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Who Should I Visit in South Africa?

map_south_africa.gifAbout two years ago, I headed off to New Zealand for the first time, armed with lots of recommendations from readers that proved very valuable. I discovered a couple of wines that I had not heard of, and dined at a couple of restaurants that were highlights of my trip.

So I'm asking you again, dear readers, for advice.

In two weeks I am headed to Cape Wine 2008, the biennial South African wine festival, with a singular goal: to taste as much darn South African wine as I possibly can in 8 days. Lesser goals include: finding a fantastic Pinotage (some say it can't be done) and scoping out the sparkling wine scene (rumors circulate about up and coming stars).

The South African wine industry has done a huge push for international visibility in the last year, culminating with this event, which will likely be well attended, thanks in part to the recent accolades that many wines received from Decanter Magazine.

There will supposedly be 4000 wines to taste at this event. I feel a bit like a triathelete who hasn't gotten on the bike in six weeks but is staring down the barrel of an Ironman.

Wish me luck. And, oh yeah, tell me your tips!

Comments (28)

Adam Levin wrote:
09.10.08 at 8:25 AM

For Pinotage, definitely try the Southern Right and the Kanonkop range.

To visit and taste:
-Thelema and Tokara for the wine and setting.
-Morkel to try their Malbec
-Stony Brook
-Graham Beck for sparkling wine

leandra wrote:
09.10.08 at 8:40 AM

We've been to South Africa twice (for a total of about 5 weeks) and we've visited more places than this, but these were our favorites for the reasons listed below. Enjoy your trip! :)

Somerset West
Morgenster—lovely olive oil and wine tasting (three bordeaux style red blends).
Vergelegen—beautiful estate and gardens but the wine is just okay.

Diemersfontein—the most delicious chocolate and coffee pinotage!

Groot Constantia—huge place, very touristy, but they have some decent wines and a good port.
Buitenverwachting—nice setting and some lovely wines.

Groote Post—charming place, the best wine was the Old Man’s Blend red.
Cloof—nice shiraz and pinotage.

Nuy—good wines and a very nice dessert wine.

Spier—not impressed with the wine, but the buffet lunch at Moyo restaurant and cheetah exhibit were great, very touristy.

Peter May wrote:
09.10.08 at 2:02 PM

Hi Alder

Not sure I understand your comment about finding good Pinotage -- your own reviews of Fort Ross Pinotage the past 2 years of the Pinot Noir Festival have placed that in the top brackets of your tastings.

Suggest you head to Stellenbosch and visit Beyerskloof Winery for lunch. Have the famous Pinotage Burger and order some aged Pinotage -- the winery reserve stock is available in the restaurant at cellar prices, i.e. no mark up. Try a 10+ year old Beyerskloof Reserve Pinotage, orthe standard white label one from 1995 (see http://www.pinotage.org/2008/02/beyerskloof-1995-synergy-2001.html )

Pinotage can age beautifully, but it is rare to get hold of old ones thathave been stored properlay. At Beyers Truter's own winery, you can. And try the latest releaseof his very inexpensive white label Beyerskloof to compare with the old one...

Someone else mentioned Morkel's Malbec. That is a label of Bellevue Estate -- theie wine was the worlds first commercial Pinotage (then sold under the name Lanzerac in 1961 from the 1959 vintage). The original vineyard is still producing: ask about it at Cape 2008 or in the tasting room.

Kanonkop Estate is a must to taste, but I expect they'll be showing at Cape 2008

You must also taste the coffee & chocolate Pinotage from Diemersfontein.

Another one is Kaapzicht Estates Steytler Pinotage.

There are some excellent wines made in SA -- as usual, the ones that come from defined wineries and estates tend to be a world apart from cheap anonymous wines with animals on the label.

Eric wrote:
09.10.08 at 3:05 PM

Hi Alder,

Sounds like a great trip.

I was put in touch with a winery called Onderkloof Winery in the Stellenbosch in the hopes of our importing some of their wines into the states. That proved to be outside our area of expertise but I did get to sample the wines and was impressed. Seems like you've got plenty of places to see but figured I'd add this to the mix.

Dylan wrote:
09.10.08 at 6:04 PM

Wow, two days and 4,000 wines--where do you begin and which wine do you decide to end on?

