Guide to a South African Wine Tour

Your Guide to a South African Wine Tour

If you like your spectacular views paired with a great wine, our guide to a South African wine tour could help you plan your next adventure.

Wine was first introduced to South Africa in 1659 when the first bottle was produced in Cape Town by the town’s founder, Jan van Riebeeck. Believe it or not, this 17th-century origin means that South African wine is classified as “New World.” You’ll find fresh flavours and crisp notes in every bottle of South African wine you pick up, but why not go a step further and taste it right from the source? Read on for your guide to a South African wine tour.

Travel to: South Africa

rows of barrels in a winery in South Africa
South African wine is a “New World” wine with a distinct flavour | ⓒ South African Tourism/Flicker

South African wine

While “old-world” wines are generally named after the region in which they were produced (think Bordeaux and Burgundy in France), South African and other “new-world” wines are more commonly named after the type of grape from which they are created. South African red wines, in particular, are known for being full-bodied and high-alcohol, but the nearby oceans keep them tasting fresh. 

South African wine regions

Since 1973, South Africa has regulated their wine production with a “Wine of Origin” system. This means that if a wine is labelled as having been produced in a specific region, 100% of the grapes in that bottle have come from that region.

Breede River Valley

Surrounded on three sides by mountains, this valley is responsible for about 40% of South Africa’s wine production. Here, you’ll find Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, and Shiraz.

Klein Karoo

A desert region, Klein Karoo is one of the most diverse wine regions in South Africa. The grapes grow mostly on mountainous slopes in a dry climate, and the region specializes in fortified port-style wines and unique dry Portuguese-style cultivars.

five deck chairs sitting by a pool with a body of water and mountain rage in the background in Klein Karoo, South Africa
Klein Karoo offers breathtaking views and some extraordinary wine varieties | Photo on Visual Hunt

Olifants River

One of the most northernmost wine regions in South Africa, the Olifants River valley is home to a wide variety of wines, including Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc closer to the coast and rich reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, and Shiraz further inland in the mountains. Many of the more widely-produced and exported South African wines are from this region, meaning you may find some familiar tastes if you’re already familiar with what the country produces.

The Northern Cape

While the Northern Cape is the largest South African region, it’s also the most sparsely populated. This means you can expect unspoiled countryside, peaceful nature, and more than enough wine! In the east of this region, you’ll find more acidic soil and, thus, crisp and refreshing white wines. In the west, you’ll find full-bodied reds: there’s something for every taste in this region.

What to Expect at a Wine Tour in South Africa

When you imagine wine tastings, you might be picturing endlessly-educated sommeliers looking down their noses at you and saying words like “bouquet” and “note.” Most of the time, however, wine tastings are relaxed and educational: there’s no need to stress!

Don’t be intimidated by your first tasting: there are plenty of guides available to make sure you fully enjoy and don’t feel intimidated by the experience. Here are a few of our top tips!

  • Follow the “light to dark” rule: begin with the white wines and continue onto the reds later. This makes sure your palate isn’t overwhelmed by bolder flavours right away
  • Deeply inhale the wine before you take a sip
  • Lift your glass against the light so you can see the colours in the wine. In reds, look for jewel tones like garnet and ruby. In whites, seek out yellow and pale green.
  • Make sure you hold your glass by the stem, so your fingerprints don’t discolour the wine!
  • Drink plenty of water to clear your palate and keep a clear head
five glasses of wine, ranging from white to red, lined up for a tasting
Follow the “light to dark” rule during your wine tastings | ⓒ Rod/Flickr

South African wine tours

Cape Town & Winelands: starting at $1,062USD

This 5-day tour from Intrepid Travel treats explorers to an in-depth crawl of Cape Town and the wine regions of the Cape Winelands, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl. Starting off with a cellar tour and a wine tasting at Hidden Valley Wines, you’ll visit several of these regions’ 100 estates, and have a chance to fully appreciate everything they have to offer, from the wine to nature to the stunning views of South Africa. 

Cycling the Cape & Winelands: starting at $2,785USD

This cycling tour from Exodus Travels is great for those looking to work off some of that wine and cheese! Over 12 days, you’ll cycle through Franschhoek, Breede Valley, Hermanus, and many more incredible wine regions. Sample unique wines, soak in the local culture, and even have a chance to visit a penguin colony! Every day is a new adventure with this tour, and why would you want to explore South Africa any other way?

Southern Africa Wildlife & Wine: Starting at $4,645USD

Nature lovers, this one’s for you: this 13-day tour led by Exodus Travels starts in Victoria Falls and ends in Cape Town, meaning you’ll have a chance to experience some more of Africa’s natural beauty before settling down in South Africa. This tour offers several days of winery visits and tastings, including a visit to a wine establishment that dates back to 1692: Lanzerac Wine Estate. You’ll never be lacking on the wine front! 

South Africa is a dream destination: for nature lovers, adventurers, and wine lovers alike! If you’re looking for a grand adventure, South Africa may be exactly what you need. And if you’re in the market for some incredible drinks, wine tours are a perfect way to explore this incredible country in-depth, while also learning something about wine’s history and production and having a drink or two along the way.

Have you ever been on a wine tour? What was it like? Let us know!

Maggie is a life-long traveller who, after three years abroad, has returned home to Toronto, where she works as a Content Editor at TourRadar. When she's not reading, writing, or dreaming about her next trip, she can usually be found cooing over other people's dogs or hunting down Mexican food.

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