Wine Grape Varieties


The main vartieties of wine-producing grapes planted in South Africa, together with some of the less common cultivars

WHITE

RED

Bukettraube
Chardonnay
Chenin Blanc
Cinsaut
Colombar(d)
Crouchen Blanc
Fernão Pires
Gewürztraminer
Hanepoot (Muscat d'Alexandrie)
Hàrslevelü
Marsanne
Muscat de Frontignan
Pinot Blanc
Pinot Gris
Riesling
Roussanne
Sauvignon Blanc
Semillon
Sylvaner
Viognier
Barbera
Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon
Carignan
Gamay Noir
Grenache
Malbec
Merlot
Mourvèdre
Nebbiolo
Petit Verdot
Pinot Meunier
Pinot Noir
Pinotage
Pontac
Ruby Cabernet
Sangiovese
Shiraz (Syrah)
Sousão
Tempranillo (Tinta Roriz)
Tinta Barroca
Touriga Naçional
Zinfandel

Barbera

(Bar-bear-uh)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: fairly loose bunches of grapes; medium to large berries of a deep ruby hue.
IN THE GLASS: deep ruby colour.

SMELL

Herbal, with bramble and ripe, wild berry aromas.

TASTE

From herby dryness to fruity richness, with a typically brambly finish. Also reminiscent of ripe blackberry, sweet vanilla and sometimes exhibiting an earthiness.

ORIGIN

Believed to have originated around Monferrato in Piedmont, Italy – there were certain references to grapes called Barbero and Barberi in the 13th century. It’s one of Italy's most widely planted red grapes, often used as a blending component. (There also exists a white-berried Barbera Bianca).

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Ralph Parker, third generation owner of the historic Altydgedacht estate in Durbanville was persuaded to plant some in the early 1900s. Oliver, Ralph's grandson, established the wine as a regular member of the Altydgedacht range in 1986 – 1992 was the maiden vintage of Altydgedacht Barbera as a single varietal wine.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Barbera's reputation as a workhorse variety has seen it spread all over Italy and beyond, where it gained a stronghold in the New World: Argentina's Mendoza and San Juan provinces; Brazil; Uruguay; the Central Valley in California; Australia's New South Wales and Victoria.

AGEING POTENTIAL

The wine is made in a wide variety of styles, from the young and spritzy to powerful, intense wines requiring lengthy maturation and cellaring – up to 10 years. Usually made to be accessible within a year of the vintage.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Best enjoyed with Italian fare such as antipasti, pasta with tomato-based sauces, and Parma ham.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 16º and 18° C.


Bukettraube

(Book-it-row-buh)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: conical, compact bunches of round, firm grapes, the berries having a tough skin, yellowish green at maturity.
IN THE GLASS: light gold to a deep yellow, sometimes with a hint of pink.

SMELL

Prominent Muscat bouquet.

TASTE

Tropical fruit-salad, dried peach and apricot flavours. Mostly semi-sweet or Special Late Harvest in style.

ORIGIN

Thought to be German, though there is a variety in Alsace, France, called Bouquettraube, which is said to have originated in Würzburg and whose leaves resemble those of Elbling (another Alsace grape variety) and whose grapes are lightly Muscat-scented. “Bukett” is German for bouquet.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

First imported in 1967, the variety adapted well. South Africa is one of the few wine-producing countries in the world that bottles Bukettraube as a single varietal wine.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Still grown in Alsace on a small scale, Bukettraube has not been a great traveler – South Africa appears to be the only country outside Germany and France to have any plantings.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Generally no longer than 12 months.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Best with spicy salads, smoked cold meats – or with ice cream in the case of very sweet expressions.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Well chilled: between 8° and 10° C.


Cabernet Franc

(Cab-er-nay Fronc)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: blue-black berries in small, loosely-packed, conical bunches.
IN THE GLASS: similar to Cabernet Sauvignon – deep garnet centre and ruby rim, moving quickly to a brick-coloured rim with age (a 10-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon may still be ruby when a Cabernet Franc of the same age will be browner).

SMELL

Usually very aromatic; sweet spice whiffs – such as nutmeg and cinnamon – are typical; black and red berry fruits, and sometimes the herbaceous fragrance of a Cabernet Sauvignon.

TASTE

Cabernet Franc is lighter in body and tannins – and usually shyer – than Cabernet Sauvignon. Fruity and chewy at times; the term plum-pudding has been used. These wines can be lean and astringent in their youth, softening and integrating faster than Cabernet Sauvignon.

ORIGIN

Genetic profiling has revealed Cab Franc to be a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. Its home is France, particularly Bordeaux.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Cabernet Franc was first planted in South Africa in the early 1980s, with much the same following as in France – favoured in blends to complement its more muscular relative, Cabernet Sauvignon. Warwick pioneered the bottling of single-varietal Cabernet Franc in the Cape, its first vintage the 1988.

BEST EXAMPLES

The most famous internationally is Cheval Blanc, from Bordeaux. South Africa’s front-runners: Raats, Neethlingshof Lord Neethling...

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Best served with lighter, spicy red meat dishes; also with quail, chicken with tarragon, ham, pork and veal; or with meaty fish and fish in red wine sauce.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 16º and 18º C.


Cabernet Sauvignon

(Cab-er-nay Sew-vee-nyon)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: small, round, black berries; cylindrical, conical and winged bunches.
IN THE GLASS: good young Cabernet will be deeply coloured, dense ruby approaching an Indian-ink black; upon maturity, the ruby mellows to tawny, first by way of a brick edge but later throughout the entire glass.

SMELL

Blackberry, bramble fruit characteristics can be fleshed out with mulberry and mineral tones. Possibly showing cedar and sandalwood, and, even when immature, aromas can suggest pencil lead and tobacco leaf, cigar-box. Other distinguishing characteristics: an earthiness, tea leaves, youngberries, blackcurrant, cassis, spicy oak vanilla, a slight herbaceousness.

TASTE

On the palate, expect some of the following: blackcurrant and cassis, blackberry forest fruit, dusty tea-leaf, tobacco and firm dry tannins – a full-bodied Cabernet can prompt associations with liquorice, chocolate, grassiness. Older clones tend to be more herbaceous with a green-pepper character.

ORIGIN

Cabernet is associated with some of France’s finest, with Bordeaux considered to be its home. This popular varietal has been cultivated throughout the world’s major wine-producing countries. It is bottled on its own, but often blended with Cabernet Franc and/or Merlot, with some combinations also including Petit Verdot and/or Malbec.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

No record exists to confirm Cabernet Sauvignon’s first arrival in South Africa, though it is likely that the varietal has been here for over 200 years. By the 1920s it had become one of the country’s top-quality red varieties, and today it is grown in virtually all of the wine-producing areas.

BEST EXAMPLES

Château Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux produces one of the very best Cabernets from the Old World, with Opus One of California in the USA one of the very best of the New World (Opus One is a joint venture between Mondavi and Mouton Rothschild). In South Africa, some of the wines with best track records include: Boekenhoutskloof, Thelema, Jordan, Neil Ellis, Rustenberg, Kanonkop...

AGEING POTENTIAL

Increasingly accessible when released as a young wine, really good Cabernet Sauvignon, prepared for the long haul, needs time to reach that pinnacle of elegant, lasting power. It will retain its Cabernet character throughout the course to brilliance, but changes the nature of its expression as it matures. Top quality Cabernets have been known to peak after 10 years, with some lasting for well over 20.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Good with roast beef, casseroles, grills – marinated or heavily sauced – as well as stews, kidneys, venison.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 16º and 18º C.


Carignan

(Carry-nyan)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: small, very hard-skinned, dark berries.
IN THE GLASS: the colour ranges from dense purple to dark ruby.

SMELL

Red fruits and spice.

TASTE

A wine that can have great intensity, flavour – lots of red berry fruits and allspice on the palate with firm tannins.

ORIGIN

From the town of Cariñena in the Aragon province of north-east Spain, this vine has also been cultivated in south-west France since the 12th century, hence its Gallic name.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Carignan was introduced to the country in the mid ’70s to boost the colour in red blends. Originally planted in areas where the soil and rainfall were good, the variety can also perform well in arid sites.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Established in countries including Spain (Cariñena), Italy and Sardinia (Carignano), it has also taken root in California (where it's known as Carignane), Israel, Algeria and Chile. In France, it was used so extensively for blending purposes in the south during the 1960s that it became the country’s most-planted red grape variety. Though no wine in France is labelled as single varietal Carignan, a large amount of red vin de table wines are just that. An exceptionally productive vine, Carignan earned a bad rap for being high in acidity, tannins and bitterness – plantings of this workhorse variety declined in the ’80s and ’90s due to the EU's Vine Pull Scheme.

AGEING POTENTIAL

High in both tannin and acid, the wines can be cellared for five to seven years.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Complements robust dishes such as Osso Bucco, braised lamb shanks or Chorizo sausages.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 16º and 18° C.


Chardonnay

(Shar-doh-nay)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: the bunches are usually cylindrical to conical in shape while the berries are small, round, and pale green to yellow when ripe.
IN THE GLASS: a full straw colour – ranging from a gentle yellow hue, lemon-yellow white, and mellowing with age to a golden yellow.

SMELL

Straw aspects may well show on a lighter Chardonnay; forest pine or resin can be part of a simple Chardonnay. Melons, peach and apricot aromas often suggest Chenin Blanc but are also present in supple, unwooded Chardonnay, as are the herbaceous notes regularly associated with Sauvignon Blanc. Good Chardonnay is often distinguished by citrus fruit – lemon, sometimes lime. The typical odours associated with the variety vary depending on whether the wine has been wooded or not. Unwooded Chardonnays retain their fresh, zesty citrus/lime/lemon while wooded ones reflect the influence of barrels by way of vanilla, butterscotch and toasty aromas – spiced nuttiness with age.

TASTE

As with the nose, the taste of Chardonnay is vastly affected by whether it has spent time in barrel or not. Unwooded Chardonnays can show crisp citrusy flavours while the wooded ones are invariably buttery, tasting of toast and vanilla. That said, whereas once most Chardonnays were big, bold, rich and rather profusely wooded, today they come in many guises, alone or in blends – from ordinary, off-dry and bland, to plush butterscotch or caramel when exposed to decent oak, with unfolding layers of tangy fruit, and supported by stylish wood tannin in the more complex examples. Some of the fruit flavours associated with the variety include apple, fig, melon, pear, peach, pineapple, lemon and grapefruit.

