Get Wonderfully Lost

November18th

Leaving the Cape Winelands left me with two distinct impressions: South Africans are excellent chefs and why oh why don’t we get more South African wines in the US?! Like much of the Western Cape, the wineries of the Cape Winelands exist in a duality: they possess the long history and solidarity of the Europeans while also embracing the wine tasting experience and experimenting with new flavors.

Constantia

    

Wines from Constantia Uitsig and treats from Peddlar’s.

Most of wine country in South Africa is concentrated in several regions in the Western Cape. Varied in their climate and soil, each of these areas boasts rich culinary and viticultural flavors. Constantia is located in the heart of the Cape Peninsula, just south of Hout Bay, but don’t let its status as a suburb fool you – Constantia is known for its beautiful countryside and white wines. The reds here are not as full-bodied as reds grown in warmer climates, but they do have a light, airy feel about them (characteristic of white wines) the combines with a little bit of spice to make the reds quite refreshing.

Our favorite winery there was Constantia Uitsig, which was family-run for generations and has won numerous prizes for its wines and its restaurants (one of its restaurants is world-renowned as the third best restaurant globally!). The tasting room is open and filled with sunlight, and the people were incredibly friendly and inviting. Tasting in South Africa is a casual but intimate affair, and you have the choice to stand at the bar or sit at one of the many tables and be told stories of the winery by a very well-versed sommelier. My favorite wine at Constantia Uitsig was the pink dessert wine: sweet but not syrupy and full of complex peach and apricot flavors, this wine would pair wonderfully with some apple pie and vanilla ice cream on a hot summer day.

Franschhoek

 

Franschhoek, South Africa

Known as the culinary capital of South Africa, Franschhoek does not disappoint! Located in a valley in the Cape Winelands, Franschhoek is smaller than other wine valleys in the Western Cape, and this allows for a more intimate experience with the wines and the locals. Originally a French settlement (literally meaning “French Corner”), it is no surprise that Franschhoek has a host of French-inspired restaurants. Food is made with local ingredients, so expect to see some Springbok, wild greens, and mash (potato, nut, and vegetable puree) on the menu.

Tasty treats in Franschhoek!

At La Motte Wine Estate, nestled against the mountains, we enjoyed delicious, spicy reds in a beautiful tasting room outfitted with wood, comfortable country tables, and large glass windows providing views of the vineyards, creek, and grounds. Again, we found the South African service to be outstanding and we were able to hear a personal recount of the winery’s long (almost 400 years!) history.

La Motte Winery, Franschhoek, South Africa

After wine tasting, we drove up the Franschhoek Pass, often missed by tourists, which has beautiful panoramic views of the entire Franschhoek valley (and some baboons too!).

    

Stellenbosch

 

Much larger and more well-known than Franschhoek, Stellenbosch is home to dozens of wineries and fromageries. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by Stellenbosch simply because most of the wineries are over-commercialized and we enjoy a more intimate experience.

Cheetahs at Spier Winery. Stellenbosch, South Africa

We began our exploration of Stellenbosch with a visit to Spier – I have to admit that this was not entirely (or even mostly) because of the wine but because Spier is home to a Cheetah Rehabilitation Center and a Birds of Prey Exhibit. Who could say no to petting a cheetah? After making our acquaintance with Joseph the Cheetah and handling a few Eagle Owls, we tasted the wine at Spier and were on our way.

Tokara Winery. Stellenbosch, South Africa

Tokara Winery is half-way between the center of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, and while the tasting room was large, it had a more intimate feel than Spier. We tasted a variety of the red wines, paired them with one of the many varieties of chocolates also produced on the estate. We concluded our wine tasting with a bit of olive oil tasting. I have a new appreciation for the fruitfulness of the Cape Winelands after having envisioned all the dishes I could make with the very distinct olive oils of Tokara.

So what made it into our suitcase to take home? This was a tough one. Usually we are in the habit of bringing back several bottles, but in light of our weight requirement for Botswana, we had to be particularly discriminating. We bought the dessert wine at Constantia Uitsig: the Red Muscat d’Alexandrie. We also brought back a spicy red from the Private Cellar of La Motte: a Shiraz Voignier 2007 from the Pierneef Collection.

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