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South African Grape Varieties

FWT_Admin | January 10, 2018

With more than 300 years of winemaking history, South Africa is one of the most prominent wine-producing countries in the Southern Hemisphere. Its wine industry is bridging the gap between the old and new. The South African wine has enjoyed international attention and acclaim for its wide variety of styles. In fact, South Africa was the seventh largest producer of wine in the world in terms of overall volume in 2016, responsible for 3.9 percent of global wine output. South Africa has a wide range of red and white grape varieties, with white grape varieties, account for 55% of the country’s 96,000 hectares of vineyards. South African wines have emerged as both some of the best valued red and white wines and of the highest quality. No wonder that South Africa now competes in every category. Here are the most popular South African grape varieties.

South African Red Wine Grape Varieties

grape varieties


Pinotage is South Africa’s very own grape variety. It was developed locally in 1926 and is an indigenous crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsault that is rarely found in quantity in any other wine-producing country. Pinotage often gets blended with Syrah and are denser and savory with higher alcohol content than Pinot Noir. Pinotage offers juicy raspberry to blueberry fruit flavors with spiced chocolate and tobacco. It is often referred to as possessing a “sweetish acetone” flavor.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. It is often blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot and its flavor is reminiscent of blackcurrants or cedarwood. The classic profile of Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be full-bodied wines with high tannins and noticeable acidity that contributes to the wine’s aging potential. It is also noteworthy to mention that one of the most noted traits of Cabernet Sauvignon is its affinity for oak, either during fermentation or in barrel aging.


Merlot is a dark blue colored wine grape variety that is used as both a blending grape and for varietal wines. It is fragrant and usually softer than Cabernet Sauvignon but it takes second place to Cabernet Sauvignon in most premium red wine blends. Its softness and “fleshiness”, combined with its earlier ripening, makes Merlot a popular grape for blending with the sterner, later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon


Syrah is also known as Shiraz. It makes a soft and rich wine often characterized by smoky and chocolaty aromas. It is consistently full-bodied with softer tannin, jammier fruit and spice notes of licorice, anise and earthy leather. Syrah grows throughout South Africa and has a wide range of styles because the style and flavor profile of wines made from Syrah is influenced by the climate where the grapes are grown.

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is one of the major black grape varieties worldwide. Although Cabernet Franc is a little less pronounced in cabernet franc, this grape variety possesses qualities similar to those of Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Franc tends to be more lightly pigmented and produces wines with the same level of intensity and richness.

South African White Wine Grape Varieties


Sauvignon Blanc

South Africa has recently received great attention as a world-class producer of Sauvignon Blanc. The South African Sauvignon Blancs tend to be dry and grassy. Sauvignon Blanc in South Africa is zesty, grapefruity and grassy which have a lot of similarities to Sauvignon Blanc of New Zealand.


Chardonnay, is one of the easiest grape varieties to grow, is planted in almost every wine producing country, especially in South Africa. In fact, it is one of the most popular if not the most popular dry white wine variety in the world.

Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc in South Africa is also referred to as “Steen”. About 30% of South Africa’s vineyard is producing Chenin Blanc, making it the most planted grape variety in South Africa. Chenin Blanc is a peachy and floral grape variety. The majority of the plantings are found in the Western Cape wine region of Paarl.


Colombard is known in South Africa as ‘Colombar’. This variety often possesses tropical fruit aromas and are a good companion to seafood and makes fresh wines with crisp acidity. Colombard is also used in South Africa for brandy production.

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