Heart of the South African Wine Industry
The Coastal Region, which is located within the Western Cape district, is considered to be the heart of the South African wine industry.
With seven districts and seventeen wards, this region boasts the majority of wine production in the country.
The official viticultural zone of Coastal Region measures about 65 miles in the north-south direction and about 30 miles in the east-west direction.
This region accounts for almost half of the country’s total vineyard area. As the historic birthplace of the South African wine industry, this region stretches from Darling in the north to Cape Point in the south.
Now, you would have understood the significance of this region – let’s learn more about this region right away here…
A Little on the History of Coastal Region’s Wines
It is believed that the history of South African wine industry began in the Coastal Region. Constantia and Stellenbosch were known to have contributed to the viticultural history of South Africa.
It was Cape’s second Governor, Simon van der Stel, who established the wine estate in Constantia.
It is said that the French refugees who settled here in the late seventeenth century introduced vines, as well as winemaking in the Coastal Region, especially, in the northern areas of Paarl, Tulbagh, and Swartland.
Topography and Climate of the Coastal Region
Topographically, the Coastal Region is found to be bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the west and on the eastern side, the region has been separated from the Breede River Valley by the Boland Mountains.
To its south, the Hottentot Hollands Mountains is protecting the region from the oceanic influences.
Apart from these, we can also observe several standalone inselbergs dotting the regions of Paarl Rock, Paardeberg, and Simonsberg.
As such, the region is found to be taking the climatic influences from both the Atlantic Ocean and the above-said mountains.
Thus, the region is experiencing a variety of mesoclimates and hence, the areas closer to the coast are experiencing a maritime type of climate with lots of ocean breezes, whereas the areas farther from the coasts (inlands) are experiencing a Mediterranean type of climate.
The mountains that are bordering the western part of the region are bringing cooling influences to the inlands.
When it comes to vineyard cultivation, the higher altitudes combined with the trapped cloud cover would help refreshing vineyards and contribute to the diurnal temperature differences.
I would say these factors are providing a positive effect in the vineyards of the Coastal region.
When we look at the soils of the region, we can understand there is a great diversity throughout the region.
Among others, the major soil types that are found in the region are weathered granite, Malmesbury shale, and Table Mountain sandstone.
Wine Districts of the Coastal Region
The seven districts of the Coastal Region defined under the Wine of Origin scheme are as follows:
Cape Point District
This is located at the southern tip of the Western Cape and is known for its maritime vineyards. There are four wineries in this district.
This district has one ward within it and has a total of seven wineries.
This is the hottest among the wine regions of Western Cape. However, this district has as many as 152 wineries and four wards.
This district has seven wards and is considered to be the crown jewel of the country’s wine industry. There are 542 wineries in Stellenbosch.
This has two wards and can be said as the country’s wine region to watch. It has 65 wineries.
There are 13 wineries in this wine district.
It has two wards and 21 wineries.
Wine Grapes of the Coastal Region
The region has a wide variety of wine grapes throughout. Some of the major varieties are as follows:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Chenin Blanc
- Cabernet Sauvignon
#4.2 More about the region
I am Tharani, I have Bachelors degree in Biotechnology. I am passionate about the wine industry and continue to explore, learn and share and I bring in a wealth of knowledge and expertise to help you keep updated with best wines in the world. Stay tuned..
Let’s clarify the mysterious past of world’s oldest (or almost oldest, the Hungarian Tokaj claims this title as well) appellation and then see where you can actually surround yourself by this fortified wine in the city of Oporto.
History of Port Wine Appellation
Portugal as a winemaking country made its’ fame thanks to its’ famous port – Oporto.
During the Hundred Years war the British obviously couldn’t import French wine. They looked a bit southern, still along the Atlantic, and chose Porto (or as they called it – Oporto) as the new source of wine.
All of a sudden all the farmers became businessmen producing and selling wine. This was in 14-15 centuries. Yields were increased to the limits, quality wasn’t a concern – the demand was definitely high enough.
By the 18th century the wine production degraded so much that there was an urgency to have a controlling body over the producers.
Portugal’s much beloved Marquise de Pombal was the one who in 1757 set roots to one of the oldest appellation in the world. He restricted the production of port wine to a single region and created a hierarchy among the producers based on quality.
That one and only region was Douro.
First of all, vines were grown there before Roman times, around 1000 years BC by Phoenicians. While Romans were the ones constructing breathtaking stone terraces on the hills above the Douro river.
Needless to say, that the climate thanks to the hills and powerful river was moderate, with mild winters and not too hot summers.
Why a Wine from Douro is named after Porto?
