Good quality, inexpensive wine can be imbibed (en masse), bought and even shipped when visiting South Africa. Just be sure to work around the dreaded third wave – because our lockdowns can be less than alcohol-friendly. To avoid messing around, a good tip is to fly directly into The Mother City, otherwise called Cape Town. It’s the capital of a region where, according to the experts, there are around 560 wineries and at least 4 400 primary producers of vineyards, all within a selection of four “Wine of Origin Scheme” regions, namely – The Breede River Valley, The Little Karoo, Coastal and Olifants River. You’re invited to explore these at your leisure.
Price is another key factor that SA wines have in their favour. In fact, if you have friends emigrating from South Africa to Europe, the United States or, in fact, anywhere else, they’re more than likely to add a quantity case or six of wine to their shipment – on the other side, the wine will likely be way more pricey and not, necessarily, as palate-friendly. As just one example: go to TopWineSA.com and search for “Under R100 per bottle”. You can’t go wrong with the broadness of selection or the richness of varietal.
While Statistica.com reckons that the US is the country that consumes the largest volume of wine globally, at 33 million hectolitres over 2019, for example, with France a close second at 26.5 million hectolitres, South Africa certainly ranks up there in terms of wine production. Its output ranked at between 9.5 and 10.8 million hectolitres over the 2017 to 2018 period, at a time when drought was a significant factor limiting production – especially in the hard-hit Western Cape. According to Business Tech, these figures place South Africa at the ninth biggest producer worldwide.
Spoiled for choice?
In the close vicinity of Cape Town, there are five key wine routes to choose from or frequent one by one via a tick-off list. These are:
• The Constantia Wine Route – at just a 20-minute drive from the CBD and offering world-class cool climate offerings, such as sauvignon blancs, easy-drinking reds and classic sweet dessert wines;
• The Stellenbosch Wine Route – with its 200 wine and grape producers and 148 farms, many of them historically scenic and adorned with Cape Dutch manors and world-renowned restaurants;
• The Helderberg Wine Route – surrounding Somerset West, numerous historic estates line up beside new modern cellars, providing an astounding array of impressive wines;
• The Durbanville Wine Route – famed for its wine-and-dine pairings, the views here will blow your hair back. Seek out this route for it’s intense, fruit-driven yet refined varietals; and
• The Franschhoek Wine Route – where wine farms share their heritage with the French Huguenots and where the Champagne-inspired sparkling wine, “Cap Classique”, is the go-to dinner accompaniment. The village of Franschhoek should also not be overlooked – it wows with its quaintness and impressive showcase of art, antiques, eateries, boutique hotels and the friendliest locals, who for a small tip will show you hidden gems.
Download and drink up
A wonderful downloadable map for your smartphone or tablet can be found here. Its 14 pages will entice you to explore a little beyond the main centres – think the Darling Wine Route, an hour’s drive from Cape Town, for those who just have to hire a car. WestCoastWay.Co.Za, as just one example, lists a range of not-to-miss activities in this uniquely South African town. These include: wild flower displays (best in September); a theatrical experience at Evita se Perron, which consists of a restaurant, exhibition hall, garden and theatre owned by Pieter Dirk Uys and his (female) alter ego, Tannie Evita Bezuidenhout; wine tastings at Ormonde Private Cellar, as well as Groote Post, Darling Cellars and Cloof Cellars; the unique opportunity to experience the San Culture at !Khwa ttu San Culture & Education Centre; and local cuisine to die for at the likes of The Marmalade Cat, Chicory Cheese Café, the Flying Pig or Bistro Seven. While menus vary, think heart-warming hospitality and country cooking of the rotund-making variety. Yum! Don’t miss out.
If you’re overseas and pining for this region – eish, checking out the winer-route planning sites could prove tough going. SA-Venues.com offers up “lush green valleys, azure skies”, and the fact that “visitors pour into the Western Cape to experience [its] viticulture, restored Cape Dutch farmsteads… and the mountains that form the dramatic backdrop to all of this”.
Last (tasting) notes
As the saying goes: “How long is a piece of string?” Indeed, how far will you travel to experience the fruits of the vine in this fertile southerly land? For some, it depends on the cheese, olives, seafood, fruit or cold meats that you can savour, freshly plucked, cured, grilled or harvested, along with what’s half filling your glass. For others, the anti-clockwise swirling is taken so seriously that it needs no accompaniment because they, like Sex In The City’s Carrie Bradshaw, save their carbohydrates for the main “course”.
Perhaps, that sip or three is best accompanied just by the visual input of those 360-degree vistas with their budding vines, blooming roses, bluest of skies, rich soil, verdant hills, pinky-orange sunsets, and the knowledge that this is a particularly experience-rich and healthy habit, as vices go.