Welcome to the third instalment of our wine trip articles! Previously we have written about our time in the charming Champagne region of France as well as our trip far far south, around the wine making regions of South-eastern Australia.
On our latest trip, we travelled to South Africa to wine & dine all over the western cape and along the garden route, visiting iconic towns like Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl, & Robertson as well as the exciting and upcoming Swartland region.
Cape Town & Constantia
We started our journey very close to the heart of Cape Town, in the wine making region of Constantia, which is in fact a suburb of Cape town city. You would be forgiven for thinking you were miles away from any large town while driving along Constantia’s picturesque roads overlooking vineyards, as it truly does feel like you are deep in the countryside.
While in Constantia there are 3 main highlights, in my opinion. The first is a visit to Klein Constantia, the second is a visit to Steenberg and finally lunch at Foxcroft !
Klein Constantia is home to probably one of the most (in)famous sweet wines in the world, said to have the power to mend a broken heart and a consistent award winner; Vin de Constance. You can follow their charming winding drive way and drop in for a tasting of it and the other wines they make, a few of which under different labels, for a small tasting fee. Expect to spend a good amount of time here! I must stress that, in the tasting room you are not rushed in any way and left to enjoy the huge tasting pours in peace. (Seriously the size of tasting pours in almost all vineyards we visited is probably equal to a typical full glass of wine round from bars round Amsterdam!). A visit to this historic estate is a MUST, even if you like me are not a fan of anything sweet, the wine is quiet fantastic.
Steenberg farm and hotel, and spa and restaurant and bistro and…. actually I am not sure what they do not do, at this estate.., is located just a short drive from Klein Constantia and set in a gated area which includes a housing estate and golf club & course. To be honest, its all a bit too much, when you drive up to the gigantic gates winged by matching guards towers but, a visit to their tasting room and bistro is well worth it. I don’t actually recommend their wines much. They are not bad, they are just not special but what is special is a huge piece of glorious glass hanging from the ceiling above their tasting bar showing the fruit and skins of grapes. It is certainly worth seeing & a wonderful piece of art in its own right. Also, the quality of their bistro is certainly good.
Although their bistro might be nice, I would definitely recommend you save your self for lunch at Foxcroft (make sure to book at least a week in advance), located just off Constantia main road. We stopped here for lunch having made a reservation a few days ahead not knowing that this restaurant was either pretty famous or at least had a serious hipster cult following. How did we figure that ? Well, almost everyone who walked past or came through the entrance made sure to take hundreds of snaps and selfies with the restaurants sign! Odd, but we guessed we were probably in for something good and we were damn well right. I could digress and spend a chapter talking about the absolute kitchen wizardry we enjoyed but all I will say it, just go here. Definitely.
Off to Stellenbosch & Franschhoek.
Before we left the greater Cape Town area we dropped by a fantastic producer of Méthode Cap Classique for an amazing tasting of their range. Actually, this tasting was so special we had to write an article dedicated to it. Follow this link and enjoy the bubbles vicariously through us (or pick up a bottle at the stores we recommend!).
Once you head off to the Stellenbosch region, you are really spoilt for choice. South African wine makers have embraced wine tourism and drop-in cellar tastings like no other country I know in the world. With the exception of a few small & ultra large producers, you can usually stop by anywhere for a tasting, unannounced & still be warmly welcomed. If there is a certain special wine maker you would like to visit though, it would not hurt confirming ahead of time.
There are so many great wine makers & vineyards to visit and I think it would be pretty difficult to go wrong with most of them. We made a little overview for you below, of the most memorable places we visited, and for which different reasons!
‘Tasting Experience’ means how enjoyable the overall tasting was based mainly on how much knowledge and interest in wine the person giving the tasting had. We did note many people and places rattled on with practised speeches and then told us they had never actually tried the wine!? So we gave an extra mark to the places that really made the discussion memorable too.
I must make a special mention about Warwick Estate’s picnic hamper which was chocked full of glorious treats ranging from succulent roast meat, amazing veggie-forward salads to great sweets for after. Also, and more importantly it is where I proposed to Mrs Vinespiration ! She said yes, lots of wine’ll do that. Take notes chaps.
Also, all of the places above had great wine, don’ t get us wrong – but we wanted to highlight the places that had ‘amazing‘ wine.
New Frontiers : Swartland
After indulging your-selves on all that Stellenbosch & Franschhoek has to offer, we highly recommend that you take a detour, off the proverbial beaten path, to the Swartland region, just a bit further to the North, past Paarl.