ORIGIN

Burgundy in France is accepted as the home of this grape and is where some of the finest examples can be found – there is some speculation that it is a mutation of Pinot Noir, while others advance the theory that it originated in the Middle East.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

The variety arrived in the Cape as recently as the second half of the 20th century, initially brought in illegally by impatient vintners wanting to keep pace with world trends.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Besides Burgundy, Chardonnay is also synonymous with the Champagne region of France, both as a blending partner and on its own as Blanc de Blancs. California (USA) has achieved international success with the wine using the catch-all (French) term “Chablis” as a strong marketing tool. Australia has had great success in marketing its versions, too. The versatile variety does well in numerous areas around the globe...

BEST EXAMPLES

Meursault and Montrachet are considered among the finest white Burgundies, whereas South Africa’s top Chardonnays tend to include Mulderbosch, Hamilton Russell, Jordan, Amani, Chamonix, Fleur du Cap...

AGEING POTENTIAL

Good longevity: premium wooded Chardonnays can easily spend six years in bottle, with some of the French classics lasting for 30 years or more.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Full-bodied Chardonnays go well with buttery dishes, Hollandaise sauce, rich fish and chicken dishes in creamy sauces, shellfish, ratatouille, salads dressed with nut oil, cheeses... Medium-bodied examples complement crayfish, smoked salmon or salmon trout, sushi or Thai food, mild curries, rabbit, chicken, turkey...

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 10° and 16° C.


Chenin Blanc

(Shen-in Blonc)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: the compact bunches are usually conical in shape, with some broadening at the shoulders. The berries tend to be small ovals, very juicy and fairly thin-skinned. Greeny yellow when ripe.
IN THE GLASS: a good Chenin, oaked or otherwise, will tend to be crystal clear with an attractive gleam when young, becoming straw yellow and gold when aged or wooded.

SMELL

Tropical fruit aromas. Guava. Sometimes a honeyed melon bouquet.

TASTE

Made in a diversity of styles, bone-dry to full-sweet, with quintessential examples including young, unwooded, dry to off-dry wines offering uncomplicated, crisp fruitiness for easy drinking. Confusion with Chardonnay is understandable when the wood vanillins are prominent, the palate or finish creamy, full and dry – but Chardonnay’s lemon zest is missing. When made as a dry still wine it shows the same tropical fruit found on the nose. When made as a botrytised dessert wine it is unctuous, sweet, honeyed, full of dried apricots and peaches, sometimes butterscotch. Classically, one can expect tree fruits – guava, peach and apricot – or tropical melon characteristics in fresh bottles, while honey and almond features can develop with age.

ORIGIN

As with most wine grapes, it’s French in origin. The earliest records have it cultivated in the 9th century at an abbey in the Anjou region.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Believed to have been brought to South Africa by Jan van Riebeeck, Chenin Blanc is used for making still white wines, rosé, sweet dessert wines, sparkling wines as well as brandy and sherry.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Used to make some of the great wines of the Loire Valley, France, regarded as the spiritual home of Chenin Blanc, where it’s made in various styles that range from crisp, dry and almost flinty to those with a very honeyed sweetness – not forgetting the region’s vibrant sparkling wines.

BEST EXAMPLES

From France: Chateau de Fesles, Chateau de Belle Rive, Gaston Huet, Marc Bredif... South African front-runners: Ken Forrester, Kanu, Bellingham, Kleine Zalze, Rudera, Rijk’s...

AGEING POTENTIAL

French Chenin can keep for decades, particularly those from Vouvray, which sustain their quality for years and years. South African Chenin has only been made in serious styles since the mid to late 1990s and has yet to prove its longevity.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Seafood and fish, and Thai food – or light summer chicken dishes.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 12° and 14° C.


Cinsaut

(Sin-sew)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: large bunches and quite compact clusters that are conical in shape. The berries are a dark, inky blue – also large and with a distinctive ‘powdery’ bloom on the skin.
IN THE GLASS: it can range from a light blush-pink colour in the case of rosés to a deep, inky ruby red.

SMELL

Ranges from fruity and jammy to rather meaty and beefy. Sometimes candyfloss, spice (cinnamon) and nuts.

TASTE

Raspberry, jelly babies, sugarwater. A versatile grape that produces wines low in tannin, it can be used to make a range of styles, from delicate rosé to a dry red varietal, blend or port.

ORIGIN

In France, where it’s spelled Cinsault, it’s grown mainly in the south, from Provençe to the Midi.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

The variety was imported from the south of France in the mid 19th century and, until the late 20th century, it was the single most widely planted red cultivar at a time when it was better known as Hermitage. Cinsaut is used chiefly as a blending component – with Merlot and Shiraz, for example, or with Cabernet Sauvignon – but the exceptionally high sugar levels attained in some areas make it a good base for port-style wines. It owes its popularity among farmers to its ability to withstand hot growing conditions. Tassenberg and Chateau Libertas, two of South Africa's biggest red wine brands, both started life as blends including Cinsaut as an ingredient.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

In France, Cinsaut is grown from Provençe to the Midi and, mainly, in the southern Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon vineyards, where it makes robust wines. Best results are obtained when it is blended, as happens at Châteauneuf-du-Pape for example.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Can range from immediately accessible easy drinking wines to those where Cinsaut has been teamed with a heavier, more serious grape like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, with resultant good cellaring potential.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Red meat, stir fries, pasta with meat sauces, heavy soups (French onion, ham and pea), beef Stroganoff and pizza.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Lighter Cinsauts and Cinsaut blends: 12–16° C. Full-bodied Cinsauts and Cinsaut blends: 16–18° C.


Colombar(d)

(Colom-bar)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: Colombar is a vigorous vine that does well in hot, dry climates. Both bunches and berries are medium-size and it has a thin, tough skin that's yellowish green with a purple tinge when fully mature.
IN THE GLASS: colour varies between bright pale-straw yellow to pale gold. A hint of green often denotes youth.

SMELL

A distinctly flowery perfume. Guava, melon, tropical fruit, candyfloss, floral, peach, apricot, honey and almond. Floral tones.

TASTE

All the aspects of the nose carry through to the palate and combine with the wine’s lively acidity.

ORIGIN

From south-west France, it was once the state's most planted variety, providing reliably crisp base wine for commercial, often quite sweet white blends, and it remains a fruity, crisp dry and off-dry white wine, of rather modest quality. Half of France's plantings were uprooted in the '70s, though it remains associated with Armagnac and Cognac, for which it is distilled.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

South African Colombar's high acidity and suitability to cool fermentation resulted in a discernable increase in plantings after 1970. Also termed Colombard (with a ‘d’), the variety became important to the country’s brandy industry, and reached a peak of popularity for cheap off-dry white. It is now cultivated extensively in the hot interior, often under irrigation, in the Orange and Olifants River areas, as well as in the Little Karoo and the Breede River Valley.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

California's Mendocino, Lake Country and San Joaquin Valley Colombars are well known, whereas Colombars from the Gironde region in France play a major role in eau-de-vie production.

BEST EXAMPLES

In France, the Armagnac region's Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne and Vin de Pays Charentais.

AGEING POTENTIAL

This variety should be drunk young, as it tends to lose its fruit after a while.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Salads, light fish dishes, delicate terrines and crisp salads.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 8° and 14° C.


Crouchen Blanc

(Crew-shin Blonc)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: medium sized bunches with green berries. Crouchen Blanc is a vigorous grower, so canopy management is essential to controlling the quality of the fruit.
IN THE GLASS: light straw with a green tinge.

SMELL

Grass, herbs, thatch, guava, geranium, honey and fruit cordial.

TASTE

Fruity, fresh, easy-drinking and well balanced if picked at optimal ripeness.

ORIGIN

The variety originated in the Western Pyrenees of France, but is no longer widely planted there because of its susceptibility to fungal diseases.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Among the first varieties to arrive in the Cape a few centuries ago, Crouchen Blanc was mistaken for German Rhine or Weisser Riesling. When the real Riesling turned up, the mistake came to light but the Riesling tag stuck. Cape winemakers adopted the grape as its own, still calling it Riesling, Cape or South African Riesling (Nederburg labelled it Paarl Riesling), planting it in increasing quantities in the '70s and '80s. In the '90s the variety lost ground to more popular varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Crouchen is to be found in the Landes region in southwest France as well as the Barossa and Clare Valley in Australia. The Australians imported the variety from the Cape, confusing it for a long time with Semillon, which they called Riesling until the mid-1970s when it was identified as Crouchen.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Not more than 18 months.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Light green salads and delicate seafood dishes.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 8° and 14° C.


Fernão Pires

(Fur-now Pea-res)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: a strong to medium grower that ripens early, the variety is characteristically quite drab in the vineyard, rather than a vibrant green. Quite tight, medium size bunches, while the berries are oval in shape and green/yellow in colour.
IN THE GLASS: an attractive white wine, if unremarkable colour wise.

SMELL

Muscat scents – honey, pepper, spice, and citronella lemon, although some tasters get boiled cabbage!

TASTE

Tropical fruit such as mango, with Muscat spiciness following through from the nose and some lemony notes. It is usually easy-drinking but with a full mouthfeel. It can resemble Chenin Blanc in its firm acidity. Alcohol can be high, and the variety can sometimes taste (and smell) of pepper.

ORIGIN

The biggest plantings in the world can be found in Portugal – notably in Ribatejo. In Barraida the grape is known as Maria Gomes and is used for the production of sparkling wine. Sub-varieties are Beco and Fernão Pirão (although they are not as heavily fruited and perfumed as Fernão Pires). Also known as Fernam Pires.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

One of the few countries outside Portugal to cultivate this grape, where it made its mark in the drier, hotter winegrowing areas –Robertson's Van Loveren were the first to bottle a Fernão Pires in 1982. Initially made dry and quite alcoholic, the wines have evolved, and most winemakers have settled for a far more appealing, slightly sweeter style. It still has its Muscat character but some lemony citrus fruit is usually evident these days.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Best enjoyed as a fruity, easy-drinking wine. Keep for 12 to 18 months but no longer than two years.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Delicate spicy foods, for example a peppery salad containing rocket leaves.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

An ideal summer wine best served chilled at between 8° and 14° C.


