Although one of the most well-known of the Riesling wines produced by South Africa, in fact this drink is not made using the fruit from the Riesling vine, but are instead wine from Crouchon Blanc grapes. The mis-identification is thought to have occurred during the 19th century when vines were transplanted in South Africa, although mistakes were made in a number of other wine varieties, too. Perhaps due to this mis-identification, Riesling has never been a very popular vine in the country, with the true vine only taking up around 0.2% of the total vineyard acreage in South Africa. This lack of interest in the wine has lead many drinkers to be unsure about the nature of Riesling wines in the country, and there is a lack of domestic market due to this.
The Cape Riesling wine came, as previously stated, from France during the 19th century. Due to the mistake in identification, this wine is now known as South African Riesling, Paarl Riesling, and also Cape Riesling. South Africa is not the only country to have mis-understood the vine being planted, as Clare Riesling in Australia is similarly a Crouchen Blanc. Although not a Riesling, the wine can be legally sold as a Riesling non-varietal wine, and is quite popular among those who know the difference, although there is not much demand for the Cape Riesling as a single varietal wine.
The Cape Riesling wine, no matter what its origins, tends to be rather full of tannins, and it can develop a rather steely or rusty taste in its youth, although greater maturity can add a warmer, more velvety texture with a hint of honey in the flavour. The grapes are not very forthcoming, and they can be very difficult to produce, particularly in areas which are too warm. Despite the problems with bringing out the wine, with a good wine maker it is possible to produce good white wines which have a distinct grassy smell and a delicate flavour of fruits.
One particular area where Cape Riesling is often grown is the Ruiterbosch ward, close to Klein Karoo. This area is well known for its cold climate, with winds coming in off of the Indian Ocean providing a chill which is not noticeable further inland in Klein Karoo. Some of the vineyards here are incredibly high, including the Cederberg vineyard, which has vines growing at 1,000 meters above sea level.
Cape Riesling can also be found in Theuniskraal, in the Western Cape region of South Africa. This winery has a long history of producing the Cape Riesling wine, having made its first vintage in 1948. This bottling won a gold medal in 1950, and still has a number of fans in the UK, where the medal was awarded. Other varieties of white wine are also planted, allowing the vineyard to mix together different types of white wine blends as they require. The wine from this region has a greenish hue, with an aroma of green fruits such as apples and pears, plus a delicate floral scent.