South Africa

Grape Types

Cabernet Sauvignon is responsible for many of the world's greatest wines and is, arguably, the grandest of all red wine varieties. This thick-skinned, late-ripening variety performs best in the warm, gravelly soils of the Médoc in Bordeaux, usually blended with lesser amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon is often packed full of cedar, herb and blackcurrant notes. Leaning towards musk, pencil lead and cigar-box in its home region of Bordeaux. Its deep-colour, assertive tannins and affinity with oak allow the wines to improve in bottle over many years if not decades. It is equally capable of producing affordable, everyday reds in regions like the south of France's Pays d'Oc, and countries like Bulgaria and Chile as it is of producing wines with real finesse and class. The best of which come from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Tuscany and parts of Australia, particularly Margaret River. Latterly, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina are laying claim to some very good blends and varietals made from Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chardonnay is one of the most widely-grown and versatile of all white grape varieties. As a relatively neutral grape, it offers a near transparent map of winemaking style, climate and terroir. It is the ideal grape variety for Burgundy, where it serves to mirror the complex nuances of the myriad of terroirs found in this hallowed land. Chardonnay produces a variety of wines from the minerally and unoaked styles found in Chablis, the fatter nuttier examples in Meursault, to the tropical fruit-driven versions found in the New World. It is also the major grape variety in Champagne, where it produces lively floral wines, namely in the Côte de Blancs. It can be found throughout Europe and the New World thanks to its versatility. As a non-aromatic variety, it has an affinity with oak, whether new or used, French or American.
Now widely planted across the world (notably in South Africa), Chenin Blanc is a white grape variety native to the Loire Valley where it produces a range of wine styles; sweet, dry and sparkling with complexity, depth and often longevity. In the middle Loire, Chenin Blanc is used for Anjou, Montlouis, Saumur, Savennieres, Vouvray, and Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume wines.
One of the world's most widely planted grapes, Grenache is a quintessentially Mediterranean red variety which does best as a low yielding bush vine. It produces warm spicy sloe fruit-dominated wines whose ultimate expression is in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the surrounding southern villages. Excellent results can also be found in the Roussillon, parts of the Languedoc, the Vales near Adelaide, and Spain where it is known as Garnacha.
Grenache Blanc is the white form of Grenache, and is planted in Southern France. Adding richness and weight, it is often blended with Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane. It is one of the permitted varieties in white Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
There are four main varieties of Muscat, the finest being Muscat à Petits Grains, followed by Muscat of Alexandria, then Muscat Hamburg and the lesser Muscat Ottonel. Renowned for its grapey aromatic character, Muscat is the great Mediterranean vine of antiquity, producing a variety of white wine styles, from the full-bodied dry whites of Alsace, to the sweet, fortified Muscats of Beaumes de Venise, Rivesaltes and Frontignan, to the lightly sparkling Moscato d’Asti wines of Piedmont that make for enthralling, refreshing aperitif or after dinner drinking.
Pinot Noir is the classic grape of red burgundy, whose greatest wines are concentrated in the east and south-east-facing clay/limestone hills of Burgundy's Côte d'Or. A notoriously temperamental variety, Pinot Noir has proved difficult to grow in certain climates and soils and will not tolerate over-cropping. The best examples have wonderfully expressive aromas and thrillingly pure bitter sweet red forest fruit and cherry flavours, developing truffle and game overtones with age. Outside of Burgundy, Pinot Noir has had great success in New Zealand, California’s Carneros, Oregon and the more marginal, cooler districts in Australia. Along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir is also one of the major components of Champagne.
Pinotage is a red South African variety developed by Professor A.I.Perold in 1924 as a cross between Cinsaut and Pinot Noir and then largely ignored for half a century. Revival began in the late 1980's thanks largely to Beyers Truter whose championing of the variety led to international recognition with Kanonkop. It comes in a plethora of styles according to growing conditions, vineyard management and winemaking. With an assortment of plum, cherry, blackberry and banana flavours, it takes to oak barrels and can age well.
A noble white Rhône grape variety blended with Marsanne to produce Crozes-Hermitage, St Joseph and Hermitage, as well as being a component of white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The grape can make wines that boast extraordinary class, finesse, with fine acidity demonstrating greengage fruit characteristics. Usually unoaked, Roussanne can support some barrel ageing but only when the wood is old. Found rarely on its own the most famous example is the glorious, long-lived Roussanne Vielles Vignes of Beaucastel.
There are various styles of Sauvignon Blanc from the fragrant, fresh Loire Valley style reminiscent of cut-grass, gooseberry, flint and nettles, to the contrasting Bordeaux-style, often blended with Semillon and Muscadelle and barrel-fermented to produce the richer, if less assertive, food friendly dry whites of Pessac-Leognan in the Graves. At the same time, it is also a vital component in the sweet, rich and luscious whites of Sauternes and Barsac. As a dry wine it has sprung to particular fame in New Zealand where it is made in a very pungent, expressive style with notes of kiwi passion fruit and mango. While South Africa has also had great success with the variety. Generally considered for youthful consumption, age-worthy examples can be found in Bordeaux, and the Loire from the likes of Didier Dagueneau and François Cotat.
The great red grape of the northern Rhône where it reaches its optimum levels in the violet-scented muscular wines of Hermitage and the graceful sappy Côte Rôties, which in the latter case is sometimes blended with Viognier. The wines of Cornas are renowned as producing Syrah-based wines very close in quality to Hermitage, while St Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage also represent some good value examples. It is also a component of many southern Rhône reds, namely Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. As Shiraz, it is Australia's most important red variety, found in various guises from ripe fruit-forward commercial wines to intense concentrated old vine cuvees such as Grange and those of Clarendon Hills. In the best instances Syrah/Shiraz produces deep, spicy, age-worthy wines.