NGW Wine School - S2 EP5 - South Africa 2


Welcome back to our wine school blog and can you believe it’s the 5th episode already! Today we finish off what we started last time by covering the remaining few areas of South Africa’s wine regions as well as other important information we feel you should know about the countries wine industry.

Picking up from last time we find ourselves in Klein Karoo, a region for fortified wines thanks to its warmer inland climate. Producing some interesting table wines too on a smaller scale, it’s no surprise their appearance in the UK is rare. West from here you find Breede River Valley and the region of Robertson. The good drainage alluvial soils and the sought after parcels of limestone outcrops go hand in hand with the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes that are grown here.

Located in the Robertson regions is the Graham Beck winery, founded in 1983, that focuses almost exclusively on Sparkling Wine being one of the best in the country. Being the head of the Methode Cap Classique (MCC) Sparkling Wine Association, Pieter ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira is the winemaker here. MCC is the South African term for the traditional, or Champagne method where the rules are slightly more relaxed with a minimum of 12 months on its lees and any grape permitted. Lees is the resultant of dead yeast cells that stay in the bottle as the wine matures over the 12 months before being disgorged to remove. Thanks to the before-mentioned limestone outcrops, traditional Champagne varieties work well here with the reduced acidity but some fruits are still sourced else well in places like Stellenbosch. This with blending reserve wines give a consistent non-vintage style. The early harvesting of grape to avoid over-ripeness and avoiding malo-lactic fermentation help retain the acidity. Avoiding this fermentation process holds the wine together which is ideal for a warmer climate sparkling production.

Heading back to Stellenbosch again, the region hosts some of the big-name areas like Boekenhoetskloof, Vergelegen and Meerlust as well the gorgeous Cape Dutch farmhouses from all the South African tourist Websites. Chenin Blanc and red Cinsault have been doing most of the heavy lifting thanks to its high yielding and easy to vinify grape but after a slight set back due to the Bordeaux blends of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the new generation of winemakers are re-discovering this high quality, old vine grape and now produce more Chenin Blanc than the Loire Valley.

After having to re-establish the region's vines because of the Phylloxera devastation, the local department of Viticulture is now focusing on the training of the new wave of winemakers as well as the long battle with virus-infected vine stocks. The whole region now looks to have adopted the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grape for white wine and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds were on the coast Pinot Noir and Sauvignon suit it better. An area known as the plains are made of sandy soils which suit white wines better and heavier decomposing granite in the foothills of the mountains with excellent drainage.

Our example from this region is the Stellenrust Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc. Harvested from 50-year-old vines, the grapes are fermented and matured in barrels and left on its lees after fermentation, a similar way how Burgundies gain their extra creamy complexity. The process of stirring the lees known as Battonage speeds up the process and adds complexity. This wine has butterscotch and fruit notes and pairs much better with cheeses like a ripe Camembert or Vacherin over a seafood dish.

North East of here is the large production region of Paarl. First settled by the Huguenots, it produces decent wines but are overshadowed on quality by its neighbouring region Franschhoek, which is Afrikaans for French Corner alluding to its French-Huguenot heritage. Boasting far greater scenery, this ward houses some of the countries best restaurants and a little old train connecting the vineyards with its main focus being on tourism. Many producers are found in UK stores with Boschendal, Nederburg, Fairview and Bellingham among the favourites with Cabernet and Shiraz being the favourable grape.

Being Sheltered by the Franschhoek mountains, the Wemmershoek mountains get little maritime influence and produces some excellent MCC sparkling wines. Our next example comes from the well-known producer of Chamonix called Chamonix Greywacke Pinotage. The combination of the Pinot Noir’s elegance and perfume with the Cinsault’s reliability and high yield really works wonders but handled poorly can produce some unpleasant aromas of banana and nail varnish. Such a superb wine pairs perfectly with a good Braai.

Thank you for joining us for the second part of South Africa. Next time we venture over to Chile where we’ll delve into the wine regions this country has to offer.