A great red wine depends on personal taste. To choose the right red wine for your palate, it’s important you try out as many grape varietals as possible. Red wine tastes different from white wine in a number of ways:
Higher levels of tannin
Higher levels of alcohol
Different flavour profile
Potentially increased complexity
All these qualities come from the fermentation process, where the grapes skins are left in the tank along with the juice. Barrel and bottle ageing also play a large part, with a more aerobic style of wine-making changing the way a wine matures. It’s the nature of these processes and the quality of the grape that has the biggest effect on the flavour and character of the wine.
There are many kinds of red grape grown in the Western Cape of South Africa, and you might find some more unusual varietals on some estates. Red wines are most often (but not always) matured in oak barrels, and the skins are left on. The result is a lovely red colouring from the skin, and a richness from the wood. Here are some of the red wines you’re most likely to come across on your wine tasting adventures.
Pinotage: Pinotage holds a special place in local hearts, because it is the only grape that is unique to South Africa. It was invented in 1925 and is a hybrid of pinot noir and cinsault. Pinotage is a bold and complex wine with a deep red colour. Depending on the age of the wine, you may taste notes of red berries, spice, and chocolate or coffee.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Many estates in the Western Cape make great cab sav. It is a darker, deeper red than pinotage and often has a more complex flavour. It has bold tannins, and you’ll often pick up black fruits, along with peppery notes and even a tobacco flavour.
Merlot: This is a little softer on the palate than cab sav. It has gentle tannins and loads of delicious fruity flavours. It used to be mostly used in blends, but you’ll find 100% merlot at a lot of estates these days.
Shiraz/syrah: Most South African producers call this wine shiraz, but it’s the same thing as syrah. It’s quite a versatile grape, so the wines vary from place to place. It’s a rich, deep wine with a distinct spiciness, and often a nice chocolate/coffee finish.
Cape Blend: This is, as the name dictates, a blend of different types of grape. It is local to the Western Cape region. It has to have at least 30% pinotage to be a Cape Blend. Other grapes used include merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, shiraz, or other less common varietals.