Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Exploring the Winelands & Constantia

People say that Cape Town is a lot like San Francisco, but I would argue that Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula including the Winelands is like a mini-California neatly compacted within an hour's drive. Camps Bay is like Malibu; Robben Island is to Alcatraz; Greenpoint Stadium is to ATT Park; V&A Waterfront is like a massive Fisherman's Wharf; False Bay is like Pismo Bay; Chapman's Peak Highways uncannily reminds me of the Pacific Coast Highway; Franschhoek and Stellenbosch can rival Napa/Sonoma; Cape Peninsula is like Point Reyes (sans the baboons); Table Mountain National park is like Yosemite; and of course, the lovely sunny weather.

As we drove through the gentle rolling hills and picturesque wine farms in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, for the first time in a very long time, I actually felt as if I was back in California…except it was of course, raining (go figure!). But, upon hearing how excited the vintners were to welcome rain for the first time in months, we didn't feel so bad if it means a better stock of South African wines in the coming year, although I have to say, I will always be partial to the big, bold Californian Cabernet Sauvignon.

I love wine tasting. On a beautiful day, Keenan and I would take advantage of the fact that Napa was right in our backyard whilst living in Berkeley. It's hard to believe that it has been nearly a year since I've gone wine tasting in Napa/Sonoma, the last time being a fabulous day out with my wonderful girlfriends (I miss you ladies!) sipping wine and laughing over dinner at Boon Fly CafĂ©. Awww…nostalgia.

We decided to bypass Stellenbosch altogether (it's big and busy) and headed straight to Franschhoek, the "French Corner." As the name implies, Franschhoek has a strong French influence due to the settlement of the first French Huguenot in 1688, who later planted vineyards in this region. Then came the birth of many renowned wine farms in Franschhoek, of which many were named after the settler's home region in France. Franschheok is far more charming than neighbouring Stellenbosch, and is somewhat like Yountville with all the amazing restaurants packed along the main road. Its culinary reputation has given Franschhoek the title of the 'foodie capital' of South Africa.


Here are the wine farms we visited for either tasting or photo-opp:

Le Motte – a gorgeous estate with long oak tables for tasting. We did a full tasting here for 20Rand.

Moreson – standing room only with an energetic host and an excellent restaurant Bread & Wine, sister restaurant of Le Quartier Francais (one of top 50 restaurants). They waived the 15Rand tasting fee since we stayed for lunch, which was fantastic…creamy risotto and seared tuna over polenta with a glass of pinotage (20Rand, or just £1.81 per glass).

Glenwood – recommended by the manager at Bread & Wine. Great little wine farm reachable via a dirt road. It's small, but produces some great wines. We met an American couple from DC as well as an older British couple who of course purchased two cases (24 bottles) of their Sauvignon Blanc. Tasting fee: 20Rand

Chamonix – only because My Wine was closed (it's a one woman operation and she only does tasting between 10-12), but left because the staff was unresponsive, plus there was a crying baby.

Stony Brook – a small family-run vineyard sitting on 14 hectares of land. We were the only people in the tasting room, and felt a bit rush as the host was eager to close up for the day – it was close to 4 by then. Tasting fee: 20Rand

Boekenhoutskloof – the modern tasting room reminded me of Paraduxx on the Silverado Trail. Our last tasting for the day and it was complimentary. Besides the excellent wine, we also had fun playing with owner's Great Dane.

Haute Cabriere – was unfortunately closed for a private event. It's an interesting as the cellar is carved into the mountain. And has its only helipad. The view of Franschhoek from this estate is gorgeous.

After a full day of wine tasting, we had a memorable 3-hour dinner at Le Bon Vivant. South Africa in general is very affordable and overall the wines and restaurants are all good value for money. With a favourable exchange rate, we opted for the five course tasting menu with wine pairing. It was amazing with emphasis on fresh seafood and beautifully presented.

First Course:

Second Course:

Third Course:

Fourth Course:

Fifth Course:

As if Franschhoek wasn't enough, the next morning we explored the wine region in the exclusive suburb of Constantia, just on the foothill of Constantia Mountain (25 minute drive from City Bowl) for more wine tasting in Cape Town's oldest wine region. Most people would relish the opportunity to sleep in on a Saturday morning, but not us -- we arrived to Groot Constantia precisely at 9:30am, and it was delightfully sunny!

We had a full morning of tasting before making our way south on a driving tour of the Cape Peninsula. By 1:00PM, we visited three wine farms, in order:

Groot Constantia: Beautiful property with stunning historic Cape Dutch architecture. It's huge and has the capacity to accommodate bus tours, but to avoid the crowd, come early.

Buitenverwachting: Lovely setting, friendly hosts, and some interesting wines. They even have a horse stable on the estate.

Klein Constantia: I think I was too distracted by their adorable dog to taste their fine wines, furthermore it was my turn to drive. We had to get to Cape Point!

Life is too short to drink bad wine…happy wine tasting!

More on Cape Point and Robben Island in the next post!

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