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home > food & wine dictionary > South Africa

Food and Wine Dictionary

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 South Africa 

South Africa's wine industry began in the mid-1600s when Jan van Riebeck first planted vines there. In 1679 Simon van der Stel established Groot Constantia, which developed a worldwide reputation for its DESSERT WINES (called Constantia). In 1688 the wine industry here was given a boost with the arrival of the French Huguenots, who brought many winemaking skills with them. South African wines had many ups and downs over the years, including serious problems with overproduction in the early 1900s. This dilemma resulted in the formation of the Cooperative Wine Growers' Association (known as the KWV-Kooperatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Africa). The KWV, which controls the supply and demand of grapes and establishes consistent pricing, remains a powerful force today. In addition to KWV, which markets a wide range of wines and distilled spirits, the other two major producers are Oude Meester and the Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery (known as SFW or Farmers). Other important producers include Blacksberg, Boschendal, Delheim, Groot Constantia, Hamilton Russell, Meerlust, Montpellier, Simonsig, Spier, and Twee Jonge Gezellen. The primary South Africa growing areas are all in the southwestern part of the country near the Cape of Good Hope. In 1973 an APPELLATION system, Wine of Origin, was established along the lines of the European Economic Community rules. The best known of these appellations are Paarl and Stellenbosch. Other Wine of Origin areas are Analusia, Benede-Orange, Boberg, Constantia, Douglas, Durbanvielle, Klein Karoo, Olifantsriver, Overberg, Piketberg, Robertson, Swarland, Swellendam, Tulbagh, and Worcester. The most widely planted grape in South Africa is CHENIN BLANC (called Steen locally) followed by other white VARIETIES (called cultivars here) including Cape Riesling (CROUCHEN), Clairette Blanche (CLAIRETTE), Colombar (COLOMBARD), Green Grape (SÉMILLON), Hanepoot (MUSCAT), and PALOMINO. CHARDONNAY, RIESLING, and SAUVIGNON are also becoming more popular. The leading red grape is CINSAUT (called Hermitage locally), although most agree that CABERNET SAUVIGNON produces the best wines. PINOTAGE, a South African specialty that's declining in popularity, is a CROSS of Hermitage (Cinsaut) and PINOT NOIR. Red varieties growing in popularity include CABERNET FRANC, MERLOT, PINOT NOIR, and Shiraz (SYRAH). During much of this century, FORTIFIED wines (SHERRY and PORT styles) dominated South African wine production. In the 1970s semisweet white TABLE WINES, influenced by Germany, became popular. Now South Africa is producing a wide range of red and white DRY table wines and SPARKLING WINES. The popularity of dry table wines has only become fashionable in South Africa during the last 10 to 15 years.

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Material adapted from the The New Food Lover's Companion

© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on
THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

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