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As World Cup fever strikes in 2010 there’s never been a better time to explore South Africa – and its wines. Andrew Catchpole reports
South Africa’s Western Cape is a sublime destination, offering wine and whales, golf and gastronomy, colonial architecture with colourful modern multiculturalism, all under the piercing clarity of the African sun. Hop on an evening flight from London and you can be breakfasting among vines the following morning in this ruggedly beautiful corner of the world. Better yet, all of this is within spitting distance of Cape Town, which, with its remarkable setting and fantastic gastronomic scene, makes a great first port of call.
Ride the vertiginous Table Mountain cableway for a memorable view of what first drew Dutch colonists (and their vines) here some 350 years ago. Then jump on a ferry to visit Nelson Mandela’s old cell on Robben Island, where you can reflect on the Rainbow Nation’s coming of age. Fifteen years of democracy have transformed Cape Town’s hotels. Today you can opt for sheer luxury on the Waterfront at Cape Grace hotel or do boutique style at Camps Bay Ridge with its serene Atlantic views. Then make sure you find your appetite, as with supremely fresh produce from sea and land, plus great wines to hand, the contemporary dining scene in Cape Town is mouth-wateringly good. For an introduction to the flavours of the Cape try: Balthazer for faultless modern dishes and an extraordinary range of wines by-the-glass; fashionable fusion at Ginja; high-end innovative dishes at Emily’s; or hearty gastropub food at The Nose Wine Bar.
Cape Town’s most celebrated restaurant, the relaxed, French-leaning La Colombe, is a few miles away in the bucolic suburb of Constantia. Here leafy, paddock-lined country lanes open on to grand Dutch Colonial mansions whose vine-covered estates produce poised, rapier-fresh Sauvignon Blancs and elegant Bordeaux-style blends. The magnificent Groot Constantia gives a good taste both of Cape history and Constantia wine, while nearby Buitenverwachting is a gem among Constantia winery restaurants, where the food is as sublime as the setting. There’s also great golf, modern cooking and accommodation in a contemporary setting at Steenberg Estate. Or for a taste of Cape Malay cuisine The Cape Malay Restaurant at The Cellars-Hohenort hotel packs authentic flavour.
From Cape Town it’s a short drive to Stellenbosch in the heart of the Cape’s wine lands. The town itself is charming, with café-lined streets that are great for pottering and shopping, but the real draw are the myriad winery tasting shops or ‘cellar doors’ out among the vines. Try world-class Bordeaux-leaning Cape blends such as Kanonkop’s Paul Sauer or visit Vergelegen’s coolly modern octagonal cellar. For Pinotage lovers, Beyers Truter’s restaurant at Beyerskloof overlooking the vines, is a must, while Chenin maestro Ken Forrester’s charming 96 Winery Road Restaurant is a superb spot to try his great wines. There’s an amazing range of Rhône varietals at Fairview, along with goats and cheese-making; while the swish lodges of Spier and Kleine Zalze offer golf, spas and accomplished restaurants such as Terroir, which dishes up superb seasonal modern South African cuisine.
Heading further east, Franschhoek is a culinary hot spot where you can relax after a hard day’s tasting over world-class food and yet more great wine. Great choices include funky bistro iCi at Le Quartier Français, dishing up flavoursome food from the wood-burning oven, which is an offshoot of cutting-edge venue The Tasting Room, both of which have exemplary wine lists. Or opt for unpretentious but excellent French bistro-style food at Mon Plaisir on the equally quality-driven Chamonix Farm wine estate. Fish lovers should dive into Bouillabaisse, where you can graze away on ocean-fresh tucker with subtle Asian-inspired twists.
For lovers of seductive Pinot Noir a foray out to Walker Bay, south of Franschhoek, is a must. The leisurely coastal route, meandering between brilliant sea and fynbos-strewn hills, delivers you to the
charming seaside resort of Hermanus. Stay either at the seaside-fresh The Marine Hermanus hotel, with its excellent seafood restaurant, or the beautifully designed boutique hotel Mosselberg
on Grotto Beach, before setting out to explore the vine-strewn Hemel
en Aarde (‘Heaven and Earth’) Valley. It’s here that estates such as Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson, along with Ataraxia, La Vierge and Creation, make some of South Africa’s best-loved Pinot Noirs, plus elegant Chardonnays and the odd crisp Sauvignon. Don’t miss the cellar door restaurants of
either Newton Johnson or La Vierge for a satisfying, seasonal lunch with sweeping views out over the vines. To cap this,
back in Hermanus,
you may spot whales from the shore.
Cape Town By turns colourful, bold, elegant and edgy, Cape Town, along with the succulent African game that adorns its menus, makes a perfect foil for the spicy richness of Pinotage, South Africa’s very own flag-waving variety.
Constantia The ocean breezes that cool the vine-strewn southern slopes of the Constantiaberg Hills help to deliver refined, nettle-fresh, crystalline Sauvignon Blancs of outstanding quality.
Stellenbosch Of the wealth of superb wines produced here, it’s still the Bordeaux-style and Cape blends (mixing in a splash of Pinotage) that often top the bill, delivering complexity and elegance underscored with generous fruit.
Franschhoek The restaurant lists of Franschhoek are fertile hunting ground for sumptuous, spicy, sometimes savoury Syrahs and the growing roll call of white and red Rhône varietal-based wines.
Walker Bay The Hemel en Aarde Valley is Pinot-phile heaven, delivering supple, bright, long-lingering Pinot Noirs, along with elegant, well-crafted Chardonnays, both good enough to stand up with the best in the world.