So when your tour guide Tim picks you up and says “So would you be interested in going on a tour of some of South Africa’s top vineyards?” UMMMMM YES!! My answer was “YES, LET’S GO!!!!!”
The beautiful little town of Stellenbosch, roughly an hour from Cape Town, lies surrounded by the Stellenbosch Mountains in the Jonkershoek River Valley in one of the most picturesque settings in the Cape.
The second oldest town in South Africa has fondly been called ‘Eikestad’ or city of oaks and its streets are lined with some of the most beautiful surviving examples of Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture in the Cape. Dorp Street is a national monument and you must take the time to walk around this cozy old part of Stellenbosch, with its secluded lanes, water furrows, cosmopolitan restaurants and coffee bistros, with superb views of mountain, vineyards and orchards – – an idyllic morning venture.
The name ‘Stellenbosch’ is almost synonymous with the wine industry. Not only does it have the oldest wine route in the country, and arguably the most famous, but the town has one of the most modern experimental wineries in the world, and the only Viticultural and Oenological Department in the country at its university.
I will share a couple of stops on the tour as well as the amazing dining experience we had, so buckle up and get ready for my Stellenbosch Vineyard experience as seen through my eyes!
Our first stop was Simonsig. In 1688 French Huguenot Jacques Malan arrived in the winelands and signaled the beginning of a journey for the Malan family. The late Frans Malan, one of South Africa’s wine industry pioneers, introduced Simonsig’s first wines.
Over 30 years ago, he introduced South Africa’s first Méthode Cap Classique, Kaapse Vonkel and South African Rhine Riesling and wooded whites. Together with two others, he found the Stellenbosch wine route in 1971 which was a first for Africa. This farm spans 206 hectares and comprises plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinotage. Visiting the restaurant Cuvée to eat, or for a tasting is a treat as they make bubbles, red and white wines. Whilst Champagne is the name only given if it is made in the French region of Champagne, Simonsig was the first local winery to make sparkling wine using the Methode Cap Classique.
My favorite two wines at Simonsig were the Brut Rose which was a gorgeous salmon pink color that danced in my glass and had a wonderful aroma of red berries with a hint of floral. Although it had a dry finish it was very refreshing and full of flavor. My other favorite was the Chenin Avec Chêne. This wooded Chenin Blanc danced in the glass with a bright golden hue, and flavors of citrus, oak and honey with ripe pear – -just a few of the flavors I picked up during tasting it.
Next stop was Sutherland Vineyards which is owned and run by Thelema Mountain Vineyards, situated on the top of the Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, an icon in the South African wine industry. This family-run wine estate was founded in 1983 by Gyles Webb and his wife’s family. High elevations, deep red soils and meticulously farmed vineyards result in wines of the highest quality. In 2002, Thelema bought a second property in the Elgin called Sutherland. The cooler climate of this region results in intensely aromatic and elegant wines.
Although this Vineyard is not nearly as old as Simonsig it did not lack in an amazing wine catalog. I was disappointed that they were sold out of the Rose which I was truly looking forward to trying. Our tasting room guide Crescenda was excellent, as she took us on a brief overview of the history of Thelema and its wines and offered several suggestions based on our likes and dislikes!
My favorite wines were the “The Mint” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, a complex wine with aromas of dark chocolate and black currant, and the Thelema Sauvignon Blanc 2015, an extremely flavorful, not too dry with wonderful melon and grapefruit flavors.
Our next stop was lunch at the picturesque Tokara Vineyards which is also an Olive Farm. The Tokara Restaurant, situated 400 meters above sea level on top of the Helshoogte Pass outside Stellenbosch, offers amazing contemporary cuisine, award-winning wines and dramatic views over Stellenbosch and False Bay. The building that housed the restaurant is a Cape architectural icon utilizing glass, steel and stone.
Once seated, our server brought us over a wide selection of various breads – flat breads with 3 different types of olive oil to try – they were all very different which was quite an experience. For my starter I had the cumin & coriander spiced beef tartare with cured egg yolk, pickled onion, apricot, carrot, ginger, curry dressing & amasi crème – – it was one of the best beef tartare dishes I have ever had! The flavors all intertwined, danced and mingled in my mouth! Ginger and curry were not at all overpowering because they truly made this dish! For my main course, I chose the lamb shank which was oh so tender that it clearly fell off the bone before making it to our table. The lamb shank was served with a pomme purée with parmesan sautéed broccoli, asparagus, lemon & parmesan, AGAIN a perfect marriage of flavors! I did not partake in any of the wines at Tokara as we had been drinking wine all day so I decided for lunch to take a bit of a wine break! Cheers!