A long history of growing grapes and making wine, but less of a history on exporting it, and even lesser on
the quality aspect.
At the turn of the century (1900, that is), a surplus of wine in South Africa created a hierarchy of cooperatives, the
biggest and best known being KWV. This organization seemed to favor quantity over quality and had most
control over wines and vineyards until the late 1980's. Now, with a bit more competition, quality is coming
around. Yet, South African wine was not even seen in American wine stores until the mid-1990's – the trade
embargo on the country for their racial apartheid laws kept South African wine out of the US. When apartheid fell, so did the
embargo, and SA bottles began showing up on US shelves.
White wine has always been the cash crop of South Africa, with much of it distilled to make brandy.
More white than red is
planted, much of it the Steen variety – known elsewhere in the world as
Chenin Blanc. Good producers are making
top quality dry wines from this grape. Another grape gaining some raves is
Sauvignon Blanc, producing
whites that are dry and crisp, yet rounder than many of its Southern Hemisphere counterparts. For reds,
the top grapes are Syrah/Shiraz,
Cabernet Sauvignon (& blends) and
Pinotage. Cabernet Sauvignon and
Bordeaux blends was once the
favorite and most-produced, but Shiraz is taking over as
wineries crank out high quality wines from the variety. Pinotage, which used to be a grape only your
mother could love, has improved dramatically and is often as delicious as it is distinctive. The most
popular regions of the country include Stellenbosch and Paarl.