Cabernet Franc – Related to Cabernet Sauvignon, this variety is usually softer, has a lower sugar content and contains less alcohol. Used as a component in classic, Bordeaux-style blends but also for varietal wines. Small but increasing vineyard area. Unless specified, ‘Cabernet’ refers to the Sauvignon and not the Franc variety.
Cabernet Sauvignon – An increasingly significant variety at the Cape, it’s the foremost variety of the Bordeaux region of France. Cabernet Sauvignon produces top-class wines that develop well with age into spicy, full, complex wines. As in Bordeaux, it may be blended with Merlot or its relative, Cabernet Franc.
Cinsaut (Noir) – Previously known as Hermitage. A strong bearer and very versatile variety – it can be used to blend with Cabernet, to produce reasonably priced early drinking wines, or as quality wine for brandy distilling. It is also often used for rosé, port-style and jerepigo wines. Once South Africa’s most widely planted red variety, vineyard area has decreased as it has been replaced by more noble varieties.
Grenache (Noir) – One of Spain’s most important varieties where it’s known as Garnacha, this hardy grape is resistant to drought, wind and sun. Typically used for blending with Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Malbec – Once a significant component of Bordeaux’s blend but no longer found in the region’s best vineyards, this spicy variety is now mainly grown in Cahors in western France where it’s known as ‘Cot’. Argentina’s signature variety, it’s also grown in Chile. Very small plantings in SA, varietal and blended bottlings.
Merlot – An early ripening variety, traditionally used as a blending partner to add softness and breadth to Cabernet Sauvignon but now increasingly being bottled as a varietal wine, with some superb results locally. Planted in increasing quantities, particularly in the Stellenbosch and Paarl regions.
Petit Verdot – This superb variety is used in small percentages in Bordeaux-style blends and can also be made into cultivar wines. Limited plantings locally.
Pinotage – A local cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (Hermitage), created by Professor Abraham Perold in 1925, this variety combines the noble characteristics of the former with the reliability of the latter. Unique to South Africa, it can produce complex and fruity wines with age but is also often very drinkable when young. With great strides made in the making of Pinotage, South Africa’s own variety is rapidly gaining increasing acceptance and finding favour worldwide both as a varietal bottling and in blends. The ‘Cape blend’ is an evolving term which generally denotes a red blend with Pinotage as a component making up 30 to 70 percent of the wine.
Pinot Noir – The king of Burgundy but notoriously difficult to grow elsewhere. Although not yet widely planted, this variety is now producing excellent wines in the cooler viticultural areas of South Africa. Wines tend to be lighter in colour with distinct vegetal flavours and aromas. A large proportion is used in Cap Classique sparkling wines.
Shiraz – A noble variety of French origin. Better known as Syrah elsewhere, the largest production of Shiraz is now found in Australia but local plantings have increased strongly. Made in several different styles here, it yields deep purple smoky and spicy wines which develop a complex character with age.