Chardonnay – A native of Burgundy, this variety is widely planted throughout the New World. Locally, much experimentation has been taking place with barrel fermentation and oak ageing of Chardonnay, and excellent wines in a number of styles are being produced. It is also used in some of the base wines from which Cap Classique sparkling wines are made as well as in white blends, an increasingly successful category.
Chenin Blanc (Steen) – The most widely cultivated variety in the Cape, growers are raising the standard to new levels. Characterised by its versatility, Chenin Blanc produces good natural wines covering the whole spectrum from sweet to dry, as well as sherry and sparkling wine. Its fruitiness finds favour with a wide range of palates. It is also used for distilling brandy and spirits.
Colombar(d) – Planted especially in the Breede River region, this variety produces a quality wine in the warmer areas. Good acid content ensures fresh, interesting wines with a pleasant fruity flavour.
Marsanne – A prolific and dependable grower from the Rhône, frequently used in blends. More widely planted than Rousanne, its ‘twin’ variety.
Riesling (Rhine or Weisser Riesling) – Has adapted well to South Africa’s soil and climate. Produces very full, flavourful wines with excellent fruit acids that develop well with bottle ageing. Wines have a honeyed spicy nose and a flowery sweetness.
Sauvignon Blanc – Sauvignon is most readily associated with the eastern Loire region, which is known for its classic crisp, dry Sancerre and smoky Pouilly-Fumé. In combination with Sémillon, Sauvignon grapes also produce some of the most exceptional white wines of Bordeaux, including the sweetest Sauternes (sometimes with Muscadelle too) and the driest Graves, which are often aged in wood (sometimes labelled Blanc Fumé). Extensively planted in the 18th century, Sauvignon Blanc has now regained popularity and considerably increased its share of plantings. There are some leading local examples which have garnered international attention.
Semillon (Green Grape) – Produces a full yet subtle wine with little acid; often used in blends. Locally, some outstanding wooded varietal wines have been produced from this grape variety which once represented 93% of all Cape vines and now accounts for only about 1%.
Viognier – Becoming increasingly fashionable internationally, this variety has been grown for centuries in the northern half of the Rhône valley in France. An early ripener, it produces delicate complex wines with peach, apricot, honey and spice aromas under the right conditions. It is also sometimes blended with Shiraz (to a maximum of 20%).