Where to begin? The wine tours arranged for us in South Africa this last September were just extraordinary! A complete range of boutique and garage estates to premium state of the art cellars. My wonderful travel companions for most of the tour were Glen Christie, the graceful and instantly likable owner of local incoming travel specialist Vineyard Ventures who also runs the extremely dedicated local chapter of Save the Children (donations needed and very much appreciated) Darren Humphreys of Travel Sommelier, a US based South African specializing in upmarket safari and wine tourism in Africa. Great people to share a great weekend with!
We began our South African wine journey in Stellenbosch, the most famous and one of the oldest of the wine regions. There are many contestants for the world’s most beautiful vineyard price, but Stellenbosch is undoubtedly 10 leaps ahead of the rest. Breathtaking mountains that seem to rise out of the ocean, tower over vivid green pastures dotted with the gleaming white facades of Cape Dutch colonial architecture. The region is, to put it mildly, one of the most attractive places to visit in the world – Stellenbosch’s wineries are more than geared up for visitors with their world-class restaurants, tasting rooms and hotels. However, that is not to suggest that the region merely exists for tourists. A great deal of South Africa’s high-quality wine production is centered on the Stellenbosch WO. Its new generation of young wine producers, who have travelled the world and soaked up the techniques and inspiration with unparalleled curiosity, are today producing some of the New World’s most exceptional wines – world class Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz and Bordeaux Blends for starters. Let us also not forget Pinotage, the crossing of Cinsault and Pinot Noir that originated from South Africa in 1925 and has become the region’s trademark variety.
We began with a visit to the home of “Mr. Pinotage”, Beyerskloof. just next door to Kanu (owned by Screaming Eagle). Beyers Truter´s dyanamic and friendly son Anri was our host. He spoiled us with a vertical tasting of their reserve Pinotages from 2005-2010. The stand out vintage was 2006, interestingly their first vintage using all their own grapes (not buying in grapes from other estates). The 2007 vintage was also excellent and was their first vintage using their outdoor lagars. Also enjoyed their Chenin Blanc and White Pinotage blend and their cult wines Faith Cape Blend 2008 (only 3,000 bottles made) and Diesel Piotage 2009 (named after their beloved, departed dog, 5,000 bottles made). The wine estate houses an attractive trendy restaurant, cozy lounge and on the rainy day we visited, had a fire roaring. Great start to the tour!
Next up was an exclusive tasting at Hartenberg, a beautiful, historic estate that makes out of this world wines. A tasting of the creme de la creme wines had been organized for us in their charming tasting room and this is where I first tasted barracuda Pâte, called “Snoek”. Made with matriarch Lady Eleanor´s top secret recipe, the dip was delicious paired with their Chardonnay 2008! This estate is known for its top quality picnic baskets that can be enjoyed on their lush estate with a number of walking trails.
Other stand out wines at this property included their Riesling which spends a year on its lees in tank and another year in bottle and is a dry, Austrian style Riseling; their limited edition House of Mandela Cabernet Sauvignon wine (made in cooperation with Nelson Mandela´s daughter and grandaughter); The Stork Shiraz (voted best Syrah of the world this year at the Syrah du Monde challenge), and the Gravel Hill Shiraz (one of the best wines on this trip). Apart from great wines, the hosts are charming, the barrel cellar is exquisite and the grounds are pristine, recommended!
We had already had a fantastic morning and unbelievably faced another 2 wine estates : Simonsig and Jordan, contrasting properties that both have great restaurants. Following a terrific tasting with the charming winemaker Hannes Meyer of the range of their Cap Classique wines (rosé brut, the Kaapse Vonkel 2010 and the champagne quality Cuvée Royale 2007), young whites (the delightful Chenin Blanc, their Sauv Blanc and Gewurztraminer) and premium reds (Redhill Pinotage 2010, Tiara 2009 and Merindol Syrah 2010), we moved on to a light, perfect lunch.
The Cuvée restaurant here is highly recommended and of the wines, Darren and I concurred on our faves being their simply amazing good value Chenin Blanc and their cheering Rosé bubbly. Simonsig are members of the Cap Classique association and are credited with making advances and improvements in the industry. True pioneers.
Our last wine tasting of the day was at the mythical Jordan, considered to be one of the top elite producers of South Africa. We met friendly Gary Jordan and had an easy going tasting in their itty bitty tasting room. Stand out wines included the Nine Yards Chardonnay 2011, the sublime Cobblers Hill 2008 (Bordeaux blend) and also liked the Riseling. Their Chenin is so popular it was sold out. I am a Chenin Blanc convert!!
Had a quick look in their very highly regarded restaurant and put it on the list for our follow up site inspection next time.
Our day concluded with an overnight stay at trendy, little Majeka House, a boutique hotel outside of Stellenbosch, half French owned. Their sommelier is engaging and fun and the food was excellent. I tried Springbok (little antelope) for the first time, took my breath away how succulent the meat was.
What a first day in the South African winelands!