© by Sheral Schowe
South Africa's presence on wine store shelves is a welcome sight, with eighteen red wines and eight white wines available. However, the actual number of grape varietals is a small representation of what the world's seventh largest wine producer has to offer. Over the last ten years, South Africa has developed a full spectrum of styles, which include elegant whites, intense and oaky reds, delicate sparkling wines, as well as port and sherry-styled wines.
The most popular white wine varietal is the Chenin Blanc, also known as "Steen," which represents about one-third of all of the vines planted in South Africa. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are becoming increasingly popular, in response to the public's demand for more European varietals. Over half of the red wines represented in the South African section are Pinotage, which is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. Other red varietals which are popular for export sales are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Tinta Barroca, and blends of several of these varietals.
South Africa's wine history dates back to the mid 1600's. The introduction of the grape vine to this vast continent is credited to a 33 year old Dutch surgeon, Jan van Riebeeck, who brought the original vine cuttings from France. In 1652 he recorded: "Today, praise be to God, wine was pressed for the first time from Cape grapes." Three years later, French Protestants brought their winemaking expertise to South Africa, which greatly improved the quality of the wines.
The designation of "Estate" on the label is considered as the equivalent of a French Chateau or Domaine. All Estate wines must be originate from and be vinified at a registered estate, however, the "estate" can actually be several vineyard sites, miles away from each other. The Wine of Origin (W.O.) on the label indicates that the wine is certified by the South African Government. The wines may be certified by estate, region, district, vintage, or variety. Wines listed by the varietal grape name must have at least 75 percent of the named varietal in the bottle, similar to our wine laws in the United States.
Although South Africa's wine regions are limited to a relatively small portion of the southern end of the continent, there are now eleven wine regions with uniquely different soils and climates, each producing huge yields. Export sales have just begun to scratch the surface of what South Africa has to offer. University of Utah's DCE Wine Education Program will feature South African wines at their upcoming Wines of the World class. Their tasting notes will be featured next week. For more information on the University's ongoing wine education program Email: Sheralwine@aol.com.
March 28, 2000