Gamay Noir

(Ga-may Nwaar)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: bunches are medium-sized, cylindrical and occasionally branched. Slightly oval-shaped juicy berries are medium-sized, tough-skinned and covered in black bloom.
IN THE GLASS: a light crimson colour – more pink than dark red.

SMELL

Fresh cherry fruit, raspberry, boiled sweets if made using carbonic maceration; savoury, gamey, spice, herbs and bacon if made conventionally.

TASTE

Pleasant and fruity, an easy-drinking, lighter-style wine – again, if made by carbonic maceration. There are those who refer to Gamay as 'bubble-gum wine' but, in defence of the grape, it can produce full, fruity and spicy-style wines such as the benchmark Beaujolais.

ORIGIN

Famous for the wines of the Beaujolais, Gamay Noir is a native of Burgundy from around the 14th century. It is the opposite of the more refined Pinot Noir, producing cheerful, juicy wine enjoyed by the connoisseur and recommended as a starting point for beginners. True Gamay is produced by the traditional carbonic maceration method: whole bunches, sealed in with carbon dioxide, undergo an automatic fermentation within each berry. At the same time, normal fermentation of juice from the bottom layer of the whole bunches takes place.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Gamay Noir in the Cape has experienced mixed fortunes; planted by many growers from the 1920s onwards, it was removed in favour of the heavier-bearing and more consistent Cinsaut. When Nederburg's Günter Brözel launched a nouveau-style Gamay Noir at the 1985 Nederburg Auction lunch, a scant 55 days after harvest, he revived the interest. The following year a handful of Gamay labels appeared on the market. It was also popularised by the now defunct annual Paarl Nouveau Wine Festival. The number of varietal SA Gamays on the market today is tiny.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Beaujolais in France is the spiritual home of this grape. The Côte d'Or winemakers blend controlled amounts of Gamay into their Pinot Noir and the variety is used for blending elsewhere in France. Some is planted in both Canada and California while larger plantings can be found near Geneva in Switzerland.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Grape tannins are usually low and many Beaujolais wines are unwooded but some of the best French examples are oaked and full of intensity. Although not intended to last long, the finer versions develop a smoothness with time. It is generally meant to be drunk within one to three years after the harvest.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Cold meats; light pasta dishes; smoked meats; spicy sausage dishes; pork and mild curries.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 14° and 16° C.


Gewürztraminer

(Gi-virtz-truh-meaner)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: loose, conical bunches – quite small – with little pinky/bronze coloured grapes that are thin-skinned.
IN THE GLASS: as with any other white wine, it can vary from straw to pale gold – but can produce deep golden wines, sometimes with a slight copper or peach hue when made from full or over-ripe grapes, or when it has some bottle age.

SMELL

Highly aromatic, fragrant wine and one of the most easily recognisable grapes. Odours range from litchis and melons to flower petals, roses, honey and even spice.

TASTE

Honey, apricot, litchi, roses, musky grapiness and even a touch of slightly bitter pith of citrus fruit are often used to describe Gewürz. The flavours range according to the style of the wine – which varies from dry to sweet. A touch of spice and a hint of honey on a mouthful of tropical fruit. On the sweeter ones honey and ripe-apple have been noted. Alsace Gewürz used to be classically dry, though now confusingly sweeter – with nothing to show this on the label. In the Cape, some residual sugar adds flavour and weight, while the dry wines can be slightly bitter on the finish.

ORIGIN

Accepted as the speciality of Alsace, the origins of this grape are a little unclear. Some suggest the variety was once known as Traminer, found in the Italian Tyrol around 1000 AD – a small green grape that wasn't as aromatic as its modern counterpart – and certain ampelographers consider Traminer to be a descendant of a Greek variety brought to Europe by the Romans. Apparently it mutates easily, and it was the pink-berried version of Musqué that generally became known as Gewürztraminer in the 19th century. The variety doesn't do well in warmer climates. Other than in Alsace, it's best suited to the cooler areas of the United States of America, Australia and New Zealand. Germany and central Europe also have some plantings.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

It was first planted locally well over 40 years ago – with limited success. It makes spicy, boldly scented whites of character, and tends to be made as an off-dry or sweeter wine in the Cape.

BEST EXAMPLES

Alsace: Trimbach, Humbrecht or Domaine Weinbach. South Africa: Neethlingshof.

AGEING POTENTIAL

The drier Gewürztraminers should probably be consumed within a year. With some of the sweeter style wines, additional maturation will allow the spicy bottle-aromas to develop. The finest from Alsace are extremely serious wines capable of medium-term ageing.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Goes very well with smoked cold meats, pâté, mild curries (if the wine is sweeter), as well as Thai and Indonesian dishes. Mature cheddar and pungent cheeses also make a good accompaniment.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Dry Gewürz: 8–14° C. Sweet, semi-sweet Gewürz: 8–14° C. Special/Noble Late Harvest: 8–10° C


Grenache

(Gre-nash)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: Grenache tends to have fairly big, round berries, carried on a bunch that can be quite straggly and loose, yet rounded. The colour of the berries when ripe is amber red, similar to Cinsaut.
IN THE GLASS: the colour is fresh purple, rather than dense black, with some transparency.

SMELL

Distinctive black pepper and spice – the cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon of a Christmas cake.

TASTE

Grenache can be quite tannic, with a lean mid-palate.

ORIGIN

One of the world's most widely planted grape varieties, Grenache is a quintessentially Mediterranean red variety. It originated in the northern province of Aragon, Spain, and spread to Rioja and Navarre before being planted extensively both north and south of the Pyrenees, notably in Roussillon. By the 1800s it was well established in the southern Rhône, and there's little doubt that it's the same variety as Sardinia's Cannonau, supporting the theory that the variety came from this island off Italy to Spain when Sardinia was under Aragon rule between 1297 and 1713.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Grenache found its way to the Cape Colony in the 19th century, but it was only in the early 1900s that Abraham Perold, professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University, confirmed the identity of the grape. The meager plantings are mostly to be found in the Olifants River region, with some in Malmesbury and Worcester.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

It can produce powerful reds whose greatest expression, from old, low-yielding vines, is to be found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Château Rayas) in France and in Australia's Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. In France its clear pink colour has made it sought after for rosés. Known in Spain as Garnacha Tinta, it's particularly popular in Rioja and Priorato – it fleshes out Tempranillo, too. Also grown in Argentina, Chile, Australia, Italy, California, as well as North Africa where it's used in sweet fortified wines.

BEST EXAMPLES

Garnacha is used in one of Spain's most revered wines, Vega Sicilia. Well known in the Tavel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes-du-Rhône country, Grenache is also a prime component of the reds and rosés of Lirac, Gigondas, Côtes du Ventoux and Coteaux du Tricastin. In South Africa it’s used most successfully in premium blends.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Depending on the style, best drunk within seven years.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

The leanness of the wine can make a good partner to a spicy, fatty lamb dish and other rich Arabian and Mediterranean food.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Best between 15°C and 16°C.


Hanepoot

(Haa-nuh-poort)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: this late to mid-season ripener has medium to large conical bunches. When ripe, the berries are golden and quite large. Its skin is thin but tough with conspicuous bloom.
IN THE GLASS: bright and golden.

SMELL

Muscat, litchi, pineapple, melon, honey and raisins.

TASTE

Sweet and distinctly ‘grapey’.

ORIGIN

As its proper name suggests, Muscat d'Alexandrie is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt where it was cultivated by the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. The Romans spread the variety throughout the Mediterranean, and hence its synonym Muscat Romain.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Hanepoot was one of the earliest vinous immigrants to the Cape. The origin of its name is uncertain... During the Anglo-Boer War, British soldiers nicknamed it "honeypot", which may have became "hanepoot" in the local vernacular. It was only in the 1920s that Stellenbosch University professor Abraham Perold proved conclusively that Hanepoot and Muscat d'Alexandrie were one and the same. It is perhaps best known in its fortified form as Jerepigo and Muscadel. It is also widely sold as table grapes and used in the production of raisins, grape juice and concentrate.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Southern France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, eastern Mediterranean, California and Australia.

BEST EXAMPLES

Portugal’s Moscatel de Setúbal and Italy's Moscato di Pantelleria. From South Africa: Nuy, Du Toitskloof, Bon Courage.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Up to 20 years as a fortified wine, possibly longer.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 8° and 10° C.


Hàrslevelü

(Har-sle-vel-oo)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: Hàrslevelü has long bunches with very round berries that turn yellow as they ripen. It is an extremely vigorous grower but very susceptible to rot.
IN THE GLASS: Green yellow.

SMELL

The Hungarian versions are powerfully scented, spicy and aromatic. Local examples are more low-key.

TASTE

Fresh and fruity with pear and apple flavours. The palate tends to dissipate after about a year because of the low levels of acid.

ORIGIN

The name means “linden leaf” (the leaf of a lime tree). It is the most widely planted variety in Hungary, where it produces aromatic, spicy white wines. It also imparts a perfumed note and smoothness when blended with Furmint grapes in the famous Hungarian Tokaji dessert wines. The best varietal examples are produced around Kunbaja on the Yugoslavian border; at Baj on the Danube and in the vineyards of Vilány. Grapes grown in the foothills of the Mara Mountains are used to make sweet Debroi Hàrslevelü.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Local growers experimented with this unusual variety in the 1970s, but were not impressed with its excessive vigour and susceptibility to rot. The few producers persevering with the grape tend to opt for sweet styles.

BEST EXAMPLES

The Tokaji sweet white wines from the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in the far north-east of Hungary – these famous stickies date back to the middle of the 17th century and have become so entrenched in the culture that they are even mentioned in the national anthem.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Local versions tended to be made to be consumed young, within a year of purchase. The Tokaji wines, however, have long-term ageing potential.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 8° and 10° C in the case of sweet examples.


Malbec

(Marl-bec)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: Malbec is a fairly heavy bearer, a wild grower with fairly big bunches and relatively loose, pitch-black grapes. The berries are large and break apart rather easily as they ripen.
IN THE GLASS: if picked fully ripe, the resulting wine is a deep black colour, while more ruby or deep purple when picked a little less ripe.

SMELL

Cherry and spice on the nose, following through to the palate.

TASTE

It can be a bit rustic – rather like a shorter-lived version of Merlot. In South Africa it produces a plummy, meaty wine, with intense raspberry and mulberry fruit undertones.

