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Lab Notes


South African Wine Routes

February 28, 2023

Karin Rockstad, Spanish translator/English editor, WSET Educator, SWS, FWS, IWS, Albariño Ambassador, Certified Advanced Cava Educator


Oh, to have more time to explore this grand and beautiful country! Wild coastlines, sandy beaches, rugged and desolate interiors, lush mountains, national parks filled with wildlife, vibrant cities, and of course, the winelands.

I spent a week in Cape Town and visited what are probably the two appellations that are the most well known in the US and Europe: Constantia and Stellenbosch. These two are easily reached by Uber, and Constantia can even be incorporated into a scheduled sightseeing tour. If you rent a car, you can also get to others as day trips.

However, to start things off, head to Cape Town's Culture Wine Bar, (@culturewinebar) with dozens of South African and international wines to get your palate primed. It's a relaxing and welcoming place. The small plates are yummy and the staff is excellent. Tell Sharroll and Sam hello for me!

Olives and tempura asparagus.

Constantia is about a 20-minute drive from Cape Town and the views from the hillsides are so impressive! Sauvignon Blanc does well in this cool microclimate. Try the one from Klein Constantia, which is a perfect balance of tropical fruit and crisp acidity. This winery (they're called wine "farms" here) was established in 1685 and also has one of the world's best naturally sweet wines made from Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains.

The sweet wine Vin de Constance.

We had a great time!

Beau Constantia overlooks False Bay and has a small restaurant with incredible views. Reservations highly recommended, as it fills quickly. If you can't get into the restaurant, bring a picnic, as they have plenty of space on the grounds. These are easy-drinking wines named for family members. There is even one named "Karin!" ;-)

Wines named for family members.

Lush hills and Cape Town way in the background.

Probably every wine lover in the world knows the name of Stellenbosch. It's about a 45-minute drive from Cape Town and is very much set up for wine tourism. You can make this a day trip, or there is plenty of accomodation if you'd like to stay in town. There is a university here, so there is a range of bars, restaurants, and shops, but for me, the draw was the wine farms surrounding it, not the town.

My first stop was Villiera Wines, who specialize in sparkling wines. In South Africa, these wines are labeled Methode Cap Classique, or MCC for short. They are made in the traditional method, with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle. The Tradition Brut Rosé is 40% Pinot Noir and the balance is Chardonnay and Pinotage. It's refreshing, juicy, and flavorful. The Monro Brut 2015 was my favorite and spent 6 years on the lees. It's 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. This is a rich, yeasty wine that will stand up to any meal.

I got really excited about the game drive they offer before the tasting, which you must book in advance. They have a preserve set aside next to the farm for wild game and you can spend a of couple hours in a modified jeep checking out the springboks, wildebeests, giraffes, zebras, waterbucks, and countless types of birds. I couldn't stop smiling or saying "wow!"


I didn't have a car, so I used the Vinehopper, which is a hop-on, hop-off service between wine farms, and there are several different routes. I tasted at Beyerskloof, Simonsig, Delheim, Remhoogte, and L'Avenir. This route also includes Warwick, but unfortunately, there isn't time to do all six.

Beyerskloof specializes in Pinotage, including a rosé. Even their white blend is 33% Pinotage, with the rest being Chenin Blanc. They even affectionately called it "White Pinotage." Both bottles were refreshing and lively. My favorite was the Synergy Cape Blend 2020 made up of Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cinsault, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz. It spent 18 months in French oak and was full-bodied and lush.

I'd seen a couple of Simonsig wines around the Twin Cities before this trip, but I didn't know they made such a range, including Gewürztraminer and dessert wines. It was a warm, southern hemisphere day, so I went with the MCC flight. The Cuvée Royale Blanc de Blancs 2017 is 100% Chardonnay, spends 3 ½ years on the lees, and only the first press juice is used. It's full of citrus, apple, and bread notes. The "three Ps" were used for the Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé 2021: Pinotage, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. I wanted a full glass or two of this one! It's like a strawberry shortcake - fruity, creamy, and lively, all in one.

Delheim has a full-on restaurant, so a lot of people stop for lunch here. Decanter Magazine and Tim Atkins, MW rate several of the their wines very highly, and I agree with them about the Wild Ferment Chenin Blanc and the Cabernet Sauvignon. Oak was used delicately on both of these wines - just enough. They offered reasonably-priced shipping to the US, but the bottle prices reflected the US market. If you have enough room in your checked luggage, just buy them at the winery price and take them with you.

I was really looking forward to visiting Remhoogte. Many years ago, I had their Merlot in a Washington DC restaurant and was quite taken with it. At the time, it was not sold in Minnesota, so the following year when I went back to visit the same friends in DC, I found it in a local wine shop. And now, here I was at the winery! The setting is beautiful, overlooking mountains, vineyards, a small lake, and wildlife. This time, I got to try two Cabernets, a Syrah, a Chenin Blanc, and a Riesling. The quality was as I remembered, and I was delighted to see that they make an orange/amber wine too!

My new friend Findlay.

Just to the left a few wildebeest were running around.

The last stop was L'Avenir, a winery started by French immigrants. When most people think of South Africa, they think of Dutch and British colonization, but many people fled France in the 19th century because of religious persecution, and they brought vine cuttings and winemaking knowledge with them. L'Avenir makes Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, Merlot, and MCC. The setting there is also lovely with a huge yard you can chill out in and watch the sun go down over the mountains.

Accommodation overlooking the pond and pool.

Other wine routes nearby include Paarl, Franschhoek, Elgin, and Robertson. There is so much to see and do in this amazing place. I didn't even scratch the surface!




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