The joys of wine tasting
A Look at South Africa's Winelands
It’s not hard to imagine what the main draw to the Cape Winelands is. Yep, you’ve guessed it. Just a stone’s throw away from Cape Town’s chic skyline, in amongst the serene silence and verdant valleys of a picturesque province, people are getting p*ssed on pinotage.
Everyone shares the dread of a waiter approaching the table in an upmarket restaurant, the group’s ordered bottle of house white in hand: “would you like to taste the wine madam?”. You’re the chosen one. Oh dear – the wine was agreed upon because it was the cheapest and you’re about as far away as it gets from being an in-the-know oenophile.
But, one trip to the impossibly pretty vineyards of the Winelands and it’s a question never to be feared again. The quick gulp and embarrassed nod combination will be swapped out for the wine-estate-taught swirl, sniff and sip technique that will have you looking expert even if you don’t quite feel it.
We know that all the do’s and don’ts of a wine tasting may seem overwhelming but we’ve got your back. Not only will we sort your wine tasting out for you but we’ll get you sorted before you go too.
First of all, and perhaps a fairly obvious point, but don’t drive. Being the designated driver on a wine tour is no fun and it’s likely that your partner won’t enjoy consuming their body weight in wine on their own – everybody knows that drinking alone is no fun. Luckily, we’ve made sure that there are other transport options to choose from, so the issue of how you will get from A to B is easily quashed. And by A to B, we mean vineyard to vineyard. Obviously.
Planning on adding Stellenbosch to your Classic itinerary? A Vine Hopper hop-on hop-off tour of the valley’s plethora of estates will be included as part of your base package. That means you’ll get to soak in the delights of up to six vineyards a day – spending as much or as little time in each as you fancy. Heavenly, right?
Or if it’s the Garden Route itinerary that you’re after then your optional Winelands stop will be made in the charming, Provençal-like valley of Franschhoek. As far as we’re concerned the only way to experience the white washed wine farms that surround this town is with a sumptuously slow bike tour. Stopping at three of the most beautiful vineyards on offer, pedalling doesn’t get much more picturesque than this. And with it included in your base package, why would you possibly need to get behind the wheel of your hire car?
Any notion of driving long forgotten about and estate tours underway, it’s time to get stuck in and savour the art of the experience. And don’t get us wrong, vineyard hopping is meant to be fun, getting to quaff glass after glass of your favourite tipple is of course the dream, but as easy as it would be to see this activity as a drink-up, that would probably defeat the point. After all, you can’t expect to appear suave and sophisticated if your better judgement is slipping away in an inebriated haze.
So, do get involved. Shocked that anyone could possibly spit out perfectly good wine? Aren’t we all at first. But if you’re to be a connoisseur, you need to act like one. Take hold of the stem and delve nose-first into the glass to get a grip on the aromatics, angle it from side-to-side to decipher the legs on the grape at hand, and give the whichever wine it is a quick swill for good measure. You may think that you look like a plonker, but when it comes to sifting out the best plonk, this is the only way to go. Promise.
It won’t be long before you start appreciating that the Cape Wineland’s fertile soil really does produce the sharpest sauvignon blanc, and that pinotage most definitely isn’t always as bad as that one discounted bottle you picked up from your local off licence those many moons ago. See? There was an oenophile lurking within you all along. Perhaps a career as a sommelier awaits. Well maybe not. But you can certainly play the part at any future dinner parties that you’re planning to host.
It’s not all about the wine
And, despite the name, the Winelands aren’t just known for getting tourists tipsy – who knew? Once you’ve sampled the various wines to your heart's content, next on the agenda has to be tasting of a different sort. With many wine estates also boasting gourmet delights, it would be sacrilegious not to, surely? Everybody knows that wine and cheese were made for each other. So really, moving on to some home baked artisan breads, creamy French cheeses and mouthwatering meat platters is just sensible. And with farm-to-fork eateries attached to most vineyards, you can even go the whole hog and indulge in a lunch or dinner seamlessly paired with a selection of homegrown vintages.
Or, if you fancy making food the main focus, you could discover Stellenbosch’s culinary map with a Cape Cuisine Walk by selecting the ‘culture’ button after adding the Winelands to your Classic tour on the itinerary builder. The leafy streets of this thriving university town are home to some of the country’s best eateries, so you definitely won’t be disappointed – think freshly baked bread from a family-run bakery, tasty beef snacks from a local butchers and, of course, a stop for some award-winning wine at a stylish bar.
So, the epicureans are happy. This is a region – made up at the core by Stellenbosch and Franschhoek – that does food and drink indulgence indisputably well. But with the additional claim of playing host to some of South Africa’s best hotels, the Winelands really are nothing short of hedonist's dream. Opt for a luxury accommodation package on your trip to South Africa and the Winelands’ offerings won’t disappoint.
It’s the kind of countryside in which towering mountains beckon you into their fold. Row-upon-row of grape-filled vines stretch out as far as the eye can see and as you make your way through Franschhoek’s particularly pretty pass, an oasis-like lake casts back a rippled reflection of the oh-so-elegant L’Ermitage – an accommodation that knows it’s attractive and isn’t afraid to bask in the glory of its stunning surrounds. Here you’ll be resting your head in a wine retreat like no other. Oozing a Provençal charm and village-like atmosphere, this hotel has a certain je ne sais quois that makes it hard to leave.
Then there’s Stellenbosch’s answer to a luxury retreat in the form of the renowned Oude Werf Hotel. Eclectic, antique-meets-modern interiors and top-notch hospitality – it’s one of the country’s oldest inns so service should be an art that they’ve mastered by now – give a chic twist on old-school opulence. And, with its central, oak-lined street location, you couldn’t wish for a more convenient stay.
The region may not have been on your radar before, but with indulgence at the heart of everything offered here, if anywhere screams ‘holiday destination’ surely it’s the Cape Winelands? If you’d like to drink in its myriad delights during your time in South Africa, simply hit the ‘Winelands’ button when adding extra locations onto your base itinerary. So, what are you waiting for? Your journey to becoming a connoisseur awaits.