good Hope, by a Dutch surgeon, Jan van Riebeeck, who had been tasked with planting and managing the vineyards. Interestingly, the original purpose of the vineyards was to produce grapes and wine that could be used to ward off scurvy amongst sailors during their voyages along the spice route to India and the East!
When South Africa fell to British rule in the 19th century, the wine industry experienced a boom as South African wine flowed into the British Market. However, this prosperity came to an end in the 1860’s, when a treaty was signed between the UK and France that reduced the preferential tariffs that benefited South African wine in order to boost French wine exports.
In the following 100 years or so, the South African wine industry faced a number of challenges, including a grape epidemic, a subsequent over-production of wine that led to significant waste and depressed prices, and boycotts of South African products in protest of Apartheid.
It wasn’t until Apartheid ended in the 1990’s that South African wine begun to experience somewhat of a renaissance. Established wine-makers began to re-emerge, bringing with them new viticultural and winemaking technologies that were needed in order to compete with the quality of wines available in Europe.
These days, South Africa is regularly within the top 10 wine producing countries each year, producing around 264 million gallons per year. 2021 has been a particularly productive year for South Africa, as a strong harvest led to a grape crop that was 8.9% larger than the 2020 harvest!
South African Wine Regions
The majority of South African wine production takes place in the Western Cape region, which benefits from a Mediterranean climate. Whilst the winters are cold, most South African wine regions experience a long and warm growing season between November and April. The climate provides unique growing conditions that lead to the production of refreshing and fruit-driven wines. Below are some of the key wine regions in South Africa.
Stellenbosch is arguably the most widely known wine production region in South Africa. Situated in the Western Cape, Stellenbosch is the primary location for viticulture and viticulture research - the wine head office of South Africa, you could say! More than 50 unique soil types can be found in Stellenbosch, ranging from light, sandy soils to decomposed granite.
This supports the growth of a wide variety of grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinotage, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In recent years Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon has started to get itself a reputation as a good fine wine. Stellenbosch University even offers courses in wine-making, evidencing the region's commitment to its wine production.
Situated on the peninsula to the south of Cape Town, Constantia is best known for its premium Sauvignon Blancs and sweet dessert wines such as Muscat. The region is surrounded by two oceans, so there is a constant sea breeze across the vineyards. This, coupled with the large amount of shade from the surrounding mountains, means that the region has a cooler climate than others in South Africa. This helps the grapes retain more of their fresh acidity, leading to intensely flavoured wines.
Situated more inland and to the north of Stellenbosch, Paarl is the second oldest wine area in South Africa. The warmer climate here lends itself well to producing robust, rich red wines and fruity, crisp white wines. Popular varieties grown in Paarl include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinotage, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, and it is famous for producing the first white Pinotage.
The region is also home to several historic wine cellars. Paarl is a popular destination for tourists who are looking for tours and wine tasting experiences - why not add it to your bucket list?!
Prominent South African Wine Varieties
As we have already mentioned, favourable growing conditions mean that you can find South African examples of most wine varieties - so whatever your taste, South Africa will probably have you covered! Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent varieties.
Accounting for around 11% of South Africa’s total vineyard ground coverage, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted red grape in South Africa. In Stellenbosch alone, more than 7,300 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon are planted! South African Cabernet Sauvignons are full bodied, and pair well with red meats, steaks and roast dinners. They tend to be ripe and fruity, with high acidity and sometimes a cedar and spicy notes.
Pinotage is South Africa’s signature red wine grape, having been developed by the country in 1926. It is a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut, and is the second most planted red wine grape in South Africa. The grape typically produces deep red wines that are high in tannins.
You can often detect earthy tones and dark fruit flavours, such as plum, cherry and blackberry. Flavours of banana are also detectable in many cases. Pinotage is often described as a ‘love it or hate it’ type of wine - you’ll have to try it for yourself to find out which camp you are in!
Although originating from the Loire Valley in France, many would argue that it is South Africa that is now known for producing the best quality Chenin Blanc wines. In fact, there is over twice as much Chenin Blanc planted in South Africa than there is in France, and the variety accounts for 18.2% of South Africa’s total vineyard plantings! Chenin Blanc grapes thrive in the cooler climate found on the Western Cape, and particularly high quality examples can be found from Stellenbosch, Swartland and the Coastal Region.
Chenin wines are fresh and fruity, with flavours such as apple, lime, melon and tropical fruit. Subtle citrus flavours make Chenin Blanc wines a great pairing for salads and fish.
The Cape region of South Africa produces great value Sauvignon Blancs that combine herbaceous minerality with green fruit flavours. Sauvignon Blanc currently occupies around a tenth of South Africa’s vineyard land, but it's acreage is growing more and more each year as the variety becomes more popular.
South African Sauvignon tends to have a green tint to it, coupled with flavors of green herbs, guava, and green pepper with light-medium body and acidity.
South African Wines Available at DrinkWell
At DrinkWell, we think South Africa is one of the most exciting wine regions in the world. That’s why South Africa is our most stocked New World Wine country! We stock a vast array of lower calorie South African wines spanning a number of different varieties - take a look below at some of the wines we currently have available.
Kaap Plass Semillon Sauvignon
This 12.5% ABV Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon combination is powered by Semillon, one of the Cape's longest planted varieties. The wine's fresh and fruity intensity is due to an exceptionally dry ripening season, and contains only 78 calories and 0.13g of sugar.
It's a crisp fruity white with aromas of cut grass that leads to tropical fruitiness on the palate, perfect for sharing with friends and family. You can purchase this fruity wonder from the Drink Well website here.
Cape Heights Cabernet Sauvignon
Cape Heights Cabernet Sauvignon is a dry red wine with varietal expression and a 13% ABV. This South African wine has a fresh, succulent taste with a distinctive varietal crushed rock finish.
This red wine goes well with grilled red meats and roast lamb, has only 91 calories and contains no sugars. It's also suitable for vegetarians and vegans, making it the ideal red wine suitable for everyone. To purchase Cape Heights Cabernet Sauvignon from Drink Well, just click here.
Painted Wolf - The Den Sauvignon Blanc
This is a bright 12.5% ABV Sauvignon Blanc with notes of gooseberry, fresh cut grass and figs. A delicious and refreshing wine with just 90 calories per 125ml glass and 0.25g of sugar, this wine is suitable for vegans and is 100% gluten free.
Great to share with friends and family, these wines are named after the den, the heart of all African wild dog communities. You can purchase Painted Wolf - The Den from the Drink Well website for £11.99 per bottle.Shop Wines