Fy nbos (fín bós) is a word that is used in South Africa to describe the combination of rare, indigenous plants and unusual combinations of plants that grow in the Western Cape region. (The term is also used to describe a type of flora in Eastern Africa called miombo.) The word Fynbos is derived from the Afrikaans word fynlán (fine wool). The term was coined by early settlers in the region and used to describe the fine wool-like appearance of the fynbos plants. Award-winning novelist Alexander McCall Smith, who has made his home in South Africa, has called fynbos “the most remarkable floral kingdom on earth.” ~~

Fynbos is a term used in wine, that refers to a type of vegetation native to Africa, Australia, and South America, as well as the vineyards found in this vegetation. The term was originally coined in the 19th century, when Dutch immigrants to South Africa found the word in their language for the vegetation found in the Cape region of the country. A fynbos vineyard is distinctive because it is composed of a wide variety of plants and flowers, with few large trees and little grass.

Illustration by Alyssa Nassner

If you walk along a well-trodden path through a vineyard or down a hillside valley in the vineyards of the Western Cape in South Africa, you will find lush vegetation of all shapes and sizes. Brushing these bushes releases many scents: intoxicating dried herbs, wildflowers, savory spices and more.

It’s fynbos, an African word for small-leaved plants. The fynbos is home to about 8,500 species belonging to several important families – Westionaceae, Proteaceae, Ericaceae, Rutaceae and Iridaceae – many of which are endemic to the Cape Floral Region or the Cape Floral Kingdom.

In 2004, the Cape Floral Region was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and designated as one of the world’s greatest centers of land-based biodiversity.

Fynbos Pincussion Protea at Cape Point Vineyards / Photo by Pierre van der Spuy via WOSA

Fynbos vegetation thrives on the arid soils of the Cape’s harsh climate and hot, dry summers. Many plant species in the fynbos biome occur in close proximity to vineyards in the Cape Winelands and could influence the aroma or taste of the wine through the dispersal of organic material such as plant oils or pollen.

The earthy blend of spicy and floral aromas that Finbos offers can be reminiscent of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, both on their own and in a blend. Although these varieties are often associated with the Rhone Valley, they are also widely grown in Cape Town.

Contemporary South African red wines exhibit a range of aromas that express the influence of Fynbos. The flavors can be quite intense. After rain, the aromas are fresher and purer, and the expression of petricorn – the earthy scent that emerges after rain on dry ground – adds to the complexity of the perfume.

The composite nature of fynbos plants generally makes it difficult to isolate a single scent. The buku, one of the many species of the genus Agathosma, which means good aroma, is an exception. It has a strong aroma, reminiscent of the peppery note often found in Syrah (Syrah’s peppery flavor comes from Rotundon, a sesquiterpene).

The perception of the wine’s aroma, which is defined by spicy and herbal notes, can also be enhanced by the properties of fynbos.

Richard Kershaw, MW, produces eponymous wines, including Syrah grown in Elgin, a region with a cool climate. He believes that different climatic factors are responsible for the elegant, medieval expression the region is known for.

The end result is a translucent wine with a medium-dark color accented by red fruits with black cherries and bright spices that are more savory than sweet, Kershaw said.

In warmer climates, such as Swartland, the spicy and peppery notes can still be evident, but they are often deeper and accompanied by more pronounced fruity characteristics.

Floral aromas can also pop up, especially in Rhone-style red blends that smell like wild rosemary or lavender.

Given the large number of different fynbos species, it is easy to understand how the many different aromas can lead to confusing flavors.

But even if fynbos can’t be defined as a memory of a specific or familiar scent, its warm wildness should remind you of the seductive bounty of South African Cape vineyards and the natural beauty that surrounds them.

This source has been very much helpful in doing our research. Read more about fynbos pronunciation and let us know what you think.

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