Bill Andrews wrote:
09.10.08 at 6:15 PM

Hi Alder,

Should be a perfect time to visit the Cape in their springtime. The wine industry their is very dynamic and growing rapidly so a few thoughts and recommendations:

The John Platter guide is the "bible" for SA wine regions and wineries so get yourself a copy on arrival.
There are a number of emerging wine regions but the Stellenbosch region remains the center of quality wines, including Thelema, de Trafford, Neil Ellis, Stark Conde, Waterford, Ernie Els, Rust en Vrede, Neetlingshof*, Meerlust, Jordan, de Toren, Haartenburg. Vergelegen* (*Excellent restaurants)
The closest region to Cape Town is Constantia and I recommend Buitenwerwachting and Klein Constantia wineries as worth a visit. Also Constantia Uitsig with a very pleasant restuarant.
Visit Franshoek, 10 minutes from Stellenbosch, a beautiful town with some great restaurants and wineries. My brother Roy has a new winery there called Topiary that has gained some awards. Give him a call on 083-375-7881, mention my name and ask him for the latest winery and restuarant recommendations.

Cynthia wrote:
09.11.08 at 1:22 AM

I did the reasearch for my MA in Econ in the SA wine industry in 2007. A few notes:
1) Great Pinotage is everywhere. They seem to export the bad stuff.
2) I live SF (usually), the same USD on a drinkable wine in SF will get you a great wine in SA.
3) However well the wineries position themselves as vinters it is still very important to the survival of the industry to pay attention to who you are buying from. Seek out black-owned, biodiverse, and sustainably farmed sites. This is not easy. Spier (though touristy does a great job).
4)Hands down, the best wine I had was Raka.

Please don't think policitcs and wine don't belong together in your post. SA could become another Zimbabwe with ease, and these great wines could disappear for the rest of our lifetimes. Supporting minority farmers with your voice AND your USD is vital. You'll see when you go.

Grant wrote:
09.11.08 at 4:34 AM


I'm not sure if you are a part of the group that WOSA are bringing out to the winelands, but if so you will be visiting Haskell Vineyards/Dombeya Wines and we look forward to catching up

I'll be in Cape Town most of the time at the Dombeya stand but drop by if you have the time, I'll look forward to meeting you.

All the best

Grant Dodd

Grant wrote:
09.11.08 at 4:43 AM

Re Pinotage...Scali and Beyerskloof.


Alder wrote:
09.11.08 at 7:50 AM


Perhaps I should have been more explicit: I mean good South African Pinotage. Indeed, I love Fort Ross' wine. I'm wondering if I'll find one from SA that I'll like better...

Peter May wrote:
09.11.08 at 9:26 AM

Hi Alder

I have not had Fort Ross but have read many favourable reviews, but I have had excellent Pinotage from other California wineries.

There are some excellent Pinotages in SA, as well as the ones I mentioned earlier, lookout for Pulpit Rock, La Cave, Scali, Camberly, Diemersfontein Carpe Diem (although as I said, you must try their ordinary one), Stellenzicht Golden Triangle, Allee Blaue ... aw gosh, try em all :)

Adam Levin wrote:
09.11.08 at 1:58 PM

Bill, I second your de Trafford recommendation. Forgot to mention them in my first comment. The trek out there alone makes it worthwhile, but the wines are amazing.

Rajiv wrote:
09.11.08 at 2:58 PM

I had some good Graham Beck entry-level wines from Vias Imports in NYC. Also, do you use a voice recorder? I used a small digital voice-recorder at a couple trade tastings for the first time, and I found it much more convenient than paper+pencil, and I could record more detailed notes than I would have been able to write. I could also record my emotional reaction to each wine. Transcribing the notes is a pain, especially since the room was crowded and noisy.

Anonymous wrote:
09.11.08 at 8:36 PM

Simonsig Redhill Pinotage. Outstanding Pinotage!

Cru Master wrote:
09.12.08 at 2:38 AM

Hi Alder

Fantastic news that you are coming out to SA and for 8 days even better.

As you may know I write about South African wine on The Cru and am obsessed with it.

I also happen to be based in Cape Town. It would be a great pleasure for me to take you (and whoever else) around the winelands, shows u some of the sites, show you the great restaurants and perhaps even arrange a special evening of wine tasting and a traditional braai.

What date do you arrive?

See you soon I hope Alder!

Eapen Thampy wrote:
09.13.08 at 2:22 PM

De Trafford and Ken Forrester. There's also a producer that makes wines under the label 'Spice Route' that has an incredible syrah.

Richard Fadeley wrote:
09.15.08 at 6:22 AM

Vergelegen is most impressive, and don't miss the Sunday brunch @ Boschendal. Blauklippen is another one that I remember being above average, and of course Kanonkop makes one of the Cape's best blends (Paul Sauer). You will be impressed with the advanced level of some of the tasting rooms, and I would say that the wine areas around Cape Town and Stellenbosch have to be some of the most breathtaking in the world.

