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  South African wine styles

29 Mar 2011


Blanc de blancs White wine made from white grapes only; also used for champagne and méthode cap classique.

Blanc fumé or fumé blanc Dry white from sauvignon, usually but not necessarily wooded (nor smoked, smoky).

Blanc de noir A pink wine (shades range from off-white through peach to pink) made from red grapes.

Blend See Varietal wine and Cape blend.

Brut See Sugar or sweetness, and Sparkling wine.

Cap classique See Sparkling wine.

Cape Blend Evolving term, increasingly used to denote a (red) blend with pinotage, the ‘local’ grape making up a significant part of the assemblage; sometimes simply a blend showing a distinct ‘Cape’ character; occasionally used for chenin-based blends.

Carbonated See Sparkling wine.

Cultivar Grape variety (a contraction of ‘cultivated variety’).

Cuvée French term for the blend of a wine.

Demi-sec See Sugar or sweetness.

Dessert wine A sweet wine, often to accompany the dessert but sometimes pleasurably prior, as in the famous Sauternes/foie gras combo.

Dry to sweet See Sugar or sweetness.

Estate wine Term now reserved for wine originating from an officially registered ‘unit for the production of estate wine’ (see for current list).

Fortified wines Increased in alcoholic strength by the addition of spirit, by SA law to minimum 15% alcohol by volume.

Grand cru See Premier Grand Cru.

Jerepiko or jerepigo Red or white wine, produced without fermentation; grape juice is fortified with grape spirit, preventing fermentation; very sweet, with considerable unfermented grape flavours.

Kosher See Winemaking terms section.

Late Harvest Sweet wine from late-harvested and therefore sweeter grapes. See Sugar or sweetness.

Méthode cap classique (MCC) See Sparkling wine.

Noble Late Harvest (NLH) Sweet dessert wine (still, perlé or sparkling) exhibiting a noble rot (botrytis) character, from grapes infected by the botrytis cinerea fungus. This mould, in warm, misty autumn weather, attacks the skins of ripe grapes, causing much of the juice to evaporate. As the berries wither, their sweetness and flavour become powerfully concentrated. SA law dictates that grapes for NLH must be harvested at a minimum of 28° Balling and residual sugar must exceed 50g/L.

Nouveau Term originated in Beaujolais for fruity young and light red, usually from gamay and made by the carbonic maceration method. Bottled soon after vintage to capture the youthful, fresh flavour of fruit and yeasty fermentation.

Perlant, perlé, pétillant Lightly sparkling, usually carbonated wine.

Port Fortified dessert with ever-improving quality record in Cape since late 1980s, partly through efforts of Cape Port Producers' Association (previously SA Port Producers’ Association - SAPPA) which recommends use of word ‘Cape’ to identify the local product. Following are CPPA-defined styles: Cape White: non-muscat grapes, wood-aged min 6 mths, any size vessel; Cape Ruby: blended, fruity, components aged min 6 mths, up to 3 years depending on size of vessel. Average age min 1 year. Cape Vintage: fruit of one harvest; dark, full-bodied, vat-aged (any size); Cape Vintage Reserve: fruit of one harvest in year of ‘recognised quality’. Preferably aged min 1 year, vats of any size, sold only in glass; Cape Late Bottled Vintage (LBV): fruit of single ‘year of quality’, full-bodied, slightly tawny colour, aged 3–6 years (of which min 2 years in oak); Cape Tawny: wood-matured, amber-orange (tawny) colour, smooth, slightly nutty taste (white grapes not permitted); Cape Dated Tawny: single-vintage tawny.

Premier Grand Cru Unlike in France, not a quality rating in SA — usually an austerely dry white.

Residual sugar See Sugar or sweetness.

Rosé Pink wine, made from red or a blend of red and white grapes. The red grape skins are removed before the wine takes up too much colour.

Single-vineyard wine Classification for wines from officially registered vineyards, no larger than 6ha in size and planted with a single variety.

Sparkling wine Bubbly, or ‘champagne’, usually white but sometimes rosé and even red, given its effervescence by carbon dioxide — allowed to escape in the normal winemaking process. Champagne undergoes its second fermentation in the bottle. Under an agreement with France, SA does not use the term, which describes the sparkling wines from the Champagne area. Instead, méthode cap classique (MCC) is the SA term to describe sparkling wines made by the classic method. Charmat undergoes its second, bubble-forming fermentation in a tank and is bottled under pressure. Carbonated sparklers are made by the injection of carbon dioxide bubbles (as in fizzy soft drinks). See also Sugar or sweetness.

Special Late Harvest (SLH) SA designation for a lighter dessert-style wine. There is no legal stipulation for residual sugar content, but if the RS is below 20g/L, the label must state ‘extra dry’, ‘dry’, ‘semi-dry’ or ‘sweet’, as the case may be. The minimum alcohol content is 11% by volume.

Stein Semi-sweet white wine, usually a blend and often confused with steen, a grape variety (chenin blanc), though most steins are at least made partly from steen grapes.

Sugar or sweetness In still wines: extra-dry or bone-dry wines have less than 2.5 grams/litre (g/l) residual sugar, undetectable to the taster. A wine legally is dry up to 5g/l. Taste buds will begin picking up a slight sweetness, or softness, in a wine — depending on its acidity — at about 6 g/l, when it is still off-dry. By about 8–9g/l a definite sweetness can usually be noticed. However, an acidity of 8–9 g/l can render a sweet wine fairly crisp even with a sugar content of 20 g/l plus. Official sweetness levels in SA wine are listed below:

Still wines

Wine Sugar (grams/litre)
Extra-dry ≤2.5
Dry ≤5
Semi-dry 5≤12
Semi-sweet >5 <30
Late Harvext ≥20
Special Late Harvest (SLH)
Natural Sweet (or Sweet Natural) >20
Noble Late Harvest (NLH) >50
Naturally dried grape wine (straw wine) >30

Sparkling wines

Brut natural <3
Extra brut <6
Brut <15
Extra-dry 12–20
Dry 17–35
Semi-sweet 33–50
Sweet >50

Varietal wine From a single variety of grape. Legislation requires the presence in the wine of 85% of the stated variety or vintage. Blends may name component parts only if those components were vinified separately, prior to blending; then they are listed with the larger contributor(s) named first. If any one of the blend partners is less than 20%, percentages for all the varieties must be given. Blends may be vinified separately in any recognised WO area; component areas may be named, as above except the threshold is 30%.

Vintage In SA primarily used to denote year of harvest. Not a quality classification (a ‘vintage’ port in Europe means one from an officially declared great port-grape year).

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