ORIGIN

Traditionally used in Bordeaux blends to add colour and density, it is the grape responsible for the "black wine of Cahors" – a legendary name in the 19th century. Malbec has lost popularity in France due to its susceptibility to disease, frost and poor berry set, yet it remains one of the five grape varieties permitted in a red Bordeaux blend.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

It arrived in the 1920s and was planted mostly in Paarl and parts of Stellenbosch, where it thrived in the rich soils and warm climate. In the early 1990s, Backsberg produced the first single varietal Malbec in South Africa, with Fairview next to follow suit – fruity, easy-drinking wines, with some elegance if delicately wooded. Then came several more full-bodied examples. Today, however, few single varietal wines are made from this variety.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

While the variety can be harsh and tannic in France (usually needing merlot to soften it), in Argentina where it is grown extensively, it produces a softer, juicier style of red. Malbec is also planted on a small scale in Chile and Australia.

BEST EXAMPLES

From Argentina: Bodega Catena Zapata and Finca Flichman. In South Africa the variety is proving more successful in red blends.

AGEING POTENTIAL

On its own, usually around five years. If made ripe and lush it is capable of extended ageing, but it doesn’t have the structure to compare with long-lived Cabernet Sauvignon.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Light stews, bredies, bobotie, roasts and Italian food.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 17 and 18° C.


Marsanne

(Mars-anne)

APPEARANCE

N THE VINE: this white grape grows prolifically, with its vigour contributing to its popularity.
IN THE GLASS: Marsanne makes a deep-coloured, golden wine which is prone to browning.

SMELL

Tasters say its aromas are of glue and hints of honeysuckle tinged with almond nuttiness.

TASTE

A full-bodied wine which is often earthy and fairly dull when young but can develop peachy/nutty flavours with some herbiness when aged. At its best, the wine can be high in extract and alcohol.

ORIGIN

Believed to have originated in the northern Rhône, it has traditionally been blended with Roussanne in Hermitage wines but is increasingly being used on its own. It has found favour with growers in the Midi in southern France, where it is often blended with fragrant Viognier.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

In the early '70s, Marsanne was one of the more unusual varieties cultivated on a limited experimental scale but it was rejected as being unsuitable for local conditions and has since all but disappeared from the local scene.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

It was being used experimentally by some of California's Rhône rangers, while the state of Victoria in Australia is home to some of the world's oldest Marsanne vineyards. The Swiss use it to make a light wine, Ermitage Blanc – other synonyms include Avilleran, Grosse Roussette, Hermitage Blanc.

BEST EXAMPLES

White St-Joseph is made almost exclusively from Marsanne planted in the north of this French appellation. It's the main element of St-Péray, both still and sparkling, and some Côtes-du-Rhône producers have some planted.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Old-fashioned examples such as Chateau Tahbilk have shown the ability to age in bottle, although this might be attributable to older plantings where Marsanne was 'pre-blended' in the vineyard with other varieties. Nowadays the tendency is to ferment cleaner and faster, though in both France and Australia it is still oak-aged in some cases. Unless harvested early, as it is in Australia, Marsanne is usually too heavy to produce a wine that will age well.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

The lighter styles complement salads, cold meats and delicate seafood dishes, while the heavier wines go well with more robust fare, such as chicken or pork.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 8° and 14° C.


Merlot

(Mer-low)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: medium-sized berries, black and round, thin-skinned; cylindrical bunches.
IN THE GLASS: bright garnet red; concentrated colour up to the rim.

SMELL

Distinctive aromas include scents from several broad categories: mint, eucalyptus; chocolate, coffee, violets, smoked-meats, cinnamon; nutty nougat with almonds.

TASTE

Merlot is typically rich on the palate – fleshy and velvety, berry fruit, chocolate, mint. Red berry features can be enhanced by mocha and nuts. Usually more medium-bodied/less full-bodied than Cabernet, with which it is sometimes confused.

ORIGIN

Merlot is one of France’s most popular red grape varieties, particularly in the Bordeaux region – it has been grown in areas such as St-Émillion and Pomerol for well over 200 years, bottled both on its own and as an important blending partner to Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc. During the past century, the varietal has been cultivated in most of the world’s major wine-producing countries.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Merlot was introduced to the Cape winelands around 1910, though it was only from the mid-1980s that the wine ‘took off’ as a variety bottled on its own. It remains a popular component in the country’s Bordeaux-style blends, and is grown in most of the winelands, though predominantly in Stellenbosch and Paarl.

BEST EXAMPLES

The famous Pomerols Pétrus and Le Pin put Merlot on the map as a variety bottled on its own, as opposed to the number of successful blends from Bordeaux, France. In South Africa, consistently good producers in recent years include Thelema, Longridge, Rust en Vrede, Steenberg, Hartenberg, Fleur du Cap.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Some Merlots mature with benefit, but the majority is made fresh and supple for early-drinking. In South Africa, most Merlots should be drunk within three years of the vintage – within 8 years in exceptional cases.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Lamb, quail, duck, tongue, cold meats.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 15° and 18° C.


Mourvédre

(Moor-ved-ruh)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: a black, very round thick-skinned grape that grows in large bunches. Almost like a table grape. Very green flesh.
IN THE GLASS: inky black, very dark and dense – almost pitch black in colour.

SMELL

There can be a herby/scrub smell on the nose, along with some violets and blackberry fruit. French examples are characterised by blackberry aromas. Sometimes a spicy, Shiraz-like nose.

TASTE

Picked as ripe as possible, its alcohol can be high. It is known for its big tannins and has an almost gamey, animal flavour when young.

ORIGIN

Mourvédre is one of the better-travelled of France's obscure vines, often going by the name Mataro, whereas the Spanish refer to it, Monastrell. The Spanish towns of Murviedro and Mataro, near Valencia and in Catalonia respectively, have each been cited as the original home of this vine, although it’s been planted in the south of France for at least four centuries.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

It arrived in South Africa in the late 1980s, early ’90s, brought in on an experimental basis. The pioneers are eager to prove its suitability to the Cape, where it is hoped the grape can make a contribution to serious Rhône-style red blends.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

In the first half of the 1900s France's total plantings of Mourvédre, at one time spread all over the Midi, shrank considerably, usually in favour of Grenache. The vine's fortunes have since been reversed and its area increased, but it remains a Provencal phenomenon. It is one of the four most common red grape varieties allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but it is not nearly as widely planted as Grenache, Cinsaut and Shiraz. Because of its tolerance for high temperatures, it's suited to Provençal, Spanish and South African conditions. In Australia, its popularity is also based on its use as a blending partner, particularly with Shiraz, and it’s grown chiefly in the south, especially in the Barossa Valley. California's plantings are concentrated in southern coastal districts but have been slowly declining. Also known as Mataro, Balzac, Esparte and Monastrell.

AGEING POTENTIAL

All things being well, Mourvédre can produce wines well capable of ageing. Time will tell in terms of South African versions, given the infancy of the category locally.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Duck, lamb roast, barbequed chops. The lighter blends will complement curries and Cape Malay dishes, meat carpaccios and charcuterie. A Shiraz/Mourvédre blend will go well with oxtail, pepper steaks and venison.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 18° and 20° C.


Muscat de Frontignan

(Moos-cat duh Fron-tea-nyan)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: an early-ripening variety with medium to small bunches. The berries are small, round and green-yellow in colour, changing to yellow brown – or to pink and reddish brown – as they ripen. Moderate vigour and yield.
IN THE GLASS: white Muscadel has shades of yellow gold.

SMELL

Muscat produces fragrant wines, with spicy, dried apricot and peach undertones, hints of crystallised orange, pineapple and honey.

TASTE

Rich and sweet, while at the same time (at its best) light and delicate – wonderful as a dessert wine.

ORIGIN

Muscat de Frontignan is the name for the once internationally renowned wine of Frontignan in France and a synonym for the grape variety solely responsible for it, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. It may be the oldest known wine-grape variety as well as the oldest cultivated in France. It was planted by the Romans in Gaul around Narbonne, specifically at Frontignan, but may have been introduced even earlier to the Marseille region by the Greeks.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

It produces grapes varying in skin colour from pink to reddish brown, hence both red and white Muscadels. Although this variety is regarded as the best quality version of Muscat, it is a shy bearer and has been overshadowed in the past by the lesser Muscat d'Alexandrie (Hanepoot). Muscat de Frontignan has a long and distinguished history in the Cape. Probably among the first cuttings to arrive in the Cape in the 17th century, it was used in the Constantia sweet wines that gained international acclaim. Also used as a blending component.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Australia (where it is known as Brown Muscat); the Mediterranean, especially Greece and Italy; Spain; France; Germany; California and South America.

BEST EXAMPLES

From South Africa: Klein Constantia's Vin de Constance, Nederburg Eminence. From Greece: the revered Muscats from Samos, Pátrai and Kefallinía. From France: the sweet golden Muscats of Beaumes-de-Venise, Frontignan, Lunel, Mireval and St-Jean-de-Minervois.

AGEING POTENTIAL

In 2002 a bottle of 1791 Vin de Constance (probably made from Muscat de Frontignan, originally planted in the Cape by Governor Jan van Riebeeck) was opened in honour of the 75th birthday of Klein Constantia owner, Duggie Jooste – and it did not disappoint!

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Poached pears for the budget conscious and foie gras for the big spenders!

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 8° and 10  C.


Nebbiolo

(Neb-ee-oh-low)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: Nebbiolo is a mid-season ripener with medium size clusters. Berries are big and scarlet in colour.
IN THE GLASS: the colour can range from dark ruby (as in the famous Italian examples) to one that is lighter than Cabernet or Shiraz, similar to Pinot Noir.

SMELL

A perfumed nose with plum, strawberry and fruit flavours. Also: tar, violets, gamey meat and a certain ‘grittiness’.

TASTE

Upfront blackberry and dark cherry flavours. Although the grapes have a strong tannin structure, there may be plenty of soft ripe tannins on the palate.

