Origins and history: - Mostly planted in the Bordeaux region of France, the ‘lovechild’ of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc (hence the name). Well-travelled grape variety with successful wines made all over the world. Needs a warm climate in order to ripen fully. Good blending partner with Merlot and Cabernet Franc to make some of the world’s best-known and most expensive wines.
Characteristics: - Big, full-bodied red wines with flavours of black currants, cassis, cedar wood and tobacco. Sometimes can also have minty/eucalyptus characteristics especially in Australia. Small berries means bigger tannins than other grape varieties
Famous Wines: - Châteaux Lafite, Latour etc (Bordeaux, France +/- 70% Cabernet), Ridge Montebello (California)
Good Local Examples: - Alexanderfontein, Vergelegen V, Kanonkop, Thelema.
If it was a Person: – James Bond
Origins and history: – mostly planted in Bordeaux and slightly further north, in the Loire Valley. Often overlooked in favour of the more popular Cabernet Sauvignon but currently enjoying a lot of interest in SA, mostly as a blending partner, but increasingly often on its own as well.
Characteristics: – full-bodied red wines with a distinctive herbal quality to them. Tomato leaves, lead pencils,black fruits, hints of licorice and fynbos.
Famous Wines: – Bourgeuil (Loire Valley, France), Château Cheval Blanc (Bordeaux, often more than 50% Cab Franc).
Good Local Examples: – Raats, Rainbow’s End, Zorgvliet Silver Myn, Cordoba Crescendo
If it was a Person: – Johnny Depp
Origins and history: – aka Syrah which is what it is normally called in its French home, the Rhône Valley. LOVES the heat and does well in SA, Australia and Southern France. Generally two different styles – elegant and peppery and using French oak (often labelled Syrah), chunky, meaty and with a smoked ham edge to it, usually using sweeter American oak (often labelled Shiraz). Frequently blended with a number of other indigenous Rhône varieties and increasingly partnered by Cabernet Sauvignon as well.
Characteristics: – Dark, brooding, full-bodied red wines with spice, pepper (both white and black kinds) and sometimes cloves. Black berries with some strawberry notes and sometimes meaty, funky, earthy aromas as well.
Famous wines: – Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage (Rhône Valley, France), Penfolds Grange (Australia),
Good Local Examples: – Porcupine Ridge, Boekenhoutskloof, Saxenburg Shiraz Select (SSS).
If it was a Person: – Seal
Origins and history: – widely-planted throughout Bordeaux but mainly in St Emilion and Pomerol. Hugely popular grape variety worldwide both as a single varietal and as a blending partner with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc. Experienced a big dip in popularity after the film ‘Sideways’ but has reclaimed any ground lost since then. Hasn’t always been the most successful of black grapes in SA although plantings in cooler climates (Durbanville, Elgin) are looking exciting.
Characteristics: – Fat black fruit flavours of plums and damsons often give way to chocolate, mint and hints of coffee. Much fleshier berry than either of the cabernets and often used in blends to provide fruit and to counteract Cabernet’s stronger tannins. If badly made, can produce the equivalent of alcoholic jam.
Famous Wines: – Le Pin, Château Petrus (both Bordeaux, France, +/- 70-90% Merlot).
Good Local Examples: – Hartenberg, Bein Wines, Shannon Mount Bullet.
If it was a Person: – George Clooney
Origins and history: – right here in SA! Professor Perold at Stellenbosch University crossed Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (at the time called Hermitage) in 1925 seeking to produce a grape capable of coping with the high African temperatures and at the same time producing good yields. Has had a rocky history but seems to be improving its image and developing distinctly different but nonetheless popular styles. Many people blend it with other cultivars to make a ‘Cape Blend’.
Characteristics: – most popular current style is the ‘Chocolate/coffee’ style – lots of toasted oak with chocolate, coffee and hazelnut notes. Other, cooler-climate wines might have elegant black cherries, dark plums and licorice. Bad examples still taste of bitter bananas – thankfully these are getting less and less!
Famous Wines (Unique South African Grape): – Ashbourne, De Waal Top of the Hill, Kaapzicht Steytler Vision, Beyerskloof, Diemersfontein
If it was a Person: – Lucas Radebe
Origins and history: – the main grape in Burgundy, but also making up a third of most blends in Champagne as well. Tricky grape to grow – likes a cooler climate and is susceptible to every disease going. Wines can vary from the completely and utterly sublime to the very ordinary but nearly all of them are on the expensive side which makes it difficult to buy. Has had success in Northern states of America (Oregon and Washington) and also in New Zealand too.
Characteristics: – difficult to ripen so doesn’t produce a particularly dark-coloured wine. Don’t be fooled into thinking it is light and easy-drinking however – good Pinots have plenty of elegant red fruit flavours (Strawberries, cranberries) with perfumed notes of Earl Grey tea and a good tannic structure.
Famous Wines: – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Richebourg, Gevrey-Chambertin
Good Local Examples: – Catherine Marshall, Newton-Johnson, Bouchard-Finlayson.
If it was a Person: – Clive Owen