We sat down to talk wine and food with our Cape Town Tour Guide extraordinaire, Pam McOnie. Pam founded her company in 2003, offering incredible tours of Cape Town and the surrounding areas. Pam’s big passion in life is food and wine!
Which wine is unique to South Africa?
Pinotage. It is a national favourite, a full-bodied red wine which is a cross pollination between pinot noir and cinsault grape varieties. We enjoy it with our BBQ’s every weekend! It was first engineered by Stellenbosch University’s first viticulture professor, Abraham Perold, in 1925. The first commercial bottling took place in 1961. Today, Pinotage is the seventh most widely planted variety in South Africa, making up 7.2% of the total area under vineyard at the end of 2019. This versatile wine has become globally popular and now boasts its very own International Pinotage Day which takes place on the 2nd Saturday of October every year!
Background on South African wine varieties:
Prior to 1990, we had approximately 70% white wine grapes planted compared with 30% red wine. Chenin blanc was by far the dominant white wine variety, most widely consumed by South Africans. Chenin has the advantage of being a very versatile grape and can be made into a variety of styles from unoaked to semisweet through to champagne style and dessert wine. However, most of this wine was grown and produced on a large scale, and tended to lack finesse. On the other hand, red wine producers, often growing on a much smaller scale, produced high quality red wines which regularly won awards. However, we have also been guilty of producing bulk red wine for the market, sold in unattractive 5L wine boxes!
When we opened up to the world again in 1994 after apartheid ended, it became apparent that there was no overseas demand for our chenin blanc. It was replaced by more popular wine varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. As a result, you are likely to find a mix of these varieties on many of the estates that you visit (the mix very much dependent on the terroir of each region). But chenin blanc started to make a comeback! Wine makers began experimenting with producing high quality chenin blanc in a variety of styles, tracking down many of the old grape vines they had used. The results have been phenomenal.
Where should you go to wine taste?
Our first wine regions were Constantia, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Robertson and Franschhoek. Over time, the “new winemakers” started experimenting and planting vines in regions that had not been used for wine making before. As a result, these regions were later recognized as “new” wine regions and, having completely different microclimates, we are able to produce wine varietals that reflected their specific terrain. It is really important for our guests to tell us what types of wine they enjoy and the level of their wine knowledge, as this guides our choices on estates and regions that we explore. Our advice for your first visit is to always start with our oldest regions as these offer so much more than just wine. They are historic with beautiful architecture, boast wonderful winelands towns and some of our best restaurants in the country.