ORIGIN

A native of the north-western region of Piedmont, this variety produces some of the best quality wines in Italy. The name developed from the word “nebbia” (fog), which occurs frequently in Piedmont in October during harvest. The statutes of La Morra (1431) provide evidence that this grape was revered – farmers caught cutting down a Nebbiolo vine were punished by the loss of their right hand or even hanging.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

A variety which prefers cooler conditions, Nebbiolo has experienced some problems with sunburn in South African vineyards. Still largely at an experimental stage, though Steenberg has included a single varietal Nebbiolo in its portfolio since the late 1990s, and Bouchard Finlayson is using Nebbiolo as a component in the Hannibal blend.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

In Italy: Barolo and Barbaresco, Piedmont. Good quality Nebbiolo wines are also produced in the province of Novara and in the Vercelli hills, where it is called Spanna and can be blended with the softer Vespolina and Bonarda grapes. Found in Washington State and California (USA), too, as well as Australia's King Valley in Victoria and, to a limited extent, South America.

BEST EXAMPLES

Italian: Gaja, Marchesi di Barolo, Poderi Cantine Fratelli Odderro and Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy.

AGEING POTENTIAL

A wine with definite longevity potential, as demonstrated by some Italian examples.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

A full-flavoured, excellent food wine. Complements Piedmontese fare (like truffles and wild boar) as well as hearty stews, roasts and rich pastas. Can also be good with oily fish, such as tuna.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 16° and 18° C.


Petit Verdot

(Pet-tea Ver-doh)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: very dark black, thick-skinned grapes, resembling Cabernet Sauvignon. Tight bunches of reasonably small grapes. A late ripener, and can be quite vigorous.
IN THE GLASS: shows deep colour intensity – really dark, with a blackish purple rim.

SMELL

Quite a powerful nose – a peppery piquancy reminiscent of Shiraz; spicy, with fragrant blackberry.

TASTE

Petit Verdot is not unlike a seasoning for Médoc-style multi-varietal blends, adding extra flavour and interest, as well as alcohol, tannin and colour. On its own, it can lean more toward the style of a big Cabernet Sauvignon, with fruit at the back of the palate.

ORIGIN

Long established in the Médoc, it was once considered superior to Cabernet Sauvignon and probably preceded it as a Médoc vine in the 1700s – traditionally planted in the south of the province.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Planted in small-but-increasing quantities, it is sought-after as a blending component as winemakers strive to intensify and extend the life of their quality reds. Welgemeend Estate in Paarl was the first to plant Petit Verdot in the Cape during the 1970's as part of the varietal mix for what was to be the Cape's first Bordeaux-style red blend.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

It's grown in small quantities in California's Napa Valley, and Petit Verdot is viewed in parts of Australia, notably the Riverland, as having the potential to produce premium reds. It is also one of the minor grape varieties in Chile.

AGEING POTENTIAL

In a blend, anything up to 10 or 11 years, or longer, while on its own the variety should gain in intensity for up to 10 years.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

With Bordeaux-style medium-bodied blends serve hot or cold, plainly cooked meats. Roasts, grills, Beef Wellington and soft cheese. Full-bodied blends are complemented by grilled steaks, boeuf Bourguignon, stroganoff, casseroles, steak-and-kidney pie or devilled kidneys.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Light red blends: 12° to 16° C. Full-bodied red blends: 16° to 18° C.


Pinot Blanc

(Pea-no Blonc)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: it is similar to Chardonnay (small, yellowish-green, very round berries on fairly small bunches), but its large, thick, dark-green leaves resemble those of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
IN THE GLASS: the wine is yellow to bright green. With wood treatment, it resembles a Chardonnay.

SMELL

Buttery citrus aromas, similar to a lightly wooded Chardonnay.

TASTE

Barrel fermented versions have a Chardonnay-like citrus and toast character.

ORIGIN

Much uncertainty surrounds the early history of this variety. Is it a mutation of Pinot Noir or related to Chardonnay – as its old name Pinot Chardonnay may suggest? For many years Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay were mistaken for each other, and some authorities today claim that Pinot Blanc is a descendant of Pinot Gris. It is a native of the Côte d'Or but has long been cultivated in Alsace, and Clevner, as it was known, was recorded as early as the 16th century. The variety is also used in sparkling wines, while in Alsace it is often blended with Sylvaner and Chasselas in wines labelled Edelzwicker.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Pinot Blanc first made its way to the shores of the Cape in the early 1990s to be planted mainly in warmer areas such as Paarl and Robertson. Several wineries have experimented with single varietal wines in this regard, but today Pinot Blanc is used largely in blends of various sorts and it remains a minor player in the national vineyard.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

It is cultivated as Pinot Bianco in northeast Italy and as Weisser Burgunder or Weissburgunder in Germany. Eastern Europe and California also have some plantings.

BEST EXAMPLES

The dry white Weissburgunder and rich botrytised Trockenbeerenauslese wines of Austria. The Germans also make some fuller, drier, food wines from this variety in the Pfalz and Baden areas.

AGEING POTENTIAL

If the wines have been fermented in wood and have suitably high acid levels combined with either high sugar or high alcohol levels, they can last between 3 and 4 years. Otherwise for early-drinking.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Seafood and mildly curried or spiced dishes.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 10° and 14° C.


Pinot Gris

(Pea-no Gree)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: often mistaken for Pinot Noir because the leaves are almost identical. Pinot Gris is a mutation of Pinot Noir and as such its berries vary in colour – anything from greyish blue to brownish pink, sometimes in the same bunch. They start off bright green and turn a Chardonnay-like yellow, eventually becoming a pink copper colour.
IN THE GLASS: depending on the style of wine, it can vary from diamond bright to deep golden.

SMELL

Quite shy, Pinot Gris aromas range from delicate florals to an earthiness. Faint hints of citrus fruit, peach, spice, thatch and fynbos. Tasters sometimes find intense apple blossom and even Turkish delight.

TASTE

Pinot Gris makes for crisp Italian Pinot Grigio to almost oily Alsace Tokay – known as Tokay Pinot Gris or Tokay d'Alsace. Some spice. It's been made in a variety of styles: from fat, full-bodied wines with high alcohols (sometimes wooded) to more delicate and fresh wines with a slightly spicy, earthy character.

ORIGIN

Pinot Gris has been in France for hundreds of years. Although a white variety, its strange colouring at various stages of ripeness may have given rise to its name: Gris meaning "grey". It is documented that around 1375, Emperor Charles IV took cuttings to Hungary which were then cultivated by Cistercian monks – who wore grey serge habits. It is still known as Szürkebarat, or "grey monk" in Hungary today. An imperial army officer is thought to have taken cuttings to Alsace and Baden, southern Germany, around 1570.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Pinot Gris arrived in the 1970s with the promise of disease resistance, good yields, and wines with deep colour and body. This, plus its neutrality, recommended it as a blending wine and base for sparkling wine. First to release it as a single varietal wine in the mid-1980s was L'Ormarins, subsequently selling it as Pinot Grigio under the Terra del Capo label.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Pinot Gris adapts well wherever it is planted. If left on the vine, it develops flavour, which, together with the sweetness of the late-harvested grapes results in some fine dessert wines. Germany has the greatest plantings, where it is known as Ruländer or Grauburgunder. Also cultivated in Burgundy, the Loire, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria, Slovenia, Moravia and Romania.

BEST EXAMPLES

Domain Schlumberger make some wonderful Tokay d'Alsace.

AGEING POTENTIAL

The Pinot Gris wines of Alsace can last five years or longer.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

If given extended skin contact it makes a great partner to chilli prawns and braaied crayfish, while a Pinot Gris that has had no skin contact and has undergone cool fermentation will be delicious with many cheese or fish dishes.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

As a dry white, between 10° and 14° C, and as a sparkling or late harvest wine, between 8° and 10° C.


Pinot Meunier

(Pea-no Mew-nyeah)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: small to medium cylindrical bunches. Berries are thick-skinned, juicy, small, spherical in shape and black to steely blue in colour. An early ripener.
IN THE GLASS: a medium-pale ruby colour.

SMELL

Strawberry/raspberry notes, with some earthy aromas.

TASTE

Fruity and vivacious – it has a youthful fruitiness and suppleness that it contributes to Pinot Noir's weight and Chardonnay's elegance in sparkling wine made by the traditional method.

ORIGIN

Meunier is a mutation of Pinot Noir and was originally distinguishable from this Burgundian variety by being far more villous or hairy. Meunier, French for ‘miller’, refers to the underside of the variety's leaves, which are covered in a fine, felt-like down, as if they've been dusted with flour. In Germany the variety is referred to as Müllerrebe (miller's grape) or Schwarzriesling. As a vital member of traditional, bottle-fermented sparkling wine triumvirate, Pinot Meunier is the most widely planted grape in the Champagne region of France, and it occupies vineyard space in the Marne, Aube and Aisne.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Simonsig planted the Cape's first commercial Pinot Meunier vineyard in 1994 for use in their Kaapse Vonkel Cap Classique. However, it buds very late, making it more suitable for cooler areas.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Besides Champagne, it’s also cultivated in Württemberg, north Baden, northern Italy, around Baugency in France's Loire, in Switzerland, and Austria. It’s bottled as a still red varietal wine in Australia, where the cultivar is quite widely planted, and small plantings can be found in California and New Zealand.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Pinot Meunier is the fastest-maturing component in Champagne, hence it's used more in non-vintage Champagnes. As a still wine, it does not age as well as Pinot Noir.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 15° and 18° C, or, in a sparkling wine, between 8° and 10° C.


Pinot Noir

(Pea-no Nwaar)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: small, dark, oval berries on small, compact, cylindrical bunches. Thin-skinned.
IN THE GLASS: bright translucent ruby, or cherry-red; ageing to a russet centre with amber edge.

SMELL

Brimming with berries: intense cherry, cranberry, raspberry and strawberry. Characteristic organic smells of barnyard, damp forest-floor, leaves or even mushrooms with maturity. Newer clones lend to greater fruitiness. Spice, camphor-wood and oak may show, too.

TASTE

A textured mouthfeel: red berries integrated with vegetal flavours carry onto the palate.

