South Africa has been producing wine since 1655, but despite centuries worth of history the vast majority of juice it has bottled has been less than stellar. That all seems to be changing, however, as South Africa is now producing a variety of top quality wines, especially Chenin Blanc.
Basically since Mandela came into power in 1994, South Africa has been developing wines at a pace that matches those of other New World territories (think California, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand). Today, the country is ready to become a wine powerhouse.
Chenin Blanc is the most-planted wine grape in South Africa and is believed to be one of the first grapes delivered to the Cape some 350 years ago. Today, the nation holds about 60 percent of the world’s vineyards of Chenin Blanc and boasts bottles that are beginning to rivals those from the iconic Loire Valley.
The reason Chenin has been so successful in South Africa is because of its malleability. Its flavors and aromas mirror the land where it is grown. Cold weather versions present white blossoms and green apples, while warm weather wines offer minerality. There can be a touch of sweetness or it can go bone-dry.
If you’re looking for a place to start, we’d recommend Stellenbosch–one of South Africa’s oldest and most important wine producing regions. Varieties from here will be energetic with bright fruit flavors like apple, lemon, and peach. They pair well with seafood like shrimp or oysters.
Chenin Blanc from the Citrusdal Mountain region, part of the Western Cape viticultural area, are marked by intense minerality. Sitting between 1,600-2,200 ft above sea level, the vineyards in Citrusdal Mountain are among South Africa’s highest. The elevation means hot, dry days are followed by significantly colder nights, giving the grapes time to cool down overnight. The diurnal temperature variation leads to complex aromas in the wines without sacrificing acidity.
Wellington–also part of the Western Cape region–offers bone dry varieties of the wine. There, mountain shadows limit the amount of sun exposure, meaning grapes have a longer ripening season.
South Africa’s varied topography, the influence of two oceans–the Atlantic and the Indian–and Mediterranean style climate, means that the nation has a myriad of microclimates producing a wide range of wines that should only improve in the coming years and decades.