South African Wine Grape Varietals

© Glenneis Kriel
Just as the wildlife industry has the Big Five, the South African wine industry boasts the Big Six, which refers to the cultivars: Pinotage, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Jan van Riebeeck planted the first vineyard in South Africa in 1655 and the first wine was made four years later. On 2 February 1659 he wrote in his diary 'Today, praise be to God, wine was pressed from Cape grapes for the first time.’ Interestingly, Pinotage is the only wine cultivar that originates from South Africa. SouthAfrica.co.za provides factual information on the country’s many variants of grapes.

Barbera

Barbera is a red wine grape variety primarily used for the production of table wines, but also in Northern Italy for the production of sparkling wines. Scientists have so far been...more

Bukettraube

Bukettraube is an aromatic white cultivar originating in Germany from a hybrid of Sylvaner and Trollinger grapes. Ripening very late in Germany and susceptible to powdery mildew...more

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet franc is a black-skinned wine grape variety used for the production of red table wines. It is believed to be one of the oldest red wine varieties still in production, with DNA...more

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is a red wine variety that developed out of a spontaneous crossing between Cabernet franc and Sauvignon blanc. It is associated with some of the world’s most expensive wines....more

Cape Riesling

Cape Riesling is an old white grape cultivar originating in France, but it is mostly planted in Australia and South Africa. It is planted in South Africa as Crouchen Blanc due to confusion...more

Carignan

Carignan is black skinned wine grape variety primarily used to produce blends and single varietal wines. The parentage of the variety is uncertain....more

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is the most commonly produced white grape cultivar in the world today. It is a cross between the Pinot family and a nearly extinct variety called Gouais Blanc....more

Chenel

Chenel is a white neutral tasting wine grape that is a South African-developed cross developed by Prof Chris Orffer. The parents of Chenel are Chenin Blanc and Ugni Blanc (also called Trebbiano)....more

Chenin Blanc

Chenin blanc is a white wine variety used for the production of table wines, sparkling wines and fortified wines, such as port, sherry and brandy. It is the most widely planted wine...more

Cinsaut

Cinsaut noir is a wine grape variety primarily used for the production of red and rosé wines, but also brandies and port. DNA analysis has indicated that it might be an offspring of...more

Clairette Blanche

A very old white wine grape that dates back to the 1500s, it was widely planted in the south of France and used in sparkling wine production, but also as a table grape variety....more

Colombar

Colombar is a white wine variety better known for the production of distilled wines, such as brandy and cognac. It is one of the most planted varieties in South Africa and was...more

Emerald Riesling

Created by the UC Davis in 1948 from a cross between Muscadelle and Riesling, Emerald Riesling is a white grape cultivar that was intended to produce grapes that exhibit Riesling...more

Gamay Noir

Gamay noir is a black wine grape variety traditionally used for the production of easy drinking red table wines. It developed from a cross between Pinot noir and the ancients...more

Gewürztraminer

Gewürztraminer is a mutation of the Roter Traminer wine grape grown in Germany for centuries. The mutation ‘Gewürtztraminer’ was selected for its floral and spicy perfumed...more

Grenache Blanc

Grenache Blanc is a white wine grape that originated in northern Spain from where it spread to France to become the fourth most planted vine in France. Grenache Blanc is...more

Grenache Noir

Grenache noir is a flexible grape variety, used for the production of red, sparkling, sweet and fortified wines. Its parentage is unknown. The variety seems to have originated in Cariñena...more

Malbec

Malbec is a wine grape variety used for the production of red wine. It developed from a crossing between the ancient varieties, Prunelard noir and Magdelaine noire des Charentes....more

Merlot

Merlot is a red wine variety that developed from a crossing of Cabernet Franc and Magdeleine Noire des Charentes. The variety’s name derived from a Bordeaux word that...more

Mourvèdre

Mourvèdre is a dark coloured wine grape variety used for the production of red wines. DNA analysis established that the varieties known as Mataro, Monastrell and Mourvèdre are one...more

Muscat de Frontgnan - Muscadel

Muscadel in South Africa refers to the Muscat de Blanc à Petite Grains variety, which when translated means white Muscat with little berries. It is regarded as one of the oldest...more

Muscate D'Alexandrie

Muscat d’ Alexandrie is a versatile white grape variety, best known for the sweet wines it produces. It is a derivative of the Muscat family. A pink berried version exists, known as...more

Nouvelle

Nouvelle is a South African white wine grape developed in 1964 by the late Professor Chris Orffer of the Stellenbosch University by open-air hybridization in the vineyards....more

Petit Verdot

Petit Verdot is a black grape variety, traditionally used in Bordeaux-style blends. Its name means “the little green one” in French, referring to difficulties in getting berries to develop...more

Petite Sirah - Durif

A robust red grape that produces full-bodied red wines that were developed in the 1880s by Dr Francois Durif from a Syrah Peloursin cross. Popular in California, Petite Sirah is also...more

Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc

Pinot gris and Pinot blanc are colour mutations that have developed out of Pinot noir. The main difference between the varieties is that Pinot noir berries are black-skinned, while...more

Pinot Noir

Pinot noir is a black wine grape variety associated with some of the world’s most expensive still and sparkling wines. The name, derived from the French words that mean “pine”...more

Pinotage

Pinotage is a red wine variety that originated in South Africa. It is also grown, albeit in small quantities, in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United States...more

Roobernet

Roobernet is a red grape developed in South Africa in the 1960s by Prof Chris Orffer by crossing Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet. Similar to Pontac, Roobernet is a...more

Roussanne

Roussanne is a white wine variety originally from the Rhône wine region in France. The name is probably derived from the French word ‘roux’ (red) as it refers to the reddish...more

Ruby Cabernet

Ruby Cabernet is a red wine variety developed in 1936 by Dr Harold Olmo from the University of California, through the crossing of Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon....more

Sangiovese

The main red cultivar of Tuscany in Italy where the famous Chianti wines are produced. Sangiovese was the main ingredient in these wines, recognized by its round bottles in a...more

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc produces white wines with distinct green and herbaceous flavours. The name means “wild white” in French and the variety is believed to be a descendant of the...more

Semillion

Sémillon was one of the few varietals bought from the south west of France to South Africa by the French Huguenots around the 1690s. Today, it is still seen as one of the most...more

Shiraz

Shiraz is a red wine cultivar with distinct smoky flavour. It developed out of a crossing between the near extinct varieties, Dureza and Mondeuse blanche....more

Souzao

Souzão is a red wine variety from the Minho region in Northern Portugal typically used to make port-style wines (Duoro Valley) and red Vinho Verde (‘young wines’) in northern...more

Tinta Barocca

Tinta Barocca is a red wine grape variety used for the production of fortified Port-style or dry red wines. It developed out of a cross between Marufo and Touriga Naçional....more

Touriga Nacional

Touriga Naçional is a red grape variety mostly used in the production of port-style blends, but more recently also for the production of dry red wines. Its parentage is unknown....more

Viognier

Viognier is a white wine variety, genetically related to the Piedmontese grape, Freisa. The name is derived from the Celtic word vidu, which means wood....more

Weisser Riesling

Weisser Riesling is a white wine variety used to produce sparkling wines as well as light fruity dry, semi-sweet and sweet still wines. It is seen as the king of German vineyards....more

Zinfandel

A red wine grape that originated in Croatia, Zinfandel has been very popular in California since the mid-1900s and can produce deep intense red wines or a rosé-style white....more