Signature Grapes and Icon Wines of South Africa

Two countries down: Chile and Argentina.  Did you try to pick up any of the wines I mentioned?  Hope you do have a chance to see what Argentina and Chile have to offer.

Now, let’s talk about South Africa in this second part of Signature Grapes and Icon Wines of the Southern Hemisphere.  I decided to put South Africa on it’s own as it is a bit of Old World and New World wine styles.  South African wines typically are made to go with food.  So maybe not as fruit forward as an Australian or a Californian wine, but it has structure that you expect with Old World style wines, such as from France or Italy.

South Africa

Signature Grapes

In South Africa, one of it’s signature grapes is Pinotage,  a home-grown cross of two French varieties, Pinot Noir and Cinsault created in 1925 at Stellenbosch University. The first wine was made in 1941 and as well the first commercial planting was established at Kanonkop Estate that same year. It typically produces deeply coloured red wines with smoky, bramble and earthy flavors, sometimes with notes of banana. It is sometimes criticized for having an aroma of nail polish, but this is not the case for all pinotage that I’ve tasted.  It is made into the full range of styles, from easy-drinking wine and roses to serious barrel-aged wines. One of my favourite roses was from Pinotage, produced by Beyerskloof.

Chenin Blanc is the signature white grape for South Africa, where it is locally known as “Steen“. Chenin Blanc is originally from the Loire Valley in France, where it makes a wide range of wines from dry table, to sparkling, to sweet wines.  In South Africa, Chenin Blanc can have fresh fruit and delicate floral aromas and flavours of apple, melon, apricot, guava and pineapple, complemented with crisp acidity.  Oak ageing adds a richer mouth feel. One of it’s virtue that aging benefits this grape. The wine will deepen to a straw-gold, and have added flavours of honey and nuts.

Icon Wines

  • Beyerskloof Pinotage
  • De Toren Fusion V
  • Boekenhoutskloof The Chocolate Block
  • Ken Forrester, FMC Chenin Blanc
  • Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc Steen op Hout
Beyerskloof Pinotage 2010

In 1988 one of the Cape’s most foremost wine makers, Beyers Truter of Kanonkop Estate, formed a partnership with four ardent wine lovers in Johannesburg and searched for a suitable new vineyard. They found a suitable vineyard in the Stellenbosch region and in a strange coincidence, five generations of the Beyers family worked this land before Jan Andries Beyers sold it in 1895.  In 1991 Kanonkop’s Beyers Truter was named International Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. He was the first South African winemaker ever to win this prestigious competition and did it with Pinotage. Beyerskloof Pinotage takes advantage of the wine making knowledge and skill of Beyers Truter. Their 2010 vintage has been described on the Beyerskloof website as “Darkish Burgundian purple. Spicy wood notes against rich plum and berry fruit, with typical restrained ‘fynbos’ aromatic notes. Dry, soft fruit-encased tannins follow spicy/fruit-sweet entry, understated and balanced, medium-bodied with a nice spicy length.”

De Toren Fusion V is named such because it is a blend of the only the best of the five red Bordeaux variatals that the farm produces. Made up of all of the classic varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. This is a wine made to age 10-15 years. The De Toren winery overlooks False Bay, close to the ocean. This moderating climate helps the Bordeaux varietals keep their acidity while reaching full phenological ripeness from the day’s sun. This wine has won accolades from Wine Spectator, John Platters Wine Guide,  International Wine & Spirit Competition and more.The tasting notes from De Toren for their 2008 vintage is “Approach on the nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon based blend shows elegance with hints of sweet candy floss and cacao. The intense colour is followed by an aura of liquorice, black chocolate and blackberries. Mull this wine on your palate and it reveals well balanced tannins combined with carefully extracted oak is which gives the wine the structures and depth to become even greater with careful cellaring. River rock minerality combines with sweetness and ensures a lasting impression after a sip of this milk made for angels.

The Boekenhoutskloof farm was founded in 1776 in the Franschhoek Valley. The valley was originally settled in 1688 by French Huguenot refugees who brought their French vines. The Chocolate Block is a blend of Syrah, Grenache noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Viognier. Winemaker Marc Kent was inspired to make The Chocolate Block came from his travels in the Mediterranean areas of Languedoc-Roussillon, France, and the Costa Brava, Spain where Grenache-Syrah blends are common, and his consideration that the climate in South Africa is similar to these regions. The amount of “chocolate” character that the wine displays each vintage is variable, but on the whole it tends to be generous. The authoratative John Platter’s Guide has given every vintage to date rating at least 4 Stars out of 5. Decanter rated the 2005 Chocolate Block vintage as “Earthy chocolate with some minty spice. Fresh red fruits, full-bodied, concentrated and with lots of spice.” and gave it 5 Stars.

The grapes for the FMC Chenin Blanc wine are grown in Ken Forrester‘s estate vineyards at the foot of the Helderberg in Stellenbosch. The vineyards are farmed organically, and all work is done by hand. The grapes are hand selected from a single block of low yielding Chenin bush vines.  Wine Spectator rated the FMC Chenin Blanc 2008 with 92 points and wrote about it as “A very ripe, exotic style, with a toasted hazelnut aroma leading the way for almond tuile, fig and glazed pear notes. The lush finish lets additional papaya and creamed peach notes chime in. This has an off-dry hint, but stays balanced. A flashy style for sure, but pulls it off. Drink now through 2011. 515 cases made.”  The Ken Forrester, FMC Chenin Blanc 2007 was also listed in the Decanter‘s Ten best varietal wines from South Africa. If you have not tried Chenin Blanc, this would be one you should try.

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc Steen Op Hout
Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc Steen Op Hout

Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc Steen op Hout is an oaked Chenin, compared to Ken Forrester’s unoaked style. You have probably seen this wine many times in your wine shop.  It is quite distinctive with it’s long, thin, ribbon-like wine label. International Wine Cellar rated the Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2009 with 89 points and wrote about it “Pale bright yellow. Subdued but ripe aromas of honey, musky pineapple, peach and smoky oak, with some oak influence showing. Sweet (7.7 g/l r.s.), fat, silky and broad, with the honeyed character continuing in the mouth. Offers lush fruit but finishes with a surprisingly firm edge. This wine spent four months in new American and Hungarian oak, then went into second-fill barrels.”

If you didn’t have a chance to read my article on Chile and Argentina, here is the link. Signature Grapes and Icon Wines of Chile and Argentina.

Stay tuned for Part 3, Signature Grapes and Icon Wines of Australia and New Zealand.

Author: mywinepal
Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.

3 thoughts on “Signature Grapes and Icon Wines of South Africa

  1. My favorite Southern Hemisphere wine is Wolf Blass Shiraz. Wolf Blass consently produces high quality wine and Shiraz one of my favorites as it seems to have body and just enough sweetness for me.

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