Friday, 29 January 2016

South African Wineries; Snigdha’s selection

South African wines are capable of turning the head of the most hardened European wine buff. Producing utterly world class wine, the wines of the Rainbow Nation can give the greatest producers from anywhere in the world a run for their money. Whether you love rich reds, young light reds, mineral whites, fruity whites, method traditionelle sparkling wines, Summery roses, ripe raisiny dessert wines, there is something for your palate to find delight in here.

There are hundreds of great wineries in South Africa, so I do not pretend to have visited them all or have sampled all their wares. I have my liver to think of! But these are my picks of the wine estates I visited recently. There were others which were fun to visit or where I had great food, but do not make the cut on their wines. I hope that these are representative of the best large and small producers, but further research will be necessary. I will be going back for more one day!

If you are visiting South Africa with a view to sampling the viniculture, then Platters wine guide is a great reference for you. Updated annually, it has a helpful writeup on each winery, with reports and ratings of their best wines. A five star review in this “wine bible” is a very big deal in South Africa, and an indicator of a very special wine.

Groot Constantia, Cape Town

The Groot Constantia estate is the oldest in South Africa, dating back to 1685. Its wines have been world famous for centuries and legend has it that Napoleon’s final request was a glass of Constantia wine. Now run as a wine farm producing excellent wine but with emphasis on preserving the heritage of this estate, you get a sense of history without being trapped in a museum.

The beautiful estate is a pleasure to walk around and you can take in views of Table Mountain as well as the vines. 

Wine tastings and meals are available, but why not try something a little different? A bespoke chocolate and wine tasting is available, where the white, milk and dark chocolates and their flavourings have been developed to match with Groot Constantia’s white and red wines.

Clos Malverne, near Stellenbosch

Making wine since 1986, this winery was one of the first to make a “classic Cape blend” wine, making use of the grape varieties which are more characteristically South African.

The grapes have their juices extracted by an antiquated and labour intensive process; the basket press. This method, done completely by hand, does not denigrate the grape skins, vital for adding colour and tannins to their red wines. 

The Auret red wine is spectacular. As is the food in the superb restaurant with vineyard views. Very popular with locals, you need to book. If you want a table on the veranda looking directly over the vines and mountains, you should book early.

Warwick Estate, between Stellenbosch and Paarl

This is a family run winery, famous for its prizewinning “The First Lady” unoaked Chardonnay. Norma Ratcliffe is the “First Lady” of Warwick; the first woman to become a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild and the first to be its Chairperson.

The First Lady Unoaked Chardonnay is a revelation to those of us who convinced ourselves we didn’t like New World Chardonnay in the 1990s due to the industrial strength oaking of these wines.
Research, naturally!
I had a super picnic here at Warwick, carefully selected, locally sourced light bites, cold cuts and salad (grown in the gardens) in the sunshine looking over the lovely scenery, washed down by the wonderful “Professor Black” Sauvignon Blanc.

Aaldering, Devon Valley, Stellenbosch

Fons and Marianne Aaldering set up this wine farm in 2004 with big ambitions to be one of the best in South Africa. This very small, almost “boutique” winery is punching well above its weight, having won awards in both Europe and China. 

The red wines are the star here, with their Pinotage and their Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend being some of the best I tasted. 

The peace and quiet of Devon Valley are another draw for this cute little wine estate.

You can stay in one of three traditional Cape Dutch lodge houses if you plan on spending time in the vicinity of Stellenbosch.

Bramon, Plettenberg Bay (near Knysna), The Garden Route

Most of the wineries of South Africa are in the Stellenbosch/Paarl area. However, this winery is located on the “Garden Route”; the expanse of woods and greenery you reach as you leave the Karoo, sandwiched between the hills and coast. 

“Bramon” is the conflation of the names of brother and sister owners Bram and Manon Thorpe, the winery being a real family concern. 

The proximity to the sea adds coolness and sea breeze to the superb “MCC” wines. MCC? Methodé Cap Classique, the same method used to make Champagne (being a protected region, no-one outside of the Champagne region can use the word “Champagne”, which is why you may see “method traditionelle” used elsewhere in the world).

Bramon run an eatery with great house-made tapas, inspired by local ingredients. The Bobotie cigars are a novel spin on a quintessentially South African dish.

Snigdha has not received any incentive, financial or otherwise for posting these recommendations. 

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