South African Wine Styles

Alternative white/rosé/red wines are wines that have completed malolactic fermentation and have a residual sugar that does not exceed 4g/l.

***Total sulphur dioxide content must not exceed 40ppm
***White wines’ colour ranges from light gold to amber.
***Red wines’ colour ranges from light red to deep red or purple

Blanc de blancs is the term for white wines that are made from white grapes only. The term is also used for Méthode Cap Classique with the same provision.


Cuvée is the French term for the blending of a wine, which is a way of producing more harmonious wines by adding complexity, emphasising the best attributes of each individual variety and also maintaining consistency from vintage to vintage.
***Could also refer to MCC – free-run juice of first pressing

In South Africa, legislation dictates that blends may list varieties only if they were vinified separately before being blended. Percentages need not to be indicated but the varieties must appear in descending order according to volume.

Within the red blend category, the traditional French-style blends that include two or more of the following wine-grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec – are South Africa’s most prominent.  Shiraz-led blends, given added complexity by varieties like Grenache, Mourvèdre and Viognier, have come to the forefront in recent years.

South African producers established a ‘Cape blend’ style (no legislation), which requires from 30% to 70% of Pinotage as a component to qualify as such, just over a decade ago. From the 2019 vintage, Pinotage should also be the major component.  This term is also used occasionally for Chenin-driven white blends.

The white blend category in South Africa currently offers some of the most exciting wines to be found in the country. The category includes two main styles – Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blends and Chenin Blanc-led Mediterranean-style blends that are complex and rich – as well as various other less conventional styles.

Estate wine is the South African term reserved for wine originating from an officially registered ‘unit for the production of estate wine’ (click here to download SAWIS’ list of units registered for the production of estate wine). It shall be produced solely from grapes that were harvested on land that forms part of a unit that is registered for the production of estate wine. It shall undergo all processes up to and including bottling on the unit where those grapes were harvested.

Extended barrel-aged white/gris 

  • TSO2 not to exceed 80ppm
  • Produced from white or gris grape varieties
  • Are wines matured in oaken casks for at least two years.
  • Residual sugar must not exceed 4g/l
  • Complete MLF
  • Exhibit nutty, oxidative character
  • Light golden, to deep golden to amber in colour

Fumé blanc is a dry white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc (synonym Blanc fumé), usually but not necessarily wooded.

Cap Classique & Sparkling Wines

Agrafe (or Agraffe) sparkling wine undergoes bottle fermentation under cork rather than the usual metal crown cap.

Bottle-fermented sparkling wine undergoes the second alcoholic fermentation in a bottle. The duration of the fermentation, including the period on the lees, must be at least 60 days and the production process at least nine months including maturation.

Cap Classique is the term used to describe sparkling wine made by the traditional method of undergoing second fermentation in the bottle in which the product is to be sold. There are quality standards that all producers adhere to voluntarily, apart from the minimum time on the lees (nine months) and the bars of pressure, which are mandatory in order to use the term on the label. 

Charmat undergoes its second fermentation in a tank and is then bottled under pressure.

***Combined duration of second alcoholic fermentation and lees ageing be at least 30 days where agitators are used in tank or 80 days if in a sealed tank

Carbonated sparkling wines are given their effervescence by the injection of carbon dioxide (the same process used in making fizzy soft drinks).

Méthode ancestrale refers to wine made from fermenting must. Further fermentation occurs solely in the bottle in which the product is to be sold to which no sweetening agent has been added. Pressure in the bottle shall at least be 75kPa.

Natural pale/non-fortified pale refers to wine produced from white grape varieties matured in oak casks under a film of flor yeast for at least two years and has an alcohol content of 12 to 15% by volume. Must complete MLF. Not have a total sulphur dioxide of more than 40ppm. Have flavour suggestive of almonds.  Discernible flor yeast and wood character. Pale, to straw, to pale golden in colour

Fortified/Dessert Wines

According to South African legislation, fortified wines are wines that have been increased in alcoholic strength by the addition of spirit, usually brandy, to a minimum of 15 percent and not exceeding 22 percent.

The Cape winelands have a long history of making sweet wines or ‘stickies’ (also called ‘soetes’ in Afrikaans). This dates back to the luscious dessert wines of Constantia which were world-famous in the 18th and 19th centuries. This category remains consistently strong in South Africa. Hanepoot wines are made from Muscat d’ Alexandrie, which is called Hanepoot locally. Jerepiko (also spelled Jerepigo) is a red or white wine, produced without fermentation – grape juice is fortified with grape spirit, which prevents fermentation. It is very sweet, with substantial unfermented grape flavours.

Muscadel wines are made from Muscat Blanc or Muscat Rouge.

Portuguese-style fortified wines are blended wines, generally from varieties such as Tinta Barocca, Touriga Francesa, Touriga Nacional and other Portuguese varieties.

The following styles were defined by legislation: 

Cape Pink – non-muscat varieties, matured for at least six months. Pink in colour with or without a brown hue.

Cape White – non-muscat white varieties, wood-aged for a minimum of six months, any size vessel. 

Cape Ruby – blend of young, fruity and full-bodied fortified wines. At least 50 per cent of fortified wine used in the product shall be matured for a minimum of six months up to a maximum of three years. 