ORIGIN

Pinot Noir ‘took root’ in the Côte d’Or – heart of the Burgundy region in France – in the 4th century AD, and in Champagne, where it is traditionally blended with Chardonnay. Pinot requires warm sun, cold nights and fidelity in the cellar – its tendency to turn on the vintner in the absence of these has earned it a reputation as a “heart-break” varietal. The grape has not travelled well beyond its native Burgundy, and even there the search for a great bottle is littered with many poor (yet still expensive) examples.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

The BK5 clone was first planted at Muratie in the 1920s. The introduction of newer clones in the ’80s and ’90s marked the change from an austere, organic Pinot to a rich, robust, fruit-driven wine from a number of producers. With occasional exceptions, most of the better local Pinot Noir reds hail from Walker Bay, especially, as well as Stellenbosch and Paarl, whereas there are good Cap Classique winemakers throughout the Cape who favour Pinot in the base wine for their bubblies, usually blended with Chardonnay though sometimes used on its own.

BEST EXAMPLES

Top Grand Crus from Burgundy include Bones Mares from Chambolle-Musigny, Romanée-Conti from Vosne-Romanée, and the Chambertin wines. Consistently good from the Cape: Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson, Sumaridge, Meerlust, Paul Cluver.

AGEING POTENTIAL

The better Burgundian Pinots may last decades. Cape Pinots usually last five to 10 years, at most (better vintages may hold together longer), tending to show organic, forest-floor and leaf with age.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Best served with light meals: salmon, duck, chicken, ham or veal. Also recommended with risotto and pasta.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 16° and 18° C.


Pinotage

(Pea-no-taarzh)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: small, conical and compact bunches; small, cylindrical berries with thick, blue-black skins.
IN THE GLASS: deep ruby to plum centres, sometimes blue-red; edges varying from fuchsia-purple through carmine to brick red. Older wines tend towards a mahogany centre and russet-orange rim.

SMELL

Ester associations include red berry fruits – mulberry, strawberry, occasionally raspberry – and bramble, while spice and cloves can add to a multi-layered nose. Acetone whiffs are less common of late, as is the distinctive banana/papaya aroma peculiar to certain Pinotages. Smoked meat and salami have been noted. New styles show complementary oak.

TASTE

A young Pinotage will be packed with ripe fruit on the palate, with spicy plum flavours and a jammy character if very ripe. Medium- to full-bodied, often finishing sweetish. Some styles can tend to the Pinot Noir side of the cross when they age, but seldom to Cinsaut. Raspberry/strawberry fruit with spicy counters can carry through from the nose, as can hints of tropical banana.

ORIGIN

South African: the Pinot Noir Cinsaut (Hermitage) cross was engineered by Stellenbosch University’s Prof Abraham Perold in 1925, and the first commercial bottling was a Lanzerac ’59 released in ’61 – though it’s widely accepted that subsequently it was Kanonkop, pioneer of full-blooded oak and show-stopper style, that really put Pinotage on the map.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Australia and New Zealand were the first wine-producing countries outside South Africa to pick up on Pinotage. Latterly, a few Napa Valley cellars in the USA have joined the club, as has a Canadian or two.

BEST EXAMPLES

Kanonkop still stands out as one of the benchmarks, with consistently good performers these days also including Simonsig, L’Avenir, Kaapzicht, Rijk’s, Diemersfontein...

AGEING POTENTIAL

Pinotage producers first started using new and small oak as recently as the early ’90s. It’s early days to tell how newer-styled wines might age in general, though signs are promising – some of the Kanonkops have developed with interest – and it’s expected that good Pinotages today should easily last 10 years. That said, certain well made old-style Pinotages have benefited from 20 to 30 years’ maturation.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Unwooded, fruity Pinotage: game, lamb, bobotie, braaied boerewors and fish, curry, young cheddar. Full-bodied Pinotage: spare ribs, pepper-steak, or full-flavoured game dishes such as ostrich, kudu, springbok and guinea fowl.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 16° and 18° C.


Pontac

(Pon-tack)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: it is a low-vigour variety with a small canopy and very tight bunches of small, thick-skinned, pitch-black grapes.
IN THE GLASS: a deep ruby-black colour. Pontac is known as a Teinturier, one of the very few red varieties which actually has red flesh.

SMELL

Mocha, coffee and blackberry, but it can also exhibit Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics, such as lead pencil. Sometimes spicy, herbaceous, organic and perfumed.

TASTE

Minerally and flinty, with mocha and coffee following through from the nose. Sweet, wild red-berried fruit, with hints of smoke and liquorice. Full-bodied.

ORIGIN

Pontac is thought to have originated in France, with links to the De Pontac family (an important grape-growing dynasty in the Médoc from the mid-16th to mid-17th century). In south-west France, the little village of Pontacq is found. Records chronicle the arrival in the Netherlands in 1772 of the ship De Hoop carrying some Cape Pontac... together with red and white Muscadel, Pontac is one of the three varieties listed as ingredients for the famous sweet wines of Constantia that were much admired in 18th century Europe.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Both Klein Constantia and Groot Constantia have planted Pontac in the past with an eye to the production of natural sweet wine. Klein Constantia hoped to made a red to match the world famous Vin de Constance. Hartenberg used to bottle a varietal Pontac, but today the cultivar has all but disappeared from the Cape vineyards.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Pontac is still cultivated in France and used in some Bordeaux-style red blends, often paired with Malbec.


Riesling

(Ree-zling)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: round, medium-sized white grapes – berries compactly clustered in small, cylindrical bunches.
IN THE GLASS: colour ranges from pale straw to yellow-gold when mature or in sweeter style.

SMELL

The variety usually offers a bouquet of one or more of the following: apple, floral/rose, honeysuckle and lime... In the same aromatic family as Gewürztraminer, Bukettraube and the Muscats, Riesling is often redolent of honeyed peach, apricot, pear, litchi fruit and spices: cinnamon, clove and ginger. Kerosene-like terpenes show with age.

TASTE

A versatile varietal, it is made in off-dry to semi-sweet styles, almost always without wood treatment, and may have a light, delicate, low alcohol palate but with layers of concentrated fruit in the best examples. Maturity brings a pungent, unambiguous waxiness with terpene whiffs.

ORIGIN

Germany, as far back as the 15th century, though today Riesling occurs throughout most of the winemaking world. Famed Rieslings emanate from the areas of Alsace, the Rhine and Mosel (the latter two renowned for their Trockenbeerenausleses, the ultra-sweet, usually botrytised wine from Germany).

IN SOUTH AFRICA

First imported and experimented with by Nietvoorbij in the 1960s, Riesling was planted in commercial quantities from 1974 – though plantings remain scarce. Most local Riesling is made off-dry, with some delicious dessert wines in the Noble Late Harvest (Botrytis) or Natural Sweet styles, with South African Riesling bearing the Weisser or Rhine tag that distinguishes it from the lesser Crouchen Blanc usually sold locally as Cape or SA Riesling.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Austria produces some good expressions of the variety, and Riesling is also to be found in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South America.

BEST EXAMPLES

From Alsace: Marc Krydenweiss, Zind Humbrecht. From the Rhine(gau): Robert Weil, Langwerth. From Mosel/Saar: Von Kesselstatt, Von Schubert. From South Africa, top dessert wines from Riesling include Buitenverwachting, Neethlingshof, Paul Cluver.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Riesling is regarded by many as the most noble white variety because of its maturation potential and resulting complexity in the bottle – far superseding that of a wooded Chardonnay in the case of the best examples.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Dry Riesling: lightly spiced or curried foods, stir-fries. Sweeter Riesling: pork, chicken, meats with fruity sauces, nut or apple tarts and desserts.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Dry and semi-sweet: 8° to 14° C. Dessert wines: between 8° and 10° C.


Roussanne

(Roo-zan)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: the bunches are initially greenish blue, turning yellow copper when ripe. The berries are average in size with thickish skin.
IN THE GLASS: straw hue with a slight green tinge.

SMELL

Aromatic, herbal tea, white peach.

TASTE

The wine has a full, fat mouthfeel. Soft acidity with flavours of dried fruit. Subtle.

ORIGIN

Roussanne is a white Rhône variety that gets its name from the russet tone (roux) of its skin. Together with Marsanne, with which it is often blended, Roussanne is one of only two cultivars permitted in the white versions of the northern Rhône red wine appellations Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and St-Joseph, and in the exclusively white, often sparkling St-Péray. In the southern Rhône, Roussanne is one of four varieties allowed in white Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Rustenberg has a respectable example, but as a varietal wine or blending component the variety remains a tiny factor in the Cape vineyards.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Besides the Rhône, Roussanne is also grown in the French regions of Provence and the Languedoc. In Italy (Liguria and Tuscany) it is a permitted component of Montecarlo Bianco. In Australia it's blended with Shiraz and in California it’s used both as a blending partner and a single varietal.

BEST EXAMPLES

The top white wines of Paul Jaboulet Ainé contain equal portions of Roussanne and Marsanne. It’s the basis of the sparkling wines of St-Péray, and one of the four blending components of the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Some French examples mature well for 10 or even 20 years.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Salads, light seafood dishes, chicken and quiches.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 8° and 14° C.


Ruby Cabernet

(Roo-bee Cab-er-nay)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: a vigorous grower, with compact medium, conical bunches. Small and oval berries, with a dark skin. Late ripener.
IN THE GLASS: crimson in colour. Carignan-like.

SMELL

A faint grassiness, damp thatch, and fleshy green plums. Good examples have a young Cabernet Sauvignon aroma.

TASTE

A fresh fruitiness that can benefit from a little time in the barrel. Ruby Cab is an easy-drinking, soft wine with a strong berry character, tending toward strawberry cordial. Medium-bodied.

ORIGIN

It is the most successful and oldest of the University of California (Davis) crossings from the 1940s and ’50s, endeavouring to combine the productivity of Carignan with the distinction of Cabernet Sauvignon, and very popular in California in the '60s.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Cape winemakers began planting Ruby Cab in earnest in the early 1980s and today the bigger-volume producers in the warmer areas value it as an economical blending component – the variety produces up to four times more per hectare than Cabernet Sauvignon.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Substantial plantings remain in California, and the variety is also cultivated in Australia.

AGEING POTENTIAL

As a rule, Ruby Cabs are not particularly complex, but if given subtle wood ageing, some interest can be added. They are meant to be enjoyed young.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Casual meals: pastas and braais, or lightly chilled with cold meats.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Lighter style wines: between 10° and 14° C. Fuller-bodied versions: between 16° and 18° C.


Sangiovese

(San-joe-vay-zee)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: a strong and vigorous grower with quite large bunches of fairly thin-skinned grapes.
IN THE GLASS: a crimson wine, often with an orange rim – not usually noted for intensity of colour.

