I’m part of an elite group of drunks. This is something I’m decidedly proud of. I’m not a wine snob or a wine pro but I really love a good
glass bottle of wine! My love of bottles of wine led me to getting involved with the Real Time Wine app and then joining the elite superfans.
Real Time Wine app is no longer with us but the superfans are still alive, mostly sober and still drinking plenty.
Recently one of our number took a giant wine trip down to the Western Cape and he really inspired to get myself out to the winelands more often. We are beyond lucky to be in such a gorgeous city with some many wine filled adventures around the corner!
And without any more distraction from my part! Here is the fabulous write up from Superfan Andrew Kemp!
If you’d like to follow their wine adventures make sure to look both Andrew and his wife Linda up on twitter at:
Linda and I, along with the kids, spent a week in the Western Cape over Easter (Linda ran Two Oceans). Along the way, we managed to fit in visits (and tastings) at 19 wine estates, and wrote this summary to share our experiences, with a couple of notes on each of the estates. This is in no way exhaustive – we didn’t even come close to tasting all the wines on offer at all the estates. We were probably also leaning a bit more towards tasting the really excellent stuff as opposed to just finding best budget options, or best value for money.
All in all, the trip was a revelation. This was our first proper wine tasting (and purchasing!) trip in a few years, and we managed to visit quite a few cellars that to date have only been on our radar through reputation. We have already decided to make this an annual event if at all possible, since it was such a fun way to spend a few days in Cape Town and stock our cellar at the same time.
When we reflected afterwards on the trip, we tried to put together our winners in a few categories: Best cellar (based on average wine quality, not necessary number of wines etc), best red, best white, best tasting room experience, best venue and biggest surprise. Here are our respective views:
Best cellar: Unanimous on Ataraxia, with Creation also featuring very high on the list for Linda.
Best red wine: Tie between Newton Johnson Family Pinot Noir and the Thelema “The Mint” Cabernet for me; tie between Vergelegen DNA and Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir for Linda
Best white wine: Between the Tokara Director’s Reserve White and the DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin for me, Ataraxia chardonnay for Linda
Best tasting room experience: Ataraxia for me, Creation for Linda
Best venue: Unanimous on De Morgenzon
Biggest surprise: Unanimous on Bellingham’s the Bernard series
One other interesting observation was how differently the estates handled the tasting of their top-end wines. Most made an effort to showcase their best wines if they sensed our interest, even if that meant us having to pay a separate or higher tasting fee (almost all tasting fees were waived if we eventually purchased something). It was disappointing finding a number of cellars where the top wines simply were not available for tasting, at any price. Do estates really expect you to buy these wines, often at really high price-points, on reputation alone? In some cases our requests or enquiries about tasting these wines were met with very dismissive attitudes. This was an interesting aspect to the tastings: we tasted many exquisite wines, purchased quite a few at luxury price points, but we did not purchase anything that we did not taste first – I guess there is a big enough market that buys on brand value alone for these cellars.
So, below is a quick summary of our thoughts around the individual cellars. Enjoy!
Quite a drive up the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, but wow, is it worth it. After passing the last bit of roadworks and some gravel roads (easily accessible with a sedan), the Creation restaurant and tasting centre is perched on top of a hill with amazing views over the vineyard and mountains. We did their wine and food pairing (R145 per person) which pairs 8 wines with 8 canapes. Lovely setting, knowledgeable service, tasty bites – we had a great time. They even have a pairing-tasting for kids (some snacks paired with different juices and different flavoured milks – the kids LOVED it). Although the 2014 Chardonnay, the Pinot Noirs (reserve and standard) and 2013 Syrah were stand-outs, it must be said the overall quality was high.
Ataraxia has a stunning tasting room – architecturally like a small chapel, high up on a a hill. Amazing views, comfy couches and great art. The wine selection here is small, but of exceptional quality. The 2013 Chardonnay could be one of the best we tasted on the whole trip. Their 2009 Serenity is a beautiful red, made of 6 undisclosed varietals (we tested this story at the Test Kitchen, where the wine was served with one of the courses and the sommelier backed it up – although Syrah felt dominant). We also grabbed a bottle of their as-yet-formally-unreleased “declassified” Pinot Noir – an absolute steal for the quality. Only available at the cellar, though. If I could go back to one cellar and do a replay of the experience we had, Ataraxia would be it. Very informed and engaged tasting room assistant as well.
Here we had the uncomfortable combination of a tasting room with great views, fantastic wines and a disinterested tasting room assistant. Very interesting how off-putting that can be. The wines, however, were truly excellent. Their “Newton Johnson Family Vineyards” range is particularly good – the Chardonnay is elegant, the Pinor Noir has amazing depth and the Granum (a Syrah-Mourvèdre blend) is meaty and robust but with great structure. Delicious.
