South Africa has a long history of blended wines; the tale of their development interweaves old and new varieties.
Chenin Blanc then, as often now, was a mainstay in white blends; partnered by Colombar, Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon, these were fresh, easy-drinking wines. Fairview’s Charles Back was the first to craft a serious, oak-matured Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend with his 1983 Charles Gerard. Unfortunately, he proved to be ahead of his time. It took until 2001, when André van Rensburg at Vergelegen firmly established this pairing, one which has grown in stature and proven ageability. Today, others similarly esteemed include Cape Point Vineyard Isliedh, Tokara Director’s Reserve, Chamonix Reserve and Steenberg Magna Carta
The introduction of Rhône varieties Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, increased plantings of Grenache Blanc together with Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon and others have contributed to a style of blend unique to the Cape. Increased flavour and textural complexity are derived from any of the following: skin contact, spontaneous fermentation in concrete eggs, clay amphorae, oak foudres; there are no restrictions on winemakers’ imagination! Adi Badenhorst’s AA Badenhorst White, Olifantsberg Blanc, Chris & Suzaan Alheit’s Cartology and Eben Sadie’s Ouwingerds T’Voetpad (a field blend from old vines) are just a handful of these Cape originals.
Amazingly, some early red blends styled for accessibility, have stood the test of time; Chateau Libertas, first made in 1932, is among the best known. For many years, it was Cabernet-based, usually with Cinsaut, and wood-matured. Rustenberg Dry Red, a two-thirds Cabernet, one-third Cinsaut mix, co-fermented and aged in large, old oak was another favourite.
At the end of the 1970s, red Bordeaux-style blends, featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, assumed the mantle of flagship for a growing number of winemakers. The first, Welgemeend Estate 1979, was shortly followed by Meerlust Rubicon, Kanonkop Paul Sauer and Overgaauw Tria Corda; these remain among the Cape’s most highly regarded today.