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A Short Guide to Grape Varietals in the Cape Winelands
How do you find a grape in an 800km haystack?
Everyone loves to indulge in a crisp white wine on a summer’s day, or complement a steak with a robust red, and Capetonians are no exception. With the Cape Winelands just down the road, there are certainly lots to choose from, but who can put their hands up and say that they know their Pinot Noir from their Cabernet Sauvignon? You can convincingly tip the glass and inspect the tears. You can convincingly sniff it. You can even convincingly swill it around in your mouth. But you’ll find that you fall flat on your grapes when you proclaim:
‘This wine has aged, somehow. Nevertheless, I’m getting chocolate, a few brambles and a hint of violet perfume’
When you’re living on the doorstep of the 9th biggest producer of wines in the world, you’re going to have to do better than that. The Mediterranean climate of the Cape Winelands, the diverse soils and its ripe old age of 350 years, make this the perfect patch to create fine wines. Before you say: ‘let’s jump in the car and go’, I would like to remind you that the Cape Winelands is by no means a model village. Think 102,000 hectares, covering 800 kilometers, and you’re there. The Essential Guide to South African Wines - Terroir & Travel, by Elmari Swart and Izak Smit, highlights a selection of the leading grape varietals and the estates and farms where they are grown. Finding a grape in a haystack may not prove so difficult if you know where to look.
South Africa’s national grape is a blend of the Hermitage and Pinot Noir varietals. Pinotage grapes taste of cherry, raspberry, strawberry and wild plums, with hints of violets. Bottelary is officially dubbed the ‘Pinotage Headquarters’. Pinotage is cultivated as a bush vine, on the North West slopes of Bottelary, to reduce water requirements and achieve the best result. The Beyerskloof farm, in particular, have developed their flagship Pinotage, ‘FAITH’, which is fermented at a high temperature, to produce a dark scented wine.
Notoriously difficult to cultivate, Pinot Noir prefers cool conditions, no direct sunlight and is sensitive to wind damage. Nevertheless, it’s an elegant grape that produces raspberry and strawberry flavours. Peter Finlayson is aptly described as the creator of Cape Pinot Noir and 50% of crops at Bouchard Finlayson Farm are dedicated to the Pinot Noir varietal. The farm is afforded a maritime climate, with stoney gravel and shale soils (good for nutrient and water retention).Their ‘Galpin Peak Pinot Noir’ is fermented in low temperatures, to retain truffle and forest floor aromas.
Shiraz is a dark skinned grape which tends to be spicy, if not peppery, with red berries. Simondium-Klapmuts is the ideal location for growing Shiraz grapes - well-drained, granite soil and warm, but rainy, summers. Mont Destin ferments grapes in cool temperatures to promote colour and fruit concentration. Reds are matured in new wood for 18-24 months to support the dense fruit structure.
Merlot tastes of toffee and plum. Polkadraai is close to False Bay, so the area experiences cooling summer breezes. The Bien Private Cellar grows in highly weathered granite and ages Merlot grapes in French barrels for 12-months, for an elegant, fruity taste.
This grape carries a delicate violet perfume. At Dornier, in Helderberg, grapes are grown in clay-based granite, which retains moisture. The weather conditions are ideal for growing Cabernet Franc, as the morning sun allows the grapes to ripen, whilst the cool afternoons allow for the grapes to develop flavour. Dornier’s ‘Donatus Red’ is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, matured in French barrels for 14-months. Pair fine wines with farm cuisine at Dornier's Bodega Restaurant
This grape tends to be more fruit driven in cool areas and tannic and dark in warmer areas. The grape enjoys sites with long sun hours, so Paarl is an ideal candidate. Cabernet Sauvignon is fruity and rich in this area. At the Veenwouden Wine Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon is cultivated on granite soils, hand harvested and aged for two years, to allow fruit and tannins to blend.
Port is a fortified red wine, which mainly uses Portuguese cultivars such as, Tinta Barocca. Calitzadorp, in the Klein Karoo, is prone to warmer climates and clay soils which are suited to Port and Muscat varietals. The De Kraans Estate cultivates on hills surrounding the Gamka river. Their ‘Reserve Port’ is aged in old wooden vats and is lower in sugar, but higher in alcohol and tannin.
Other red varietals include; Voigner, a blending partner for Shiraz that is grown in Stellenbosch; Malbec, a spicy red grape; and Mouverde, with blackberry flavours.
Three styles of Chardonnay grapes are grown in the Cape Winelands; wooded, semi-wooded and unwooded. Robertson is an ideal area, with it’s warm days and cool evenings. Chardonnay produces ripe yellow fruit here, with elegant citrus aromas. De Wetshof Estate is the Cape Wineland’s premier Chardonnay producer and their ‘Bateleur Chardonnay’ is barrel fermented, then matured in French oak for 12-months, for richness.
Sauvignon Blanc comes in two different varietals; one tastes like tropical fruit and the other, more like asparagus. Elgin is an ideal area to grow the Sauvignon Blanc grape, as high elevation and Southerly winds make for cooler temperatures. The Paul Culver Estate produces ‘Noble Late Harvest’, which blends rich Sauvignon Blanc with the typically acidic Riesling varietal.
Other white varietals include; Semillon, a citrus and vanilla flavoured grape grown in Franschhoek; and Riesling, a dense, oily grape grown in Constantia.
What’s the point in finding a grape in a haystack if no-one notices you doing so? Rent a Porsche Boxter S and drive the Cape Winelands in Style.
Read more about The Essential Guide to South African Wines - Terroir & Travel
By Lisa Nevitt