Excuse me while I gush, but South African wine is to die for! I wish America would figure this out and stock more if it in regular stores. If you’re looking for a classic South African wine to try, the Pinotage (a red) is a great place to start.
There are three main wine regions around Cape Town: Stellensbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek. Given the nature of wine tasting, it’s probably best to join a wine tour rather than try to drive yourself to full enjoy the experience. I highly recommend the tour company Wine Flies.
We had a fun mixed group of couples, friends, students and solo travelers from the UK, US, Japan and Brazil. By the end of the day the group had become close (admittedly in large part due to our shared making fun of, and later annoyance at, one group member, who proceeded to get drunk at the first winery and remain so all day), we even met up later that evening for drinks. On the one-day tour, we visited five wineries, which represented a wide range of styles and sizes.
First we visited Villiera, a smaller vineyard where we learned some of the ins and outs about winemaking by our awesome tour guide, G. We started primarily with sparkling champagne-style wines. (It was just 10 am after all!) Oh, and we bought a bottle of wine there for something like $5. (Did I mention South African wine is not just fantastic but cheap?! We came away with many more bottles than we intended to!)
Next up was Fairview (the only Paarl winery we visited, I believe), a wine empire by comparison to many of the others. Fairview has a kind of goat theme to their brand (indeed there are two goats living in a tree out front), and you may have even spotted some of their “Goats do Roam” wines in your local liquor store. If you’re looking to try a lot of wines and cheeses and for that kind of “perfect” or expected tasting experience, this is the place for you. The wine tasting area is huge and very official, you even get a paper that shows you all the wines you tried and the cheeses they were paired with. I was personally a big fan of their Goatfather blend, which sadly is not available in America.
We followed that up with lunch at Middelvei, a picturesque farm-like winery. There we got to try merlot straight out of the barrel — both steel and wood, for comparison’s sake of course. Very cool! There were also a couple friendly dogs roaming about, which added to the homey feeling of the place.
Next up was Lovare, a very small but postcard perfect winery. We had the chance to explore their wine cellar and then got to try some chocolate pairings with our wine. Yum!
Then finally we ventured to our personal favorite, Annandale, a small, rustic vineyard in Stellensbosch. It’s a family-owned vineyard with a lot of history, and we had a great time sitting at a big wooden table by the fireplace with the owner’s son as he told us stories and made sure our glasses were never empty.
He even let us sample their “Chalbert” wine, which was bottled especially for the wedding of Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco. Only 1000 bottles were made, and those that weren’t used at the wedding can only be sold at the Annandale estate. (Of course, we came home with one!) Throughout the day our guide “G” did all he could to make everything fun and make sure everyone was enjoying themselves — even bringing out silly hats once everyone started to get tipsy toward the end of the day.
Admittedly, there were times when I had trouble understanding his thick South African accent, but he definitely knew his stuff about wine and we learned a lot. It was clear the vineyards we visited also loved him, which worked in our favor at times like at Annandale when were able to sample special wines!
And at the end of the day, he even endeavored to make sure everyone had the chance to “continue the party” with each other later if they wanted. To that end, I highly recommend giving Wine Flies a try if you are looking for a full-day wine tour.
If you are looking for other options, there is a wine train you can hop on and off in Stellensbosch if you have a way to get out there on your own or are looking to spend the night. There are tours that market themselves as full-day tours that do a half day of the Cape Peninsula and a half-day wine tasting, but I would not suggest that choice unless you really don’t care much at all about wine tasting, as you will likely only visit one estate.
Whatever option you choose, South Africa is an excellent place for wine and you will surely have a good time!