Location: Stellenbosch, Franschhoek & Paarl, South Africa
South Africa is one of the world’s top 10 wine producers. Yet, we hadn’t had much exposure to their wines. So, we arrived filled with anticipation for what we might find. We explored several areas within the Western Cape wine region and were very pleasantly surprised on many fronts. We’ll start with the magnificent landscapes combining vineyards, hills, mountains and valleys. Then there are the wines themselves. We found many that we liked at incredibly affordable prices (often under $10 US per bottle). Pinotage is the varietal that is most associated with South Africa just as Malbec is with Argentina and Carménère with Chile. However, wine critics often disparage Pinotage. We made a point to try lots of Pinotage and we enjoyed several of them. We love the way the wineries embrace visitors. Most offer tastings without tours for a nominal fee in beautiful tasting rooms. Many of the wineries also have restaurants and shops offering delicious food, cheeses, chocolates and much more. Thus, we came away quite impressed. South Africa offers up a great wine experience.
We’ve now been to many wine regions in the world and we’ve found South Africa to offer the best overall wine experience for visitors that we’ve ever had leading us to say that we’ve had some “Fine Wine Times” here.
We lucked out and caught the last day of the Stellenbosch Wine Festival with dozens of producers representing 5 local wine regions. They had a great set up with live music and reasonably priced food available. We dove in and tasted lots of wines. We focused on single varietal whites and reds. We walked away with 4 bottles of our favorites for a total of $35 US, what a deal. They were: De Meye 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lyngrove Platinum 2011 Pinotage, Delheim 2012 Pinotage and Ken Forrester Old Vines 2013 Reserve Chenin Blanc.
We spent a day in Franschhoek and it’s a quaint town that attracts lots of tourists. It has a long main street with lots of shops and restaurants and is surrounded by beautiful wineries with even more restaurants. We had a fantastic lunch at La Petite Ferme that we’ll cover further below. We enjoyed a fine wine tasting at La Motte winery and bought a bottle of their 2011 Millenium, a Bordeaux style blend. We followed that with a private tasting and tour with owner and winemaker Dieter Sellmeyer of Lynx Wines, a small boutique winery. We often find such visits to be the most fun as we get to meet such great people. We loved his portfolio of wines and bought a bottle of the 2012 Xanache, a Rhone style blend.
We then visited a couple of wineries in the Paarl valley. We started out at Fairview winery and this was an example of the great wine experience provided. They sampled us on eight wines and each was paired with a different cheese. The winery included a restaurant and a cheese shop. We moved on to Spice Route winery next door as they have common ownership and tasted six of their wines while enjoying an amazing view. When it comes to white wine, South Africa is best known for Chenin Blanc and Spice Route had the best Chenin Blanc we’d tried thus far. So, we bought a bottle to enjoy over lunch back at our villa. Surprisingly, we learned that this wine was actually produced further north in Swartland.
We returned to Franschhoek before we headed out on the Garden Route for a visit to Boekenhoutskloof Winery. Besides the high end Boekenhoutskloof wines that can only be bought by the mixed case, this winery also produces The Chocolate Block, Porcupine Ridge and The Wolftrap (all of which are exported to the USA). We were treated to a tasting that included various vintages of the same varietal for comparison. We then toured the winery with Chief Winemaker Jean Smit. We really enjoyed the wines here and inquired if we could ship a case of the Boekenhoutskloof back home but unfortunately they don’t ship to the USA.
We liked Franschhoek so much that we returned yet again after our trip on the Garden Route. By now, it’s rather obvious that we liked this area. It was originally settled by the French Huguenots and this heritage is obvious in the names of streets and shops. On this visit, we did a walking tour that covered 3 wineries: Mont Rochelle, Grand Provence and Franschhoek Cellars.
We spent 2 nights at the Rustenbosch
guesthouse in Stellenbosch that had a/c and included breakfast but no wifi.
We spent 2 nights at Villa Chappelle guesthouse in Paarl. The proprietor, Mariann, informed us that we were just the 2nd Americans that have stayed with her in the 7 years that she’s been in operation. Too bad, as we really felt like we were staying in a villa and the views were spectacular. Mariann went out of her way to make us feel at home and also provided a basic breakfast.
We spent our last 2 nights in wine country at the Auberge Bligny guesthouse. It lacked a/c and wifi but was conveniently located just 1 block from the main street in Franschhoek. We must admit that we were a bit concerned when we saw that a security gate protected the entrance to our room.
Food and Drink:
We really noticed the strong value of the dollar here, as we’d eat at some of the best restaurants inexpensively when the locals considered the prices to be expensive. We enjoyed a nice lunch at La Petite Ferme in Franschhoek. The setting was beautiful and the food and wine were a nice complement. We went out to dinner at Terra Mare in Paarl. We were told that it’s Italian but it was more of a contemporary menu. They offered Ostrich as a main course but we weren’t adventurous enough to try it. Instead we started with some nice salads and moved on to pork loin and tuna paired with a delicious bottle of Druk My Niet Cabernet Franc. We also enjoyed two nice dinners in Franschheok at Cafe Franschhoek and Dutch East.
We rented a car from Avis that we plan to use for the rest of our stay in South Africa. They provided us with a brand new VW Polo. It’s been our experience that new cars carry a higher risk of break down than cars that have been broken in. Sure enough, the car broke down on us in Stellenbosch on a busy street and had to be pushed to the side of the road. The strong smell of gas gave us a clue that we might have a leak. Once we popped the hood and tried to start the car, the problem became evident as we had a fountain of fuel spurting up into the air. Once we reattached the fuel line to the engine, we were back in business. They drive on the opposite side of the road here. So, it was back to a left-handed stick shift. All in all, the car served us well.
We’d like to thank John Criscitello for setting us up with visits to Fairview and Boekenhoutskloof wineries and for his recommendations on places to visit and eat. They couldn’t have been better. Thanks so much John!!!
For Your Amusement:
In order to complete our immunizations against Hepatitis A & B, we had to get the last of the 3 injections and thus it was time to head to a travel clinic once again. You may recall that Elizabeth gets a little squeamish when it comes to such shots. It didn’t help that the Doctor (Dr. Shelley Hellig in Paarl) was rambling on about all the nasty diseases we could catch. Elizabeth made it through without fainting but she did get a little lightheaded and was rewarded with Skittles afterwards. Interestingly, these shots cost us less than a third of what they did in the USA.
We’ve mentioned the safety and security warnings that we’ve been receiving and heeding in South Africa. Here’s an example of the security measures being taken by one of the vineyards:
Highlights:The magnificent scenery and overall wine experience.
Next Up:The Garden Route along the southern coast of South Africa.