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South Africa: The old ‘New World’

South Africa Vines

Welcome to the diverse and stunningly beautiful country of South Africa! Famous for Vin de Constance and home to its own indigenous variety, Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault), us Brits love South African wine, and have done for some time. According to the not-for-profit group Wines of South Africa, one in four bottles of wine exported ends up here in the UK – and there are a couple of us in the office here at Perfect Cellar who contribute heavily to that!

First, a quick history lesson. For a country widely classified in wine terms as ‘New World’, South Africa actually has a long history of winemaking dating back to the influx of French Huguenot immigrants in the mid-seventeenth century. In 1659 the legendary Constantia vineyard was planted and subsequently placed eternally into British folklore by Victorian authors such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

During the twentieth century, anti-apartheid boycotts and a chronic lack of innovation or investment meant South African wine largely disappeared from our tables, but it has enjoyed a rapid renaissance since the 1990s. This is largely focused around international grape varieties such as Chenin Blanc (known locally as Steen), Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, whilst the relatively temperate Western Cape region remains the only viable area for grape-growing.

All South African wine is protected by the Wine of Origin scheme, separated into geographical units, regions, districts and wards (largest to smallest). As indicators of quality, districts and wards are the best guides as they mirror the European Appellation schemes, taking into account unique soil types as well as climatic and ecological factors of a particular area (district rules are broader than wards) – but with much simpler rules dictating only that the grapes must come from that particular area (no restriction on yields and maximum sugar levels here!).

The modern South African wine industry is still dominated by huge co-operatives and major brands, but substantial investment in viticultural techniques (93% of wine industry adheres to a set sustainability criteria) and European winemaking styles as well as a commitment to quality means that modern South Africa produces wine that sits somewhere in between the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ worlds of wine.

Today there are nearly 500 private wine estates, mostly focused in the newly-established cooler climate wards. One such ward is ‘Greyton’, where our wonderful producer Lismore is located. It is actually the only registered wine estate in this mountainous landscape and produces wines of European elegance and complexity. Don’t take our word for it though - try our Lismore Estate Viognier; a great alternative to Condrieu packed full of lushly textured fruit and vibrant, blood orange acidity.

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