Many influential wine critics and journalists have recently been writing about the so called wine ‘revolution’ occurring in the Swartland region, mainly by young wine makers with a focus on minimal intervention, terrior focused, unique wines. That have moved to the region which used to mainly produce grain. Now, I will admit that I am likely rather biased, as one of the key wine making couples in the region is my brother & his fiancee but I can say with some confidence, the absolute best wine of South Africa is coming out of this region right now!
Riebeeck-Kasteel, one of the oldest towns in South Africa, forms the so called ‘centre’ of the region, which is spread out in smaller surrounding towns. The Swartland region is not as tourism focused and ‘polished’ as Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, so a little more upfront planning will be needed to make the most of your time. Check out AirBnB experiences which are rising in popularity in the area, to really get involved.
Lets take a close look at three of our favourite producers and their wines;
Silwervis / Terracura
Everyone that has met Ryan and talked to him about his passion for wine, remembers the experience for some time. This fact is echoed in articles written about the greatness of his range of wines and also focus on his infectious enthusiasm and almost philosophical look on what he does. Not too long ago I had an exchanged with a Europe based wine importer who recalled meeting him and nothing down in his journals “What out for Ryan Mostert!” Formerly of Reyneke wines, Ryan, together with his business partners and partner in crime, Samantha create very special kinds of wine.
There are few yet extremely varied wines under his umbrella. All made with natural processes with minimal intervention yet with meticulous attention to detail. Ryan uses a mix wine making styles with different batches of juice from different years to achieve almost voodoo like complexity & unique attributes. The ranges include Smiley White & Red NV, Silwervis Chenin Blanc & Cinsault & the most recent Terracurra range.
The Smiley & Silwervis labels were drawn by South African artist Conrad Botes and shows the sheep’s head (known as a Smiley) in bright, pop art colours. Because the wine is a Non Vintage and a blend of several years they change the colour with every bottling so people know the different bottles, for which you can find the version number on the back label.
The word Silwervis translates from Afrikaans to English as Silver Fish. In South Africa a Silwervis is a colloquial term for the silver bag in the box of cheap wine.
This is obviously a tongue in cheek play on the name as the Silwervis wines are only 900 bottles each, so anything but a large production bag-in-box wine. The vineyards are organically farmed, hand harvested and the wine is made naturally, both the Silwervis wines are single vineyard vintage wines, the blue label the Chenin Blanc and the pink label the Cinsault. The name Silwervis is also a double entendre because as you may also notice the half-fish mermaid on the label.
The label shows the devil carrying the mermaid. The devil represents the “old Swartland” where people used to farm with a lot of chemicals, pick the grapes over-ripe and didn’t take care of their land. The mermaid represents the “new Swartland” where people make wines softly, taking care in their viticulture and winemaking practices.
Callie only makes one wine, a syrah and its bloody delicious. You could count yourself lucky if you can get your hands on some, as they are in limited supply and sell out like those proverbial hot cakes! Grown on shale & schist soil on the Porseleinberg, this wine continues to smash it out the park each year with fantastic reviews and ratings in the Platters guide, and around the world. The vineyard plot where the grapes for Porseleinberg are grown is owned by Boekenhoutskloof, produced by the enigmatic and down to earth Callie Louw, who bunch presses his grapes and relies on natural yeasts to ferment his juice in concrete eggs. His wine’s label is just a unique as his wine, plain white with embossed text, printed on a refurbished original Heidelberg press.
Sadie Family Wines
Some of the best wines in South Africa are being produced by Eben Sadie, and certainly some of my favourites. Eben produces 2 ranges, his signature series and his Die Ouwingerdreeks (old vine) series, which use grapes that come exclusively from old vines, and this is a project he has championed for some time now. His wines are true expressions of the terrior, and worth hunting down like a dog! We were lucky to try t’Voetpad, Skerpion and Palladius, and we came away smiling.
Palladius, White, Blend
Old Vine Range:
t’ Voetpad, White, Blend
Skerpion, White, Blend
Mvr Kirsten, White, Chenin Blanc
Kokerboom, White, Blend
Skerfburg, White, Chenin Blanc
Pofadder, Red, Cinsaut
Treinspoor, Red, Tinta Barocca
Soldaat, Red, Grenache Noir
We hope you enjoyed our article and wish you great travels in the South African wine region !