Cape Vintage – full-bodied and dark in colour.  Aged for at least a minimum of one year, vats of any size, sold only in glass. 

Cape Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) – 85% of the product shall be of a single vintage year, full-bodied, slightly tawny colour, aged for at least three years in oak casks or bottle (of which a minimum of two years in oak). Full-bodied and dark with signs of going tawny in colour.

Cape Tawny – at least 80% of product be wood-matured, amber-orange (tawny) colour, smooth, slightly nutty taste. 

Cape Dated Tawny – single-vintage tawny.

Spanish-style fortified wines are marketed as Amontillado, Oloroso, Pale Dry, Pale Cream, Medium Cream, Full Cream and Old Brown in South Africa.

Sun wines are made from white-wine varieties and exhibit a maderised character, pale gold to deep gold in colour.

Natural Wines

According to South African legislation, natural wines must have an alcohol content of at least 4.5 percent but less than 16.5 percent.
Late Harvest wines are made from grapes harvested late in the season and therefore sweeter. Have an alcohol content of at least 10% The residual sugar content shall be at least 20g/l.

Natural Sweet/Sweet Natural wines must have a residual sugar content of more than 20g/l. 

Noble Late Harvest (NLH) wines show a noble rot (botrytis) character as they are made from grapes infected by the botrytis cinerea fungus. This is a mould which, in warm, misty autumn weather, attacks the skins of ripe grapes and causes the evaporation of most of the juice. The sweetness and flavours become more concentrated as the berries wither. They must be harvested at a minimum of 28 degree Balling and the residual sugar must exceed 50g/l, according to the Regulations of the Liquor Product Act 60 of 1989.  

Special Late Harvest (SLH) is a lighter style of 'dessert' wine and the grapes must be harvested at a minimum of 22 degrees Balling. If, however, the residual sugar of the wine is below 20g/l, the label must state extra dry, dry, semi-dry or sweet accordingly (refer to the chart below). The minimum stipulated alcohol is 11% by volume. 

Wine from Naturally Dried Grapes could contain a component of botrytised grapes. Straw wine is made from grapes that have been naturally dried out, traditionally on a bed of straw – as the water content evaporates, the sugar becomes more concentrated. Desiccation is also being utilised by several producers in South Africa – the stalks of grape bunches on the vine are twisted prior to harvest to concentrate the flavours and used both for making sweet wines and to add body to dry wines. It must be harvested at a minimum of 28 degrees Balling.  The actual and potential alcohol content by volume shall together amount to not less than 16%.

Origin – a Wine of Origin must be produced solely from grapes harvested in the area of origin.  Only certified wine may indicate origin.

Perlé, pétillant – lightly sparkling wine, usually carbonated with a bottle pressure of at least 75 kPa but less than 300 kPa.

Pink Wines

Blanc de Noir, which means white (blanc) from black (noir), is made only from red-wine varieties. The grapes are crushed and the juice is kept in contact with the skins for just long enough to extract sufficient pigment to obtain a pale pink tinge. Blanc de Noir is then made as though it were a white wine. Rosé wines, sometimes referred to as ‘blush’ wines, represent a spectrum of colours from the palest salmon to the deepest pink. They are made in one of two ways: from a blend of red- and white-wine grape varieties; or from red-wine grapes only, which are allowed brief skin contact (for six to 24 hours) to attain the desired level of colour. In South Africa, rosé wines are also made from Pinotage, a local cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. The product shall have the colour that is distinctive of a rosé wine.

Premier Grand Cru is usually an austerely dry white wine (and not a quality rating, as it is in France).

Residual Sugar 

Official sweetness levels in South African wines are listed below:

Still wines

Sugar (g/l)


< 2.5


< 5 (or not exceed 9g/l if the total acidity is more than 2 g/l below the sugar content )


> 5 < 12 (or not exceed 18g/l if the total acidity is not more than10g/l below the sugar content)


> 5 < 30

Late Harvest

> 20

Special Late Harvest (SLH)

Natural Sweet (or Sweet Natural)

> 20

Noble Late Harvest (NLH)

> 50

Naturally dried grape wine (straw wine)


Sparkling wines

Brut nature

< 3

Extra brut

< 6


< 12


> 12 < 17

Dry (Sec)

> 17 < 32

Semi-sweet (Demi-sec)

> 32 < 50

Sweet (Doux)

> 50

Stein is a semi-sweet white wine, usually a blend. It is often confused with Steen (a local name for Chenin Blanc), although the majority of steins are made partly from these grapes.

Single vineyards are officially registered vineyards that are no larger than six hectares in size and planted to a single variety. The wines produced from these are termed single-vineyard wines and can be labelled as such.

Skin-macerated white wines are fermented and macerated on their skins for at least 96 hours. Residual sugar content must not exceed 4g/l. Total Sulphur dioxide of not more than 40ppm. Wine must be light golden to deep orange in colour. Wine must complete MLF.

Varietal wines are made from a single variety of grape and by legislation must contain 85% of the stated variety.

Vintage in South Africa is primarily used to denote the year of harvest and is not a quality classification.  Vintage year can be indicated if at least 85% of the wine consists of wine produced from grapes harvested during the year indicate.


A View on Alternative Wine Styles