Mar / April, 2017: A visit to wine country can turn the most pedestrian plonk quaffer into a wannabe sommelier. Where once they happily drained a 5L cask, suddenly they feel the need to wax lyrical about hints of tropical blossom and the decade’s great vintages. In South Africa’s premier wine country, we found that while you can certainly get amongst some serious wine tasting, people often take a more laid back and social approach. Wine tasting around Stellenbosch and Franschoek wasn’t exactly what we expected. Still, it was good enough that we needed two visits to do the region’s vineyards justice.
After a glorious week in Cape Town, then a short stop in Langebaan we first blew through Stellenbosch and Franschoek on our way up the eastern cape to Johannesburg. We were bound for a boozie lunch at Maison vineyard’s The Kitchen and while we didn’t have time to stop for long, we saw enough to tempt us back for round two. Fast forward a few weeks and we had got the overlanding bug resulting in the purchase of our Toyota now known as Bertha. With a long weekend up our sleeve, we checked into a Protea Hotel and got amongst some tasting
Most of our wine tastings have been in Australia. Usually we would rock up, do some tasting, act like we know about wine and often buy a few bottles. Tasting would be free or waived upon purchase of some wine. Fairly straight forward but no less enjoyable. Wine tasting around Stellenbosch and Franschoek was a little different. Punters come to have a meal with friends or try some local vino with cheese, maybe some chocolate or maybe even pizza. There are lots of different options but it doesn’t always appear to be solely focussed on the wine. At first I thought that this would come at the expense of quality but we definitely tasted some fantastic wine. Here are the spots we visited…
Wine tasting around Stellenbosch: Quality booze
- Stony Brook – This boutique winery just outside of Franschoek easily had the best vino we tasted. Founded in 1995, Stony Brook has a small and informal tasting room, super friendly staff and some amazing vino, especially the reds. We could have stayed much longer having a laugh with one of the owners but alas they were closing up on a public holiday. Highlights were a 2014 Reserve Syrah and a 2014 Shiraz Mourvedre Viognier. We bought a bottle of each.
- Rickety Bridge – Also in Franschoek, this larger vineyard was founded in 1797 and was recommended by a friend in Cape Town as a must stop. It’s also conveniently located just up the road from The Kitchen at Maison Estate. While you can also have lunch, do olive oil and chocolate tastings, for us it was all about their 2014 Reserve Semillon. It was so good we bought two.
Wine tasting around Stellenbosch: a beautiful setting
- Boschendal – For me Boschendal was the epitome of the old, family owned wine estate and what I kind of had in my head when people mentioned Stellenbosch wineries. Located on the road between Stellenbosch and Franschoek and founded in 1685 it’s big, beautiful and has lots on offer. After our epically rich lunch at The Werf Restaurant, Fi managed to fit in some tasting while I could only manage a few beers. The quality wasn’t as good as say Stony Brook, but sitting in the beautiful old gardens while you taste still makes for a special experience. Having said that we did buy a bottle of 2016 Le Bouquet, an easy drinking blend of Muscatel, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.
- Hidden Valley Wines – Founded in 2002, Hidden Valley was one of the most modern wineries we visited. The tasting room and impressive looking restaurant commanded an awesome view out across a valley and up into the mountains behind Stellenbosch. We did a standard tasting here which from memory was pretty good but being our last winery of the day I think it’s fair to say that both our palates (and heads) were a little fuzzy.
Wine tasting around Stellenbosch: something more casual
- Spier Wine Farm – Spier is another of the region’s original wine farms founded in 1692 and is usually on everyone’s list when they go wine tasting around Stellenbosch. It’s wine room has been given a decidedly modern make over so I was mildly disappointed that it didn’t have the same historical feel as Boschendal. Being one of the biggest wine houses in the region the service was lacking much personality, at least at first anyway. We did do a chocolate pairing with our tasting which was perhaps more interesting than the wines themselves. Having said that, we have drunk quite a lot of Spier wine since as it’s available everywhere and for the price is great value.
- Brenaissance Wine and Stud Estate – Brenaissance is another more modern winery with a buzzing little cafe called Cafe Blanc de Noir. We arrived on a relatively drizzly afternoon to find a dining room full of happy weekenders. Everyone was quaffing booze and stuffing themselves with the delicious wood fired pizzas. We took on a pizza and wine pairing which despite my misgivings was pretty impressive. If you’re looking for a more casual approach to wine tasting, this could be a great way to go.
- Franschoek Cellar Wines – This was our final tasting of our stay and was always going to struggle coming after our visit to Stony Brook. Situated on the main road out of Franschoek, we loved the look of the sun filled courtyard and the fact that it was one of the few places still open on a public holiday Monday. Alas, we had to sit inside for our wine and cheese pairing which was still nice but not as atmospheric. The wines here were probably the least impressive. The only description that our friendly waiter could provide was each wine was a great match for the cheese.