Wine & Spirits

South Africa’s acclaimed vineyards have long been drawing passionate oenophiles and gastronomes to its picturesque wine regions for desirable sips of unique Pinotage, fruity Chenin Blanc and other varietals thriving amidst the region's unique terroir. Let us decant the fascinating history and vibrant future of South Africa’s fine wine industry, as well as introduce you to more up-and-coming tipples that are worth travelling to the continent for.

South African wines are classified as ‘New World’, but its winemaking legacy stretches more than 350 years. Recognising that the country’s Mediterranean-like climate and fertile soil provide ideal conditions for wine growing, Jan van Riebeeck (the Dutch colonial administrator who founded Cape Town) brought vines from Europe and planted South Africa’s first vineyard in 1655 to quench thirsty sailors. However, the region's wines only achieved world standards in 1679 when Simon van der Stel (wine enthusiast and Governor of the Cape) sought the help of French refugees skilled in viticulture to develop high-quality wines – the rest is history.
Below, we’ll pop the cork on the enticing world of South African wines, along with other sub-Saharan African regions making inroads in the fine wine industry. Plus, we’ve got something for the ones who enjoy a strong drink (or two).
South Africa’s Top Wine-growing Areas
There aren’t many places in the world where intrepid oenophiles can enjoy such great diversity of grape varieties and wine styles all within a few hours’ drive of each other. Blessed with over twenty wine-growing areas and wine routes, Cape Town and its Western Cape surrounds is nirvana for wine lovers. From aromatic Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs, robust Rhône-style reds and whites, bubbly MCCs (Méthode Cap Classiques), to the unique homegrown Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, locally known as Hermitage) and its world-class dessert wines, there is something for everyone.
The wine tours that we organise can be as brief or as in-depth as you like. Hop from estate to estate for guided tastings paired with gourmet chocolates, cheeses, or even a produce-driven 4-course meal; take part in a private wine-blending masterclass; or spend time with the winemaker and/or cellar master to walk through vineyards and cellars, learning about all the elements that contribute to the distinct aromas, flavours and body of their wines, and hear their amazing stories. Imagine doing all this against a backdrop of undulating vineyards, deep valleys and craggy mountains – wow.
Historic Constantia ValleyEstablished in the late 16th century by Simon van der Stel, Constantia Valley is the cradle of winemaking in South Africa and one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the southern hemisphere. On your next visit, fill your days sampling the legendary Vin de Constance late harvest dessert wine that European royalty the likes of George IV of England and Napoleon Bonaparte were obsessed with, as well as modern favourites such as Muscat Blancs, Sauvignon Blancs and Bordeaux Blends. Located just 15-minutes from Cape Town's city centre, Constantia is the perfect quick countryside getaway with stunning 17th century Cape Dutch homesteads, boutique wine farms, stylish restaurants and lush greenbelts right on the slopes of Table Mountain.

Magical Hemel-en-Aarde ValleyReputed as the Cape’s equivalent of Burgundy, the idyllic Hemel-en-Aarde Valley ('heaven on earth' in the local Afrikaans dialect) is a hidden gem for many wine connoisseurs looking to taste top-notch Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. All of the estates here are boutique, quality-driven and very focused on small production, but gaining world-class recognition rapidly as exemplified by Bouchard Finlayson and Hamilton Russell Vineyards. Combined with the glistening waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the whale-watching capital of Hermanus close by, this is the ultimate destination for sun, sea and sips.

Avant-garde SwartlandThe remarkable yet underrated Swartland is fast becoming South Africa’s most exciting wine district – producing great value awarding-winning wines. Driven by innovative young winemakers who value craft over consumerism, Swartland wines are more natural and terroir-focused without the additives and heavy oaking. Syrah and Chenin Blanc thrive from the area’s harsh climate, ancient viticultural soils and abundance of old vines here. In addition, the area is popularly known for growing less-familiar varieties such as Tinta Barocca, Sémillon Gris, Carignan and Cinsault. And since only half of the Swartland wines get exported, one has to wonder if South Africans are keeping the best stuff for themselves.

