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Braai is a noun, a verb, a way of life. The earliest archaeological evidence of barbecue (Braai) is found in South Africa. On September 24th of each year the country celebrates Heritage Day, which in 2007 was renamed Braai4Heritage as a testament to its cultural importance to South Africa. Unlike barbecues, which are mainly reserved for the warmer months in many parts of the world, South Africans braai all year round in any type of weather!
“Braai” can refer to the grill, the meal, the act of cooking said meal or an event in which everyone gathers around the fire. A proper braai only uses wood as the fuel source, which allows the smoke to envelope meat, fish and veggies alike. Braaing takes time, providing the opportunity for everyone to gather around the fire and enjoy each other’s company as the food slowly cooks to perfection (alongside some great wine of course!).
We are passionate about braaiing, which prompted our mission to not only share the concept here at home in the US, but also to craft a wine that captures its essence. We wanted the perfect wines to pour at our own braais!
With an important wine renaissance in full swing, impressive red and white bargains abound in South Africa. The country has a particularly long and rich history with winemaking, especially considering its status as part of the “New World.” In the mid-17th century, the lusciously sweet dessert wines of Constantia were highly prized by the European aristocracy. Since then, the South African wine industry has experienced some setbacks due to the phylloxera infestation of the late 1800s and political difficulties throughout the following century.
Today, however, South Africa is increasingly responsible for high-demand, high-quality wines—a blessing to put the country back on the international wine map. Wine production is mainly situated around Cape Town, where the climate is generally warm to hot. But the Benguela Current from Antarctica provides brisk ocean breezes necessary for steady ripening of grapes. Similarly, cooler, high-elevation vineyard sites throughout South Africa offer similar, favorable growing conditions.
South Africa’s wine zones are divided into region, then smaller districts and finally wards, but the country’s wine styles are differentiated more by grape variety than by region. Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, is the country’s “signature” grape, responsible for red-fruit-driven, spicy, earthy reds. When Pinotage is blended with other red varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah or Pinot Noir (all commonly vinified alone as well), it is often labeled as a “Cape Blend.” Chenin Blanc (locally known as “Steen”) dominates white wine production, with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc following close behind.
South Africa’s signature grape, Pinotage is a distinctively earthy and rustic variety. In 1924 viticulturists crossed finicky Pinot Noir and productive, heat-tolerant Cinsault, and created a variety both darker and bolder than either of its parents! Today it is popular in South Africa both as a single varietal wine and in Cape blends. Somm Secret—The name “Pinotage” is a subtle portmanteau. The Pinot part is obvious, but the second half is a bit confusing. In the early 1900s, Cinsault was known in South Africa as “Hermitage”—hence Pinotage.