In the past South African wine producers have concentrated heavily upon growing and making a single varietal of wine. After the fall of Apartheid, when European wines and grape vines were coming back into South Africa, there was intense planting of single varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Eventually, this has led to rather a glut on the market of single-varietal wines, and some wine makers have been forced to branch out into other types of wine production, including making red wine blends from a mix of European and South African wine. It is often understood that grapes which can be rather heavy on their own will work better by being mixed with a softer and more elegant wine, and delicate wines can be given strength and body through the addition of a meaty or more substantial wine.
South Africa is increasingly moving towards the red blend in order to produce excellent wines. This is a good idea, since they can make distinctive South African wines that are unavailable anywhere else in the world. The focus of these red blends has been on the use of purely red wines (rather than a mix of reds with white as a softener), and they are often called ‘Cape blends‘ in order to distinguish them from any other type of blends from other parts of the world.
Many wine makers are restricted in their blending by requirements that Pinotage should be included to a certain degree. Wine producers may make their red blends with 70% Pinotage, or they may decide to use the South African wine as a background, and therefore make their Red blends using only 30% Pinotage. Any other percentage between these two extremes is also allowed. However, some feel that in order to make the wines that they believe will be good, they would prefer to exclude Pinotage all together. This means that, alongside the Cape blends, there are other South African red wine blends. This can confuse the eager wine drinker, but there are many excellent wines in both the Cape Blend and the Red Blend categories.
In order to make a distinctive, regional blend, most wine producers who make Cape Blends believe that Pinotage should be a strong element within the wine. What is the point, after all, of making a South African red wine blend if you do not include South Africa’s famous red wine, Pinotage? However, they are also willing to use a number of different wines alongside Pinotage, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, making a wine rather like the traditional Bordeaux blend. These wines are rapidly becoming popular on the domestic market.
Wine makers have also started to export their red blends to the overseas market, and this is where the issue of ‘Cape Blend’ can be a matter of labelling. Many overseas drinkers are looking for a clear name, perhaps based upon the varieties of wine in the bottle, and Cape Blend here can send a strong regional message about what the drinker can expect, without informing them clearly about the types of wines which are included to make the red blend itself.