The best of South African wine is at the top of it’s game today, and the industry as a whole is winning the ‘good value, easy drinking’ category. The time is right to consider visiting the Cape Winelands on a serious wine tour even if you have visited the vineyards briefly for a tasting trip on general holiday before.
South Africa is the New World country with the long wine history and the Cape’s wine culture goes back 350 years. It is one that reflects the country’s colonial past, but also shines with the potential and expectation of the modern wine world. It has often been said that South African wine is in the unique position of straddling the old and the new worlds. It can offer the wine-drinking world all kinds of new flavour experiences. It can also show the way to handle such sensitive issues as labour relations in the reality of the beautiful Cape winelands.
It has in Constantia a new world wine region with a long and famous pedigree. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Vins de Constance were highly sought after, and customers even included Napoleon. Constantia, though only relatively small, is arguably still the greatest, (especially for whites), but Walker Bay for Pinot and Chardonnay, and the major regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek all make their serious wines too. The latest region to appear is Elgin, which is former apple growing country inland from Walker Bay. Elgin is definitely ‘cool climate’ and Sauvignon Blanc looks very good there. South Africa’s ‘native’ variety, Pinotage can be problematic but grown in the right place and in the right hands it can be very impressive and refreshingly different.
South Africa missed the first wave of the ‘New World’ wine phenomenon. It wasn’t just apartheid that held them back, the industry was geared up for fortified wines and the vast majority of vineyards were in relatively hot areas. The changes in wine, as with so many things in South Africa have been dramatic.
In the post-apartheid era since 1994, South African wine has returned to the world arena with significant impact, growing from some 50-million litres exported that year to topping 139-million in 2000, representing more than 25% of good wine production. It is still increasing, and though only a relatively few wines hit the really high notes, the proportion that do is increasing every year and Cape wine is reaching even more consumers in more countries with more and more popularity.
Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours next South African Wine Tour is in February 2013.