The Upper Douro Valley is great for growing vines, but not for exporting them in large quantities. Barrels with wine were shipped down to Oporto town, which had an access to the Atlantic.
When received in English ports, marked as per their departure point – O Porto. That’s how the Port wine got its’ name.
Port Wine Production in Simple Terms
So how comes port wine tastes so different than ‘normal’ wines? Is it a wine at all?
As the journey from Porto to the north was taking a while, wine merchants needed to find a way of preserving it.
Originally, the wine was fortified with brandy before the ‘journey’. Fortified actually means ‘strengthened’ (by brandy).
Today the process is a bit different, as the wine gets fortified before ageing, right after fermentation.
Let’s see below:
- The most noticeable for a consumer speciality about port wine is that it has a high sugar concentration (around 130 g per liter) and high level of alcohol (19-20% abv).
- Nowadays, the wine is fortified to stop fermentation in order to leave a significant amount of residual sugar and increase the level of alcohol.
So, to understand the winemaking process behind this famous Portuguese wine let’s first clarify the fermentation process of any other dry wine:
- Sugar of the grape juice is ‘eaten’ by yeasts (these are also found within the grape berry).
- The result is alcohol and dry wine, as yeasts normally don’t stop until there is no sugar left to consume.
In case of port wine the process gets interrupted half-way:
- Yeasts are killed by adding brandy (or eau de vie with 77% alcohol).
- This allows the Portuguese to preserve quite a lot of sugar, and meanwhile increase the level of alcohol up to 20%.
Be Selective When Buying a Bottle of Port Wine
In order to enjoy the wine after all these sophisticated ‘tortures’, to feel the bouquet not just the alcohol:
- it must be produced of high quality grape and eau de vie;
- it must be matured and aged in oak barrels, to coat all the scents and flavours;
- it must be served at a right temperature – 8° C for white, 11-14° C for tawny, the younger the cooler, and 15° C for ruby.
Fast Facts to Taste Port Wine as a Conoisseur
For those who want to sound like port wine connoisseurs:
- Port can be White, Ruby and Tawny.
- ABV (alcohol by volume) is usually around 20%, regardless of its colour (white port looks as light as a Sauvignon Blanc, but be careful it’s still 20% abv despite its’ colour).
- White Port goes really well with a lot of ice cubes, lime, orange slices, as an aperitif or within a cocktail. For example, when you order a gin tonic in Portugal, they’ll usually use white port instead of gin.
- Ruby Port prefers the company of chocolate or soft cheese. I was tasting Late Bottled Vintage 2013 from Sandeman in Vila Nova de Gaia.
- Tawny – in our case, Sandeman Tawny 10 Years, will be best matched with caramel and cottage cheese based pastries and desserts. Our sommelier highly recommended trying it with an apple pie.
Where to try port wine in Porto?
Actually, there is another confusion here 🙂
It’s Vila Nova de Gaia where all the old port wine cellars are based, and where the wine barrels took off to north, towards the English consumers.
This ‘hub’ is just a bridge or river taxi away from Porto.
I prepared a selection of best port wine cellars in Vila Nova for my own trip, but happy to share them with you:
This winery is special because it was found by a Portuguese man (many many port wine cellars are owned by English), and because he was ‘crazy’ (as those times people thought) and targeted Brazil as his prime customer, not England.
So as he founded Porto Calem in 1859 he set the sails to explore Brazil. The adventurer was right, his first transactions were in exotic woods.
At Caves Calem in Vila Nova you can opt for a wine tasting with food pairing, or a wine tasting and fado show (and combine the two most special things about the city of Oporto).
How about women in port wine?
The founder, Dona Antonia Ferreira is one of the most charismatic personalities of the appellation.
Ferreira cellars are famous for their Vintage Port collections (the only type of port wine that one can age in bottle), Dona Antonia left a heritage of bottles dating back to 1815.
I recommend tasting at least 3 wines during your experience at the cellars – white, ruby and tawny port. Even better, if you select a tasting with Vintage Port experience, as that was what made Dona Ferreira famous for.
George Sandeman a wine merchant who decided to start his own port wine and sherry business.
Sandeman is known for its’ ‘Don’ – one of the world’s first logos and brand images. A mysterious silhouette of a man in hat immerses you into Portugal of 17th century as you enter the cellar.
At Sandeman’s you can choose between a tasting of Old Tawnies (10, 20, 30 and 40 y.o.) and white-ruby-tawny port wine tastings.
NB: ‘Caves’ – means cellars, not caves, as people sometimes think. I’ve seen visitors in the cellars asking where is the cave 🙂
What is your favourite type of port wine? Is it white, ruby or tawny?
What do you usually pair it with?
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