The wine business in South Africa is 350 years old, but it has only produced its best bottles in the past two decades. And what progress has been made! There are new labels, new vineyards and a new outpouring of interest in the country's wine culture, both at home and overseas.

The Cape Nearly all of the South African wines exported to the United States come from the beautiful southwestern corner of the country around Cape Town called the Coastal Region or Western Cape on wine labels.

The Regions The Cape includes 17 regions and districts. Among the most famous are Stellenbosch (outside Cape Town), Paarl and Constantia. The up-and-coming wine region right now is Walker Bay, south of Cape Town.

The Best Wines South Africa produces graceful Chardonnays, but as a few producers have demonstrated, the best whites may be its complex Sauvignon Blancs. The best reds are generally its Bordeaux-style wines—though its Shiraz and Pinotages can be quite good.

10 Top Bottles

2002 BUITENVERWACHTING SAUVIGNON BLANC ($13) The name may be hard to pronounce, but the effort is worth it—this wine from cool-climate Constantia, marked by notes of melon, fig and herb, may be one of the finest affordable Sauvignon Blancs in the world.

2002 NEIL ELLIS CHARDONNAY ($18) Made by one of South Africa's best winemakers, this elegant, nuanced Chardonnay has classic pear and apple flavors.

2002 MULDERBOSCH SAUVIGNON BLANC ($20) This wine is one of the world's great examples of the grape. Crisp, complex, it's as exciting as any Sauvignon Blanc from France's Loire Valley.

2000 RUPERT & ROTHSCHILD BARONESS NADINE CHARDONNAY ($26) This winery, a joint venture between the owners of Lafite-Rothschild and Cape producer Dr. Anton Rupert, has created a big and ripe yet still very polished Chardonnay.

2002 EXCELSIOR CABERNET SAUVIGNON ($9) The estate dates back to 1859 (and the winemaking family's history all the way back to 1697), but this well-made wine with its classic black-currant aromas is a terrific bargain produced in a very modern style.

2001 FAIRVIEW GOAT-ROTI ($19) A sibling of the winery's highly successful Goats do Roam, a Côtes-du-Rhône-style blend, this broad-textured, juicy red is a Shiraz blend that pays homage to a Côte-Rôtie.

2000 FLEUR DU CAP PINOTAGE ($14) A fine example of the native South African grape, Pinotage (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut), this easy-drinking red has a pleasingly smoky, earthy character.

1999 KLEIN CONSTANTIA CABERNET SAUVIGNON ($22) This wine is so delicious it's hard to stop drinking it long enough to appreciate all that it has going for it—such as spicy floral notes and flavors of crushed plums and a touch of vanilla.

2000 RUST EN VREDE SHIRAZ ($23) Red wine specialist Rust en Vrede in Stellenbosch turned a warm vintage and a prime vineyard site to good advantage in making this gorgeously ripe, generous wine.

2000 THELEMA CABERNET SAUVIGNON ($29) This wine, perennially rated one of South Africa's very best reds, has been a standard-bearer for the country since 1988. Harmonious and silky, it's a wine to meditate over.