White port wine

White Port

As the South African wine-making industry has long been connected to the production of Port wines, it is inevitable that there will still be a production for port-style wines even after the EU imposed labelling restrictions have been put into place. Alongside the traditional red ports, South Africa has also been able to make a number of white ports. These ports, often known as White Cape Port, come from a variety of different grapes, particularly Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Colombard. The wines are made in much the same way as red port, with only the resulting colour and the flavour being different.

White Cape port can be made from any white grape produced in South Africa, with the only exception being the Muscat, which is used to make fortified Muscadel wine. The majority of the remaining white port-style wines are sometimes considered as Jerepigo wines, a variety of fortified wines that have a particular sweetness. However, actually, Jerepigo is normally associated with a beverage that is fortified without first having undergone alcoholic fermentation, whereas all port production is preceded by alcoholic fermentation – Jerepigo typically involves crushing the grapes and fortifying the juice. Like most Jerepigo varieties in South Africa, white cape port is a good dessert wine, suitable for sweets and afternoon desserts. It is also suitable as a drinking wine by itself, often complimented with a fizzy soda-style drink, and many people enjoy the Cape ports in this way during the evening.

The manufacture of white cape port is very similar to that used in making red Port wines. The grapes are crushed and undergo alcoholic fermentation which is stopped at some point – depending on the level of residual sugar required – by the addition of un-matured grape or brandy spirits to fortify the wine – again dependent on the strength of the spirit added, an end alcohol level will be achieved – usually 17% to 20% and legally not higher than 22%. (It is arguable that 15% is too low and impacts on stability). Thereafter, the wine may be aged for not less than 6 months, be it in tank or wooden barrels. A few producers in SA age the wine in wood for considerably longer than 6 months! Also, there are different levels of sweetness or drier styles available.

As South Africa has traditionally produced a greater quantity of white wine, rather than red, it is unsurprising that it has managed to create a good white port-style wine that is still being sold as Cape White ‘port’ to this day. The EU agreed restrictions have only come into place since 1 January 2012, so it is likely that South African vintage ports will be sold in the domestic market for some years to come. The majority of wine-makers had already altered their labelling to ‘cape’, this being the stand-in for Port in South Africa, but it is likely that marketing the wines as ‘port’ or ‘port style’ will continue. (South Africa is obliged by law (and which has been agreed to by EU) to refer to port-style, fortified wines using the prefix Cape – as in Cape White, Cape Vintage, Cape Ruby etc.)

There are a number of makers of Cape white wine in South Africa, including the Boplaas Wine estate. Their 2004 white port-style wine is a bright gold in colour, establishing that it has been aged in barrels, with the smoked nut flavour that is typical of oak-barrel port. This wine is only a medium sweet wine, and the alcohol levels ensure that it has a good bite on the palate. On the other hand, the Peter Bayly Cape White Port has much more of an acidy flavour, with a distinctive fruit after-taste that compliments the alcohol level.