Grape growing in South Africa began in the 1650s with the arrival of the Dutch and was later given added impetus by the influx of French Huguenot refugees. It was the Huguenots who established Loire grape Chenin Blanc as The Cape's most important white variety.
Among reds, Pinotage is perhaps the most celebrated grape. Developed in South Africa in the 1920s, Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Although once indigenous to South Africa, some Pinotage is now grown in other parts of the New World.
While Chenin Blanc and Pinotage provide South Africa's most distinctive wines, they do not necessarily make its greatest. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet all show world-class potential.
One area of South African wine worth exploring - for reasons other than just taste - is its burgeoning Fairtrade offerings. The standard of these wines is skyrocketing, with critics and show panels taking notice. As Jonathan Ray wrote in The Telegraph, "their quality improves with each vintage", and with 50% of its population still existing on less than $1 a day, it is here in South Africa that Fairtrade wine is, quite rightly, making its biggest impact.
The classic and longest-established regions of the Cape - Paarl, Stellenbosch and Constantia - are all located within a 35 mile radius of Cape Town. But we've been exploring a little further afield, discovering superb wines from Robertson, Breede River Valley and Worcester. Here there's a definite air of determination and optimism for the future of South African wine.
Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz
Klein Constantia, Bruce Jack, Bergsig Estate, Groenendal
Paarl, Constantia, Stellenbosch, Robertson, Breede River Valley and Worcester
- Established in the 17th century, South Africa's oldest estates pre-date even the First Growth châteaux of Bordeaux.
- In Napoleon's time, the Cape's famous dessert wine, Muscat of Constantia, fetched prices as high as any in the world.
- As recently as the late 1980s, brandy was more important than wine in South Africa, so most grapes were being grown for distillation rather than for quality table wines.