I’m no wino…sorry correct that, I’m no wine connoisseur, but if there was such a place where the sun shone everyday, the glorious nectar of the Gods flowed freely at whichever wine estate should stumble across your path and delicious platters accompanied said wine, you could say you’d found a little slice of heaven. That’s exactly how we felt in the winelands (and frankly what better kind of land is there) of South Africa. Wine tasting sometimes comes with a tag of pretentiousness, snooty people quaffing, spitting and muttering comments like “the nose is not reflected on the palate…” or TV presenter Jilly Goolden’s over the top likening to that of a ‘wet dog‘. But in the winelands of South Africa, I came across no such hoity-toityness. Tasting glasses were filled generously, nibbles were plentiful and families enjoyed the Wine Estates just as much, picnicking in droves on a Sunday.
There’s a few things that I think make wine tasting in South Africa different from your average wine sampling, so here’s my top tips on how to make the most of the South African winelands region.
The temperature of the day/wine
I enjoy a tipple most hours of the day, but there’s something about a crisp, cold glass of wine in the sunshine that is rather special. Focusing on and savouring the liquid in question (as opposed to necking it in one go) magically transforms it into a tastebud tantalisation fest. Take La Motte Chardonnay for example. Now in the UK, Chardonnay has received a bad rap for several years, long associated with ‘Essex girls’, Lambrini-loving types and generally considered a cheap, dare-I-say-it ‘chavvy‘ drink. But get the atmosphere and the chill of the beverage just right and those buttery notes you’re supposed to be tasting suddenly become quite bedazzling on the tongue. Quite different from the British reputation we are familiar with.
All about the glass
I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, there’s a load of scientific stuff about the shape of the glass allowing the wine to breathe better etc, whatever it is, the fact is the glass can change everything. I find it hard to control myself when the shape of the glass is spot on. Personal faves include wide-rimmed champagne saucers – so decadent! And big goldfish bowlesque vessels for wine.
As a reward
Stumbling upon the Beyerskloof vineyard, after climbing down something epic such as Table Mountain, starving, dangerously close to full-on hunger rage, legs a-shaking from so many steep steps and a wee bit dehydrated, parched hanging and exhausted is going to make the first sips of wine taste other-wordly. If you can summon the energy before you collapse, locate the closest ‘grape symbol’ on your winelands map after aforementioned strenuous exercise and head straight there. We made it to a vineyard just before they stopped serving (at 3.30pm), in which case, we can probably thank them for saving our marriage too…
When you can see the vines
The Wine Estates of South Africa are quite often excruciatingly beautiful. Kempt gardens, neat rows of vines, lovely restaurants with al fresco seating serving delicious grub. Blue skies, mesmerising mountains, vivid flowers, rasping crickets, the sweet tinkling of glass, cool wine cellars. Just sit back and enjoy whilst a friendly sommelier brings glass after glass of wine. Surrounded by vineyards gleaming emerald in the sunshine and meeting the people whose grapes you are guzzling adds a organic wholesomeness to the experience.
When it’s all about the food too
If your head starts to swim after a cheeky wine tasting at 1130 in the morning (obviously not hardcore enough for breakfast wine – dad, I thought you had taught me better!), lunch is a welcome way to sober up a bit. Smoked salmon slivers pepped up with crispy quinoa fritters, pea, ham and broadbean risotto drowning in a frothy butter sauce, pork calzone and juicy parmienta potatoes. Cheese platters, deluxe picnic hampers (see Boschendal wine estate), homegrown olives and oodles of tapas. The food is often as exquisite as the wine. If you’re self-catering (as we were), it’s also a great way of doing your food/wine shopping.
When you let the universe decide
The winelands region is teeming with vineyards. But how to choose which one to visit? There are several tried-and-tested methods of deciding: the usual recommendations from parents and friends, names of wines recognised off supermarket shelves, location in comparison to accommodation or you can let fate decide. Pick a time on the car clock at random during your road trip and whatever vineyard you happen to be passing at that particular point will get your business.
When you have a private tour
It’s not what you know it’s who you know. A friend’s brother-in-law happened to be the resident Winemaker at the delectable Moreson vineyard. He whisked us behind the scenes of his world, pipetting glugs of wine straight from the barrell into our glasses, sharing his mighty knowledge and delights of his job. It was educational, inspiring and a little discombobulating all at the same time and I can highly recommend getting yourself on a tour to appreciate the wine that little bit more.
When you’re flashpacking
I call it Flashpacking, because the Backpackers lodges we stayed in on our honeymoon in Africa were delightful and way classier than you’d expect. Quirky, funky, charming, some even verging on the boutique and always great value for money. From a private self-catering hut in the woods, to a little wooden shed in someone’s back garden! Community spirit reigns in all – shared kitchen/diners, fire-pits, nightly drumming and jolly folk keen to share their new-found favourite tipple with you from whichever vineyard they visited that day makes for a sweet, sociable tasting experience.