Following a change in government in 1994 and an aggressive policy of expanding exports and improving the quality of wine production, South Africa continues to grow as a solid source for wine, reasonably priced and world-class. Although there are still few entries in the latter category, the country shouldn’t be overlooked as a serious wine producer, especially since it often offers more quality in the bottle than many other countries’ wines at the same price levels, particularly those from Australia and South America.
Most of the country’s quality vineyards are located in or near the seaside city of Cape Town, benefiting from the cooling influence of the maritime climate. The best regions for making wine are Constantia, Paarl, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Walker Bay.
For the most part, buying South African wine is no different than buying American. The grape variety is clearly stated on the label. Wines are usually made from a predominating grape; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are extremely popular and produce the best wines. The variety most widely planted is Chenin Blanc, called “Steen” locally, which produces an array of wines from crisp and clean dry whites to oaky brandy. Another favorite grape is Pinotage, which is a cross between the refined Pinot Noir and the coarse Cinsault. It can make light and refreshing rosés as well as powerful, long-lived reds.
The selection of South African wines available in many markets, with the exception of the United Kingdom, remains rather limited, although many producers hope to expand. Producers who make good-quality wine for the money — often less than $10 a bottle — include Swartland Winery, Backsberg and Groot Constantia. The very best of South Africa (with their best wines) include: Thelema (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay); Glen Carlou (Chardonnay); Kanonkop (Pinotage); Mulderbosch, (Sauvignon Blanc); and Clos Cabrière (sparkling wine).