Molly Choi wrote:
09.15.08 at 6:45 AM

Hi Alder,
Looking forward to meeting you at Cape Wine. As one of the 'oldest' importers here in the US, it is always a thrill to share the Cape with people who have never been. You'll hopefully come away inspired and excited by both it's incredible beauty, amazing terroir, and in general, a wine industry that truly has much opportunity for growth. Lots of small, boutique guys out there doing experimental stuff in the vineyards and cellar, as well as bigger producers who continue to churn out world-class wines year on year.
While Pinotage is always synonymous with South Africa (and Kanonkop one of the best producers who do things the 'old fashioned' way - open tank fermenters, manual cap punchdowns), please don't forget about Chenin Blanc. SA has more of that varietal planted than any other, and several producers are making delicious, unwooded and wooded styles that rival Vouvray - for much less. To look for - Raats Family (Bruwer Raats), Kanu, and Teddy Hall (De Morgenzon/Teddy Hall) to name but a few of the many you'll see at the show.
Miles Mossop (cellarmaster at TOKARA) also has a Chenin/Viognier blend that is spectacular.

Safe journey!

Chris Robinson wrote:
09.15.08 at 9:07 AM

I am tasting a whole range of the Guild Auction Wines tomorrow night. these are usually the indicators of who is leading edge at the moment. Vergelegen comes up in every tasting, but i will fill you in after the event.

Chris Robinson wrote:
09.15.08 at 9:10 AM

Molly Choi's comment about Chenin Blanc cannot go past without a big shout of support. Some of these are wonderful, but rarely get a mention. Wine makers are doing a lot of experimentation with this variety and producing an amazing range of styles e.g barrel fermented, wood ageing, etc. On a past and recent trip to SA one of my friend came back saying these were the best wines in the country. Could be!!

Alder's mom wrote:
09.15.08 at 1:28 PM

Thank you Cynthia for pointing out the enormous importance of supporting black-owned, biodiverse and sustainably farmed sites.

Malcolm wrote:
09.16.08 at 5:15 AM

I second the recommendation to visit Klein Constantia on the outskirts of Cape Town. It's one of the oldest wineries in SA and, as well as some great Sauvignon (if they have any Per de Blokke on taste you really need to give it a try) they have the fantastic Vin de Constance - what must be the oldest branded New World wine to be sent back to Europe. It has a fantastic story to it and is a super, super wine.

09.16.08 at 11:18 AM

I did a search at he World Wine Expo in San Fran. a couple of years ago looking for a "great" pinotage. Tasted through 89 South African wines. Found two great pinotages. Warwick and Dieu Donne. Never was able to get Dieu Donne into Iowa but the Warwick is still consistently good.

Tracy wrote:
09.16.08 at 2:06 PM

I can't believe only one person suggested Hamilton Russell. It's a bit off the beaten path in Hermanus - set on a cliff just above one of the top 5 land based whale watching spots in the world - but the winery and its wines are just glorious. Hands down the most memorable winery I visited in SA.

Bill wrote:
09.16.08 at 6:31 PM

Ditto Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson next door. Beautiful wines and the setting is powerful. If you get to their Walker Bay location be sure to walk the vineyards going south (with their easy permission). The southern tip of Africa at your feet with ocean view are magic. Do this after going to Cape Point in the morning and you will have one fine day.

Pity if you do not actually get to above, Groot and Klein Constantia, Boschendahl, and Vergelegen as a minimum during your short stay. All are reasonable distance from CT.

Visit Stellenbosch anywhere but don't miss the cheese tasting at Fairview.

Position yourself in Fraschhoek if possible for a couple of days rather than Stellenbosch which is near. Franschoek is what St. Helena would die to be. Smaller and more intimate with wonderful cuisine ane reasonable accomodations.

De Krans port is quite divine, addictive even.

Lanzerac Pinotage rings my bell but there are lots more worth tasting. Their estate in Somerset West (Vergelegen adjacent)is gorgeous and they have really nice accomodations and food.

South Africa makes California look like chopped liver at times, wait till you see CT and Stellenbosch. Bon Journee!!

Sarah wrote:
09.21.08 at 8:27 AM

Thelema and Hamilton Russel are fantasic and not really available outside of South Africa often, so good to order for home delivery when you are there


Benjamin wrote:
09.23.08 at 3:47 AM

Dornier wines in Stellenbosch is our long time favorite. Worth driving by. The wines are great, the folks open hearted and the architecture stunning!

Jacob Trask wrote:
01.10.11 at 6:03 AM

The good old stellies...The best south african wines around..

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