South African White Wines
South Africa produces some of the world’s most delicious and vibrant white wines. In fact, the first wines ever produced in the region — planted nearly 400 years ago — were white wines. From table blends to estate bottlings, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about white wines from the region.
Wines to Know
Most grapes grown in South Africa were brought to the region from France, after the Dutch East India Company sent vine cuttings to be planted there. The first cuttings were most likely Chenin Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscat Blanc. These, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, still remain the primary grapes of South Africa to this day.
There’s a reason over 42,500 acres are dedicated to Chenin Blanc alone; it is undoubtedly the region’s most prominent white grape, and has been for centuries. Also known as Steen, Chenin Blanc is the perfect easy-drinking white wine, and can range from slightly sweet to dry, luxurious, and floral.
Try: AA Badenhorst Secateurs 2021 Chenin Blanc (HK$140)
AA Badenhorst delivers a stellar example of a dry Chenin Blanc from the Stellenbosch region, full of vibrancy and elegance due to its time spent in old wood barrels.
South African Sauvignon Blancs can be dry and mineral — much like those from Sancerre, France — or quite grassy and herbal, reminiscent of Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand.
Try: Klein Constantia 2020 Sauvignon Blanc (HK$170)
If you’re going to try one South African Sauvignon Blanc, make it this one from Constantia: Klein Constantia, one of the oldest wineries in South Africa, blended several parcels of Sauvignon Blanc to create a full-bodied, mineral wine bursting with grapefruit, fig, and saline. You may never go back to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc after tasting this.
Although Chardonnay is a cool-climate grape, it grows well along South Africa’s coastline due to the cool sea breezes. Much like Chardonnay from the rest of the world, it can range from crisp and easy to complex and creamy. It is also the primary grape in South African sparkling wine, known as Méthode Cap Classique (MCC).
Try: Klein Constantia 2018 Chardonnay (HK$170)
Crisp and unoaked, Klein Constantia once again delivers some of the most pleasurable wines in Constantia. This single-vineyard bottling is full of pear and citrus, while remaining clean, chalky, and slightly toasty.
Try: Klein Constantia 2017 MCC Estate Brut (HK$260)
For a sparkling alternative, go with a 100% Chardonnay MCC. Fine bubbles form a frothy mousse that is balanced with rich pear, citrus, and toasted brioche.
No selection of white wines would be complete without exploring the exciting, delicious world of white blends. Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon are primary blending grapes, but Viognier, Colombard, and Riesling are also used.
From Cape Town, Cape Point Vineyards benefit from the coastal location and cool Atlantic breeze which allow for mineralic and complex Sauvignon Blancs. Isliedh under Riandri Visser’s stewardship, one of the Wines of the Year in Tim Atkin’s MW 2020, with a 96/100 rating. With floral notes of white orchid, rose and peach blossom; with hints of oak spice and fresh thyme.
A special gift for the host of your next seafood barbecue. Excellent with fish, veggies, and soft cheeses to highlight its maximum flavor profile.
One more from Badenhorst: this blend, though primarily Chenin Blanc, also includes Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne (common in France’s Rhône Valley), and Palomino (originally from Spain). This is quite the worldly blend, resulting in a textured wine full of honey, apricots, tangerine, and white tea.
Don’t Be Afraid to Explore
What makes South African white wines so attractive is their versatility and ability to be paired with a variety of foods — most notably Asian-style dishes. If you like seafood, we have a great blog to help you pair wine with seafood. The ancient soils of South Africa, some full of granite, some 600 million years old, elevate the region’s wines to something elegant, delicious, and attractive to wine drinkers. Start exploring Biltong Chief’s selections of premium meats and exceptional wines here.
If you need to take one step back and learn more about wine in general, then you can read our Complete Beginner’s Guide to Wine or if you just want to learn more about South African wine you can read our South African Wine Starting Point article.