Compared to the other three Hemel-en-Aarde wineries, Bouchard Finlayson’s tasting room feels very old-school (quite dark and traditional). The wines, however, are really mind-blowing. The Missionvale and Kaaimansgat Chardonnays were both remarkable, and the Galpin Peak Pinot could be the best pinot noir we had on the trip. The Hannibal (blend of Sangiovese, Pinot noir, Nebbiolo, Mourvedre, Shiraz and Barbera) was delicious, as usual. A pity that the Tete de Cuvee Galpin Peak Pinot is not available for tasting – at upwards of R700 a bottle it is understandable, they probably don’t have that many people randomly arriving with a real view to purchase a case, but we had this at a tasting years ago and it remains a standout wine memory.
This was one of the surprises of the trip. On the N2, just outside Botrivier, on a hill. Very modern facility, but really classy. We actually visited for breakfast, and did the tasting as an afterthought, but it was a lovely addition to our trip. The breakfast was also fantastic, so do try to visit if you are in the area. On the wine side, I loved the Magdalena (a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend) as well as the Five Arches (a red Bordeaux blend). Remarkable wines in a rather unexpected spot. Tasting room assistant was a bit formulaic and didn’t come across as particularly knowledgeable, but friendly nonetheless.
Beaumont is in the town of Botrivier and has a small tasting room. Tasting was quite informal, but had a great tasting room assistant. Ran into the winemaker and his wife – they were really friendly and engaging. The wines were of a very high quality, but the stand-out is the Hope Marguerite Chenin. Top-class stuff and worth the effort to get there just for that. Oh, and the noble late harvest is also definitely worth a taste (and a buy). Complex and delicious. On a side note, they charged us the highest delivery fee of any of the wine farms (R150 for 6 bottles sent to Cape Town), so that is something to take into account if you’re not buying to take with you on the day. For the Johannesburg crowd, good news is that the Hope Marguerite is available at Pick n Pay on Nicol.
This was a spur of the moment stop, as we once had quite a good Pinotage from there (which turns out they were out of stock on). To be honest, based on the very few wines we tasted, quite forgettable. Very friendly reception, though.
We had a lovely lunch at Glen Carlou (the pork belly was remarkable), followed by a tasting. Their standard Chardonnay is still solid value for money, but throughout the days that followed we remarked a couple of times that other chardonnays in the same price range might edge this one out (Thelema offers one example). On the whole I found the range a bit soft around the edges. The red wines are also very similarly styled, which makes them blur a bit after a while. The top-end stuff (the Gravel Quarry Cabernet and Chardonnay) are really good wines, though, but quite pricey.
One of the bigger producers we visited. The tasting experience – out on the lawn with the stunning views – was very positive. Stand-out wines were the Spice Route Grenache, the Amos Block Sauvignon Blanc and the three Terra de Bron single-vineyard wines (a Mourvedre and two Syrahs). Very clever labels on the Terra de Bron wines as well, with each label depicting the topography of the vineyard the wine comes from. If you do visit, try the pizzas at La Grapperia on the premises, we ended up watching the sun go down from there two evenings in a row. Really lovely spot.
The tasting experience here was professional, if a bit cold (not helped much by the clinical tasting room). The Premium range offered great value for money (the Vineyard range has some amazing wines – such as the Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc “Amica” and the Shiraz/Grenache “Rodanos”, but at quite a hefty price). In the end my must-buy here would have to be the Premium range Cabernet Sauvignon. Great wine for a decent price.
I have been drinking Thelema wines for years, but have to admit that this was our first visit to the cellar. They have an extensive range, and we ended up tasting about 23 wines (don’t worry, we spat!). Great tasting room staff, very knowledgeable and excited about the wines they offer. The quality here was exceptional across the board. There were not many mind-blowing standouts, but the overall sense was one of really solid quality in virtually all the wine. That having been said: their “The Mint” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is a true stand-out. That is a really classy wine. Also think their Muscat de Frontignan is a steal at R60 a bottle.
Maybe because they were very busy, I found the experience scripted and over-commercialised. The wines were generally very good (whites better than the reds, I think), but I had a slight sense that they were over-priced for what we tasted. But if money wasn’t a factor, their Director’s Reserve White would be in my glass right now…
This one competes for my favourite tasting of the trip. Amazing location and quite astonishing wines. The Maestro White and the Reserve Chenin blew me away and both their DMZ and Reserve Syrah were excellent. Maybe it’s the classical music they play to the syrah vines 24-7… This was such a blissful tasting. The setting is astonishing and the wines sublime. Do make an effort if you are ever in the area.
