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South Africa is called ‘the old new world’ as far as wine production is concerned. Wine grapes have been grown there since the middle of the seventeenth century – originally to provision the ships sailing to the east. Eventually, the fortified wines of Constantia became fashionable in Europe, with cheaper ‘sherry’ types being made for the mass market. Dry wines were comparatively unimportant in the export market until after the abolition of both apartheid and the KWV (state wine cooperative) monopoly.

Quality has improved dramatically in the last twenty years, with new vine plantings and wineries, and also the restoration of old vineyards planted with century-old Cinsault and Grenache vines. The off-flavours which caused problems in some wines – especially Pinotage – a decade ago have been overcome by improved wine making techniques.

Traditionally, the important wine growing areas were those just north of Capetown – especially Stellenberg and Paarl. The best warm-country wines still come from there. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir thrive on the coast in the Hemel-en-Erde subdivision of the Walker Bay region near Hermanos, with several top-quality estates established near the sea. The pioneer in this area was Hamilton Russell, who still make very good (although not particularly cheap) wines.

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