SMELL

The nose is fruity, sometimes with cherry notes and hints of farmyard – a barnyard whiff is one of the characteristics of Sangiovese.

TASTE

Flavours vary enormously, but usually include at least a hint of something very earthily rural. It can produce lively, almost fizzing young reds with juicy, cherry flavours, as well as more concentrated, long-lived, oak-matured reds with superb, savoury, herb and spice flavours. The acidity is high, extract fairly low, alcohol moderate, and there is no hint of sweetness. Tannin can be quite marked.

ORIGIN

Cultivated all over Italy and meaning Blood of Jove, or Jupiter, Sangiovese is the Chianti grape par excellence, responsible in Tuscany for Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobilo de Montepulciano. By the 19th century, two sub-varieties had emerged: Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo. It is the variation between the two that makes it so difficult to generalise about the varietal characteristics of these wines.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

A relative newcomer to the Cape. The KWV's mother block made a rather thin wine with a pale garnet hue. Today it’s used in various blends, with single varietal offerings few and far between.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Small plantings in California, Australia and some in Argentina.

BEST EXAMPLES

From Italy: Tignanello, Marchesi di Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina, Castello di Volpaia and Fattoria Casisano Colombaio (Brunello di Montalcino).

AGEING POTENTIAL

Depending on how the wine's made, it can age quite well because of its tannin structure – up to 10 years.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Goes well with traditional Italian fare, such as pastas and hearty stews.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 18° and 20° C.


Sauvignon Blanc

(Sew-vee-nyon Blonc)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: small to medium bunches; compact, tightly packed clusters; conical in shape, almost cylindrical.
IN THE GLASS: usually bright white with a straw hue, or with hints of lime green when young and fresh.

SMELL

An aromatic varietal with odours ranging from “cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush” to nettles, herbs, peppers, wafts of fresh asparagus and grass. Sometimes there’s a distinctive smell of hot, earthy stones and (gun) flint. Herbal.

TASTE

Typically crisp, green and lively – ‘racy’, even, due to its acidity and the freshness of those flavours that carry through from the nose – the grassy herbaceousness. The three main styles include: those that are stony, steely, flinty, herbaceous, austere and sometimes exhibiting freshly-cut grass, with peppery tones, occasionally gun-barrels (cordite); those from riper fruit that produce gooseberry, bell-pepper and asparagus flavours; and those full-ripe or aged examples that take on strong vegetal, mushroom and fig-preserve features. Another style is the wooded version, Fumé Blanc or Blanc Fumé, which can be confused with Chenin, Chardonnay, even Semillon.

ORIGIN

The literature suggests that it has its origins in France, particularly Bordeaux. Nowadays it is France’s fourth most planted grape with the majority of plantings found in Bordeaux where it is responsible for huge amounts of Bordeaux Blanc. Alternatively it is blended with Semillon to produce the typical Graves white blend. It is also the grape used for the great dessert wines of Sauternes, notably Chateau d’Yquem. Perhaps its best varietal expression can be found in the Loire – in Sancerre and Pouilly Fume specifically, where it results in wonderful flinty, mineral wines. The Languedoc in the south of France also has large plantings but because of the relative warmth of this area, the varietal expression is not as good.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

No one is quite certain how or when the grape was first planted locally although records reflect that it was available as early as 1928 in a production block at Twee Jonge Gezellen in Tulbagh. There was a resurgence in interest in the early 1970s when material was propagated from the research institute at Nietvoorbij. Interestingly, the vines were planted near the institute’s weather station – which is why many farmers still refer to that type of Sauvignon Blanc as the “weerstasie kloon”. The Bergkelder drove the expansion and the first modern plantings were at Le Bonheur in Stellenbosch and Meerendal in Durbanville in 1976. Plantings then spread virtually throughout the Cape and, according to former Uitkyk winemaker Theo Brink: “The first ‘modern’ Sauvignon Blanc was released by Le Bonheur as a Blanc Fumé, even though it hadn’t been wooded.”

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Besides France, Sauvignon is widely planted in New Zealand, Chile and California.

BEST EXAMPLES

In South Africa: Fleur du Cap, Cape Point, Steenberg, Vergelegen, Graham Beck and Cederberg have been among the top performers in recent years. In New Zealand, Marlborough’s Cloudy Bay is a New World benchmark. Jean-Claude Chatelain and Didier Dagueneau are responsible for excellent wines, while Henri Bourgeois, Roger Pinard and Christian Thirot have good examples of Sancerre. It also forms part of the blend in the world-famous dessert wines of Sauternes, with Chateau d’Yquem the most outstanding.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Usually best drunk young – within one to three years of purchase – although there have been some delightful exceptions to the rule, especially from Constantia in the case of SA Sauvignon.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Quite versatile, as it goes particularly well with pasta – even with fairly tart, tomato based sauces; fish, shellfish, spicy Chinese or Thai food, asparagus and salads.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 8° and 14° C.


Semillon

(Sem-ee-yon)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: generally a long, conical-shaped, compact bunch of grapes. The berries are medium to small in size and have quite a thin skin.
IN THE GLASS: when young it tends to be crisp, clear and bright, but with some bottle age it acquires a rich, honeyed, golden colour.

SMELL

Varies from waxy honeyed notes to crisp grass, nettles and a hint of citrus.

TASTE

When made as a varietal wine it can be quite crisp and lemon fresh – in cool climates it can take on a grassy character. When wooded it becomes more fat and complex, acquiring a buttery toastiness – sometimes described as fat or waxy, as in lanolin or candles. As a rich dessert wine it tends to exhibit an unctuous, apricot, honey sweetness.

ORIGIN

Thought to originate in France – in Bordeaux, where it has traditionally been used in the Bordeaux Blanc blend with Sauvignon Blanc, or in the world-famous sweet wines of Sauternes.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Once referred to as “Groendruif” and much more widely planted than it is today, the variety is experiencing somewhat of a comeback. Franschhoek has created a bit of hype in claiming to be the local home of Semillon, although rewarding wines now emanate from various areas as dry whites and desserts.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Australia’s 's Hunter Valley produces some stunners, and Semillon is also produced in the USA (California and Washington).

BEST EXAMPLES

South African Semillons with the best track records in recent years include Steenberg, Cape Point, Stellenzicht, Constantia Uitsig, Fairview, Rijk’s. In France, Chateau Haut-Brion produces a dry white Bordeaux of note, while Chateau d'Yquem is famous for its Sauternes. In Australia, Lindemans, Penfolds, Peter Lehman and Yalumba are good examples.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Can vary depending on where they are made and in what style, though generally regarded to have good longevity. Some of the Hunter Valley wines comfortably spend 10 years in bottle acquiring complexity – as do the sweet Sauternes.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Goes superbly with seafood and is more than a match for creamy pasta sauces.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 10° and 16° C.


Shiraz (Syrah)

(Shih-raz or See-rah)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: small to medium blue-black berries with thin skins. Fairly loose, cylindrical bunches.
IN THE GLASS: dense ruby is to be expected, extending to the rim in recent bottlings. Brick-coloured russet edges may start to show with age.

SMELL

Smoky, peppery fragrances, wild herbs. Hints of allspice, perhaps cinnamon, pimento. Rustic features in older styles can prompt thoughts of venison, leather, tar.

TASTE

Shiraz typically has red berry fruit intensity, plum, spicy pepperiness and a sweetness on the palate, reined-in with top examples. Rustic farmyard flavours can be evident, with fudge and candy-floss among the words sometimes used to describe certain styles.

ORIGIN

Some say Shiraz (called Syrah outside South Africa and Australia), originated in the town of Shiraz in Iran – hailing from Persia by way of the Rhône Valley in France. The grapes have been grown in the northern Rhône for the last few hundred years, though some argue that it came from Syracuse in Sicily.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Although Shiraz is known to produce good wine in warm climes, it is not a prolific bearer – which once meant limited popularity for the varietal in the Cape. Today it is appreciated for its quality, and is grown throughout the main wine-producing areas. Old bottles will show the full, earthy, alcoholic dikvoet (clumsy) examples that had writers conjuring up images of sweaty saddles. Today, however, while farmyard features can still present on the nose of modern bottlings, a growing number of local winemakers are competing with the best, style wise.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Syrah’s popularity continues to grow, and it is now planted with great success throughout the Rhône, the Languedoc and around the world – particularly in Australia, champion of the New World style.

BEST EXAMPLES

In South Africa, the numerous good producers include front-runners in recent years include Boekenhoutskloof, Stellenzicht, Spice Route, Simonsig, Cederberg, La Motte. Examples of top French/Rhône Shiraz: Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, Côte Roties of Marcelle Guigal, August Clape. In Australia, notable Shiraz wines include: Penfold’s Grange, Henschke Hill of Grace, The Armagh, Mount Langi Ghiran.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Many Syrahs are being made to show better earlier, and are drinkable from two or three years after the vintage, some sooner. Exceptional wines have lasted over 20 years, and some French examples have still been delightful after 40 to 50 years.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Red meat dishes with sweet and spicy overtones; venison, oxtail, ostrich, bredies, goulash.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 16° and 18° C.


Sousão

(Sue-zow)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: both the bunch and berries are quite small. When fully ripe, the berries turn grey blue. The skins are tough and conspicuously dark.
IN THE GLASS: the variety produces red juice, so adds valuable colour to a blend. The wines are an intense dark red, bordering on black.

SMELL

Plums and mulberries.

TASTE

Although some wines may be coarse and raisiny, others have complex berry-like flavours. It tends to be somewhat neutral when vinified on its own.

ORIGIN

Sousão (or Souzão) originated in Portugal, in the Douro Valley and Minho regions. It is still a valuable blending component in port, adding colour, acid and a youthful fruit character, but the variety is not as highly prized as other port mainstays such as Bastardo, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Francisca and Touriga Naçional.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

The grape was introduced to the Cape together with other port varieties in the second half of the 20th century. The vine is particularly well adapted to warm climates, but can be susceptible to sun damage. It is cultivated in the Malmesbury, Paarl, Stellenbosch and Calitzdorp areas.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Also planted in California's very hot regions, and in Australia.


Sylvaner

(Sill-vaa-nuh)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: quite large berries, with skin that’s tougher than most other white grape varieties. The bunch is short and shouldered.
IN THE GLASS: clear pale hue with a greenish tint.