Iconic Cape WinelandsA big highlight of any trip to South Africa has to be wining and dining in the iconic Cape Winelands. Top-flight wineries of all stripes can be found here; ranging from large estates to micro-producers, across a spectrum of stubborn traditionalists to daring modernisers. Wine lovers in the know would make a beeline for the prestigious Stellenbosch and its many acclaimed estates like Tokara, Delaire Graff, Lanzerac and many more. Paarl, on the other hand, charms with its full-bodied spicy reds, crisp whites and the Instagram-famous gardens of Babylonstoren.
Last but not least, postcard-perfect Franschhoek – hailed as the country’s culinary capital – is buzzing with boutique winemakers, fine art galleries, quaint farm stalls, vibrant markets and festivities, and of course, South Africa’s top restaurants.
You can easily spend a week (or two) here, staying in stylishly restored wine estates where you can immerse in the countryside tranquillity, historic Cape Dutch architecture and pair your wines with sumptuous farm-to-table cuisine.
Another great way to enjoy South Africa's rich wine heritage is by timing your visit during one of the wine festivals held across the Cape Winelands throughout the year. Our favourites include the Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration, Franschhoek Uncorked, the Robertson Valley Slow Food & Wine Festival, the Franschhoek Bastille Festival, the Tulbagh Vintage and Vine Faire, and the Franschhoek Cap Classique & Champagne Festival, where local and international champagne and bubbly makers convene, turning the weekend into one of South Africa's premier social calendar highlights.
For the wine connoisseur, there is plenty more to taste. South Africa's winelands cover 29 diverse districts and some 92 smaller wards, including South Africa's highest vineyards on its Cederberg mountain range; the rugged and remote Klein Karoo; the Central Orange River and its most northerly wine growing region; and Elim's maritime vineyards near Cape Agulhas, Africa's southernmost point.
Other Noteworthy African Wines
The trailblazing winemakers of NamibiaIn ‘the land God made in anger’, one wouldn’t expect vines to thrive, let alone for wines to be produced in a desert environment. Then, a small group of innovative boutique winemakers proved otherwise by producing complex red blends (especially with Syrah) and bright white wines (such as Colombard, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, etc). European wine collectors are even secretly raving about these exotic sparkling wines and spirits made from indigenous fruits like Maguni wild oranges and prickly pear harvested in the Kavango region.

As a destination famed for its diverse landscapes and adventure activities, touring a winery can be an interesting add-on to your itinerary. Visit Neuras just outside the otherworldly Sossusvlei Desert; Thonningii Wynkelder en route to Namibia’s prime wildlife area of Etosha; or Erongo Mountain Winery and Kristall Kellerei as a day trip from the pristine Okonjima Nature Reserve (home of The AfriCat Foundation) and rugged Damaraland which is famous for its desert-adapted wildlife and ancient rock art.
The burgeoning Ethiopian wine industryMany may not know that wines have been produced in Ethiopia since the Italian occupation, as the bottles have never travelled beyond its borders for the last 70 years. This changed when late president Meles Zenawi struck a deal with French beverage giant Castel to develop quality Ethiopian wines for the world to enjoy. Exports of the first Rift Valley wines began in 2014 and wine enthusiasts can now savour a selection of fruity and aromatic dry wines (featuring Bordeaux-style Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay) made around the beautiful Rift Valley lakes south of Addis Ababa, or pair spice-rich Ethiopian dishes with sweet Acacia wines at restaurants and bars across the country. It doesn’t hurt that they come at really affordable prices too.

Dive Deeper into the Realm of Africa's Spirits
Beyond the world of wines, there are so many other fine tipples that Africa has to offer to the intrepid explorers with thirsty minds and tastebuds. Here’s a teaser on the mad world of spirits waiting for you to discover on your next trip to Africa.
Amarula, South AfricaMade from the humble marula fruits that African elephants so love, Amarula is undoubtedly Southern Africa’s signature liqueur. Characterised by its velvety vanilla, berry and spice flavours, it is best served chilled or infused into cocktails or hot coffee/cocoa, and preferably with a view over the African savannah. Add in the elephant conservation and community projects that Amarula supports, indulging in this delicious cream liqueur is a win-win.

Gin, South AfricaOur favourite spirit in the iconic and historical G&T (as it’s called on safari) has enjoyed a fairly recent global renaissance driven by small-batch distillery offerings. Gin drinking is especially exciting in South Africa, as local artisan gin makers are turning the craft into an experimental art – infusing endemic botanicals like buchu, rooibos, maroela, a variety of cape fynbos or even Kalahari truffles, to give gin lovers a unique taste of Africa.

From dedicated gin joints, distiller-led tastings, cocktail masterclasses to curated distillery tours, your gin experience in South Africa is going to be amazing.
Agave spirit, South AfricaGone are the days when tequila was a cheap drink that we threw back from a shot glass and suffered horrible hangovers from. In recent years, craft distillers in the Karoo region have been working with local farmers to produce a spirit using the ancient mezcal-making methods with earth, fire, smoke and water. The result is a 100% Karoo agave spirit with a uniquely African touch, that rivals its Mexican counterparts. Like a fine whisky, this artisanal spirit is excellent for sipping on its own and definitely gaining notable popularity across the globe.
Rum, SeychellesRum lovers – make your way to the Seychelles and enjoy the archipelago’s very own Takamaka rums. Distilled using the artesian water collected from Vallée de Mai (aka the original site of the Garden of Eden) where the incredibly rare and endemic coco de mer palm grows, we’re pretty sure that the d’Offay brothers’ range of luxurious rums are the perfect embodiment of paradise in a bottle.

Of course, Africa has more to offer than just these chic spirits. Those interested in more traditional drinks could try the delicious banana beers of East Africa (known by different names such as Urwagwa in Rwanda, Tonto in Uganda and Mbege in Tanzania); the crisp and sour Muratina brews of Kenya (made from the fruits of the sausage tree); or the sweet Tej (or honey wines) of Ethiopia – just to name a few. Many of them have fascinating histories and social significance, which makes sampling these traditional brews quite an immersive cultural experience.
Whether you’re a connoisseur of these beloved beverages or just someone looking to indulge in life’s simple pleasures, the vino- and spirit-lovers on our team know all the best spots and look forward to introducing unique sipping experiences into your itinerary.

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