South Africa is one of the world’s top wine growing regions – and one of the most enigmatic and exciting for tourists to visit and experience. The country is the world’s ninth largest wine producer at the moment, with more than 600 wineries and 6,000 wines. While it’s particular wine labels that take the top prizes each year, there are a number of grapes and wines that South Africa is especially known for and that you must taste while you’re out there.

Here’s out run-down of the best on offer, and a suggestion of what you might pair them with when it comes to food.

1. Pinotage

This wine is famously a South African hybrid which was created in 1925 by crossing Hermitage (Cinsaut) and Pinot Noir grapes. This deep red varietal divides opinion but the best wineries sell it by the bucket-load. A classic bottle is full of ripe, juicy fruit flavours, especially plum. It also tends to be smoky and earthy, sometimes with notes of tropical fruit such as banana.

This wine goes very well with medium-weight meats and game, such as pork and duck. It matches rustic French dishes and baked Italian pasta dishes like lasagne. It’s also not a bad wine to serve with a meat-based pizza. If you’d like to try it with some local flavours, sip it alongside some marinated springbok. 

2. Chenin Blanc

This classic white wine is crisp, and packed with sweet-edged fruit and with a dry finish on the palate. Many of the South African wineries are combining this popular grape with others, such as Chardonnay and Semillion, to create more interesting blends.

It works well with spicy foods, such as fruity Indonesian curries. It’s a versatile wine, contributing to its popularity, and will also match well with everything from vegetables and salads to rich fish or cream-based chicken dishes. Sweeter versions are also great to have with pudding or cheese if you don’t like the cloying stickiness of a traditional dessert wine.

3. Syrah Rosé

Drinking rosé is becoming increasingly popular, especially in warmer weather. South Africa produces some lovely pink Syrahs, with clean and fruity flavours and a fairly dry finish. Serve well-chilled.

It’s an ideal accompaniment for picnic-style treats and light salads, vegetables and Mediterranean cuisine.

4. Merlot

A traditional Merlot is a deliciously substantial wine with deep red/black tones. South African varieties have clear notes of herbs and eucalyptus. The palate shows dense fruit and oak, with ripe, chocolate-y spice and delicate but noticeable tannins making a dry finish. Merlot beautifully compliments the gentle richness of lamb and duck.

5. Late Harvest Riesling

The queen of the dessert wines, the sticky Late Harvest Riesling is a fabulous pudding wine. Made with late-picked, botrytised, cool-climate Riesling grapes and typically packed with honey, apple and peach flavours. It typically has a zingy acidity that cuts through the sweetness. It’s great with light, fruity desserts such as tarte tatin, but even better with gooey blue cheese. Locals savour it with traditional milk tart or koeksisters – a braided, syrup-coated type of doughnut.

Article courtesy of Exsus Travel, planning unique luxury South African holidays.

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