This was one of those tastings that left me feeling a bit flat. We had the Jordan Nine-Yards Chardonnay earlier this year (very pricey but remarkable white wine), and so had quite high hopes for the Jordan range as a whole. On the whole it felt just a little disappointing. Nothing truly excited, with the possible exception of the Cabernet. Don’t get me wrong: there were no bad wines here. Maybe my expectations were just too high…
On a side note: we had a quick lunch at The Bakery (the informal restaurant on the premises). The food was very tasty, but the service was really embarrassingly horrendous. Amazing view, however.
I feel like I need to explain this one. We picked up reference somewhere to a range of Bellingham wines called “The Bernard”, and eventually figured out that the only place you can taste these wines was at their tasting room in Franschoek (shared with Brampton and Franschoek Wineries). The building is funky and pleasant, and each producer’s wine is tasted in a different tasting room. The Bernard tasting room is pure class – very elegant. Tasting is expensive- R125 to taste the full range.
This was without a doubt the surprise of the trip. The wines were EXCELLENT. Every, single one of them. The range consists of Chenin, Viognier, Grenache Blanc/Viognier, Rousanne, SMV, Syrah and Pinotage. Seriously, if I could afford it, I would buy every single one of these wines. Do yourself a favour if you are ever in the area and go try these wines. I know some people balk at the thought of buying from bulk producers like Bellingham, but when the wines are this good, all bets are off.
We had lunch at the Reuben Riffel-owned Racine, on the Chamonix premises, and had a really nice tasting. The tasting room is again quite dated, compared to some modern tasting rooms, but the wine is exceptional. The standard was very high across the board, with the stand-outs being the Cabernet Franc, the Pinot Noir Reserve and the Reserve White (we could not taste the Reserve Chardonnay). I had a sense here that, while I could recognise that these were all excellent wines, they maybe were not entirely to my taste. Definitely worth a visit and a taste, though. The restaurant was fantastic, by the way. Wines in the restaurant are sold at cellar-door prices, which is also refreshing (some, like Jordan, add quite a mark-up from cellar door to the restaurant a few meters away)…
We’ve visited Warwick before (albeit a few years ago) and as club members we buy a decent amount of their wine. We had a slightly disappointing tasting experience, which I guess can be ascribed to a lack of communication. All in all, the wines were good – as always – but the tasting experience on the day felt a bit scripted and lifeless. The Trilogy was the stand-out. We would have loved to taste the Cabernet Franc, but the visit disintegrated a bit and we didn’t have opportunity to discuss this with the tasting room staff.
Perdeberg, just off the Agter-Paarl road, was another long-shot. They came to our attention after their “Dry Land” Chenin made it to the Chenin Challenge top 10 last year, so we took the trek out that way. What a pleasant surprise! A small, rather cramped tasting room, but very friendly and knowledgeable assistance. We only tasted from the “Dry Land Collection” range, but the wines were remarkably good. These are maybe a bit more ready to drink now, as opposed to many of the other wines we tasted on the trip, but the Chenin, Cabernet, Pinotage and Shiraz all offer remarkable value for money.
Our last visit, basically on the way to the airport. Initially we actually fully planned to visit the gardens, without even tasting the wine, as we had a perception of their wines possibly being over-priced and running on the strength of the brand. We ended up tasting all the wines in their Reserve range, and man, were our assumptions wrong. These are all beautiful wines! The price point is high, but not entirely out of line with some of the other vineyards we had visited. There is no doubt that these are virtually all expectional wines. The stand-outs were probably the Chardonnay, Semillon, Shiraz and the DNA (a Cabernet Franc-driven blend). All of these can easily be cellared for 10 years. If you are patient, and have the disposable income, these are exceptional wines.
After all that:
We had a great wine-tasting time. I think we tasted better wines than we’ve ever had in the Cape. It is hard to choose wines to recommend from this trip, since so many were so brilliant, but the cream of the crop are probably these:
Creation Pinot Noir
Newton Johnson Family Pinot Noir and Granum
Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir
Gabrielskloof Magdalena and Five Arches
Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin (and the Goutte d’Or NLH)
Neil Ellis Amica, Rodanos and Cabernet Sauvignon
Thelema “The Mint” Cabernet
Tokara Director’s Reserve White
De Morgenzon Maestro White, Reserve Chenin, DMZ and Reserve Syrah
Bellingham The Bernard Chenin, SMV – anything, really
Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve
Vergelegen Reserve range Chardonnay, Semillon, Shiraz and the DNA “