SMELL

Fruit salad with touches of granadilla, lime, tropical punch and Muscat.

TASTE

Sylvaner has a spicy aftertaste. A fuller flavour is obtained from vineyards that are older and fruit that is harvested riper. As the wine matures, it may develop kerosene, Riesling-like flavours.

ORIGIN

Sylvaner is the French name for the German variety known as Silvaner. The largest plantings of Silvaner occur in Germany, where it replaced Elbling in the first half of the 20th century to become the country's most planted grape variety. More recently, its status has been succeeded by the earlier ripening, higher yielding Müller-Thurgau. Sylvaner is said to have originated in Austria, as can be deduced from its Rheingau synonym Österreicher, though some believe Transylvania is the grape's true birthplace. Wild vines cultivated on the banks of the Danube were forerunners of modern day Sylvaner, while a variety known as Silvaner was cultivated extensively throughout the vineyards of medieval Germany.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Sylvaner was introduced in the '70s, with the German winemaking influence prevailing in South Africa at the time. Nederburg bottled a few vintages until the variety was culled due to lack of demand. Today, Overgaauw is the only estate to promote a single varietal Sylvaner in the Cape, though production is tiny.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Besides Germany and France, Sylvaner is also grown in Slovenia, Russia, Hungary and Switzerland. California and Australia have small plantings, too.

BEST EXAMPLES

From Alsace: the wines of Boeckel and Seltz and the Zotzenberg vineyard in Mittelbergheim. From Germany: most of the country's finest Silvaners come from Franken. Silvaner is a parent in a wide variety of Germany's modern vine crossings such as Bacchus, Ehrenfelser, Morio-Muskat, Optima, Rieslaner and Scheurebe. Blauer Silvaner, a dark berried mutation, is a speciality of Württemberg.

AGEING POTENTIAL

In years past, Sylvaner was reputed to age as well as Riesling. Recent vintages tend to be for earlier drinking.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Seafood, especially mussels.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 8° and 14° C.


Tempranillo

(Tem-pruh-knee-yoh)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: a strong upright grower with well-filled shouldered bunches and thick-skinned, waxy berries that vary in size.
IN THE GLASS: garnet hues.

SMELL

Spicy and herbaceous with notes of wild strawberry and dark cherry.

TASTE

Characteristic flavours include plums, blackcurrants, cassis, tea, brown sugar and vanilla.

ORIGIN

Tempranillo is the most noble red grape variety of Spain's Rioja region. It is popularly believed the vines were brought to Spain as variants of Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc by French pilgrims on their way to Spain during the Crusades, but ampelographers have not been able to confirm the relationship and it's more likely that the vine is indigenous to Northern Spain. The grape takes its name from the Spanish word for early, temprano, as it tends to ripen early. In Rioja the variety is famous for producing dark-coloured wines that are quite low in alcohol and capable of ageing without losing their colour. Tempranillo is mostly used in blends with Garnacha, Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Tempranillo is said to have arrived in the Cape with famous port varieties such as Tinta Barocca and Souzão some 50 years ago. Tempranillo (or Tinta Roriz, as it is also called) is especially well adapted to hot climates, and is used as a blending component in the wines of various port houses in the country. De Krans pioneered South Africa’s first dry red wine labelled Tempranillo.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Tempranillo is cultivated for port production in Portugal, where it is known as Aragonez in the Alentejo region and Tinta Roriz in the Douro region. Small amounts have been planted in France, Argentina and California.

BEST EXAMPLES

From Spain: the wines of the highly regarded western Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa sub-regions. Miguel Torres of Penedés blends it with Monastrell for Coronas, his claret-like red, adding some Cabernet Sauvignon to produce a Reserva wine. In Portugal: as a table wine in Ferreira's famous red Barca Velha.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Port aside: around five years, 10 at most.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Smoked carpaccio, springbok and poultry dishes.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 16° and 18° C.


Tinta Barroca

(Tin-ta Buh-rock-uh)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: long, very large bunches which are loosely packed with big, thick-skinned berries of a rich red colour. Grapes ripen early to mid season.
IN THE GLASS: an opaque plum/purple colour.

SMELL

Red berry fruit, prunes, violets and some pepper.

TASTE

Prunes, plums, some coffee, pepper and an earthiness reminiscent of Chianti. The variety is less tannic than other port varieties, which adds accessibility, although it does retain a robust character. When used in a port, Tinta contributes fruit and sugar. And it's low in acid.

ORIGIN

Tinta Barroca (spelled Tinta Barocca) is a relative newcomer to the Douro valley, having been first planted in northern Portugal about a century ago. Used for the production of port alongside six other port grapes.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

The variety was brought to the country in the 1950s. As a component of many local fortified wines, Tinta Barroca is more readily recognised in this country than its sometimes classier companions in the port world because it has appeared on the labels of several varietal wines made as dry reds. It is also used in some red blends to add colour and structure.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Besides Portugal and South Africa, Tinta Barroca is cultivated on a limited scale in Australia.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Roast lamb, braais, peppered cheeses and casual meat dishes with fruity or spicy flavours.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Lighter style Tinta Baroccas can be chilled during summer, while more serious wines should be served at between 16° and 18° C.


Touriga Naçional

(Too-ree-ga Nas-ee-o-gnarl)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: it is vigorous and robust but produces little fruit. What it lacks in quantity it makes up in the concentration of fruit and tannin the small, densely packed berries provide. The bunch is very small and conical in shape.
IN THE GLASS: the wines can be very dark – a purplish black.

SMELL

Powerful aroma – like a highly perfumed fruit syrup. Strong plum and chocolate aromas.

TASTE

Dark fruit such as plums and prunes with some spice and earthiness. Powerful, with high extract and tannin in its youth.

ORIGIN

Portugal, where it is one of the most important port varieties, though used increasingly for dry reds such as the concentrated versions from the Douro valley and Dão region, where Touriga reds have been made from at least the mid 19th century.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Small yields tempered its popularity for all but port. Even for port, first tested locally in the '40s and '50s, it was only at the start of the 1990s that it emerged in the finer examples, with Overgaauw, Axe Hill, Boplaas and De Krans paving the way. Allesverloren, Boplaas, the Calitzdorp Wine Cellar and De Krans are among the few SA producers to bottle single varietal Touriga Naçional table wines, although a number of cellars use it in their blends.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Besides Portugal and South Africa, there are limited plantings in Australia.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Although the local versions are made in a softer, fruitier style, they should keep up to 10 years in bottle.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Meat dishes such as Sunday roast or the less formal braai.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 16° and 18° C.


Viognier

(Vee-yon-yay)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: small, conical bunches. The grapes are small, oval shaped and tend towards a deep golden yellow colour.
IN THE GLASS: clear diamond bright, yellowing with age to a burnished golden hue.

SMELL

Peaches, apricot and blossom are some of the odours associated with Viognier. It has a very perfumed nose when young and this fades with age.

TASTE

On the palate Viognier is most often described as having peach and apricot flavours. The association with blossoms or flowers sometimes comes through. A certain toastiness and complexity is also a factor when the wine has been wooded.

ORIGIN

One theory is that Viognier is related to Gewürztraminer because of its aromatic and slightly floral qualities. Viognier has traditionally been associated with the northern Rhône in France – particularly around Condrieu – and it is the only white grape sanctioned for use in a top quality red wine by Appellation Contrôlée laws: up to 20% may be added to Syrah for use in Côte Rotie reds.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Planted locally on a commercial scale in the 1990s, with Fairview the first cellar to release a Viognier as a varietal wine labelled as such.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Its popularity has increased since the 1980s and in France it is now also planted outside the Rhône, such as in the Languedoc-Roussillon area. Small plantings can be found in Australia, the United States (more so in California) and even in Brazil.

BEST EXAMPLES

Château-Grillet is the most well-known, while Guigal is also a top name in the Rhône. In South Africa: Fairview.

AGEING POTENTIAL

South African producers tend to be of the opinion that because they're making it in a New World style it should be drunk young – within one to three years. The French give their Viognier quite a bit of wood contact which adds to the wine's complexity and ageability – they recommend waiting between 4 to 6 years to drink their wines, which then drink well for a decade at least.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Viognier goes well with Asian foods – so long as there's not too much chili. It also compliments chicken and fish dishes, and creamy, reduced sauces.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 10° and 14° C.


Zinfandel

(Zin-fan-del)

APPEARANCE

ON THE VINE: Zinfandel has a habit of uneven ripening, with the same bunch producing hard green pellets and luscious ripe berries. Once the grapes reach full ripeness, they will soon turn to raisins if not picked quite rapidly.
IN THE GLASS: being a versatile grape that can produce a range of styles from dry to sweet and from white to red, Zinfandel's appearance varies from a deep, rich ruby red to a rosy pink and through to white.

SMELL

An aroma of berries. The variety’s associated with rich fruitiness, and dark berry fruit with cherries are often the ones most easily identified. A nose of brambly fruit flavours can develop into a rich spicy stew with time. Another distinctive aroma is raisins – and sometimes rusty nails!

TASTE

This varies with style, because the grape lends itself to white, rosé and red wine making – from dry to sweet. In its most common form it is packed with dark berry fruit – mulberries, cherries, blackberries, fruitcake and some jamminess. It's not a tannic wine but has lush texture and can be high in acidity.

ORIGIN

Although the exact origin is uncertain, Zinfandel is thought to be of European origin, and the same as Italy's Primitivo. However, as California's most widely planted red wine grape at one stage, today it is synonymous with the Californian winelands, where it has been planted since the mid 1880s.

IN SOUTH AFRICA

Plantings are still small and are largely confined to Stellenbosch and Paarl where they have been around since the 1970s.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD

Besides the USA, Italy and South Africa, Australia is another location for this unusual variety.

BEST EXAMPLES

The Best Californian Zinfandels include Ridge, Ravenswood and Storybrook Mountain.

AGEING POTENTIAL

Zinfandel has the capacity to age well, though is rarely given the opportunity. It is best suited to dry, sturdy vigorous reds with an optimum life span of four to eight years. Some winemakers believe Zinfandel is at its best between six and 10 years – those wines with higher alcohol levels age better.

MATCHING WITH FOOD

Goes well with pork, chicken or lamb, tomato based pasta, chili con-carne, and can make a good partner to turkey.

SERVING TEMPERATURE

Between 16° and 18° C.