I’m no wino…sorry correct that, I’m no wine connoisseur, but if there was such a place where the sun shone everyday, the glorious nectar of the Gods flowed freely and delicious platters of food accompanied said nectar, you could say you’d found a little slice of heaven. That’s exactly how we felt while wine tasting in the Cape Winelands (and frankly what better kind of land is there) of South Africa. There are oodles of vineyards to choose from in the area, so during our time in the region, we mastered the art of choosing our wine estates carefully – here’s how to win at wine tasting in South Africa.
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Top tips on how to win at wine tasting in South Africa:
Let the universe decide
The winelands region is teeming with vineyards, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl are world-famous for their wine. But how to choose which one to visit? There are several tried-and-tested methods of deciding: the usual recommendations from parents, other travellers’ blogs and wine drinking friends, names of wines recognised off supermarket shelves, location in comparison to your accommodation… or you can let fate decide. Pick a time on the car clock at random during your road trip et voila! Whatever vineyard you happen to be passing at that particular point will be a participant on your wine tasting adventure.
Think about the temperature of the day
I enjoy a tipple most hours of the day, but there’s something about a crisp, cold glass of wine in the sunshine that is rather special. Focusing on and savouring the liquid in question during a wine tasting (as opposed to necking it in one go) magically transforms it into a tastebud tantalisation fest. Take La Motte Chardonnay for example. Now, in the UK, Chardonnay has received a bad rap for years, long associated with ‘Essex girls’, Lambrini-loving types and generally considered a cheap, dare-I-say-it ‘chavvy‘ drink. But get the atmosphere and the chill of the beverage just right and those buttery notes suddenly become quite bedazzling on the tongue.
Drink wine as a reward
Stumbling upon the Beyerskloof vineyard, after climbing down nearby Table Mountain – starving, dangerously close to full-on hunger rage, legs a-shaking from so many steep steps, a wee bit dehydrated and physically exhausted is going to make the first sips of wine taste other-worldly. Make sure you pick up a winelands map (we got ours from the Visitor Information Centre in Stellenbosch), locate the closest ‘grape symbol’ after aforementioned strenuous exercise and head straight there. If you’re travelling with young kids, you need do no such physical exertion, just getting through the day sometimes is just as worthy a cause…
Drink in the scenery as well as the wine
The wine estates of South Africa are excruciatingly beautiful. Kempt gardens, neat rows of vines and lovely restaurants with al fresco seating serving tasty grub. Blue skies, mesmerising mountains, vivid flowers, rasping crickets, the sweet tinkling of glass and cool wine cellars. Just sit back and enjoy while a friendly sommelier brings glass after glass of delicious wine and your children amuse themselves in the most scenic of playgrounds. Surrounded by vineyards gleaming emerald in the sunshine, and meeting the people whose grapes you are guzzling, adds an extra layer of loveliness to the experience.
Tuck into the food at the vineyard
If your head starts to swim after a cheeky wine tasting at 1130 in the morning (obviously not hardcore enough for breakfast wine – Dad, I thought you had taught me better!), lunch is a welcome way to sober up a bit. The food is often as exquisite as the wine – think smoked salmon slivers pepped up with crispy quinoa fritters, pea, ham and broad bean risotto drowning in a frothy butter sauce, followed by pork calzone and juicy parmentier potatoes. Mmmmmmmm.
Make sure you book a deluxe picnic hamper at Boschendal, jam-packed with homegrown olives, oodles of tapas and a cheese platter alongside their scummy plonk. Eating it in their beautiful grounds paired with their wines is a real highlight of the trip.
Take a private wine tour
It’s not always what you know, but who you know. A friend’s brother-in-law happened to be the resident Winemaker at the exquisite Moreson vineyard. He whisked us behind the scenes of his world, pipetting glugs of wine straight from the barrel into our glasses, sharing his mighty knowledge and the delights of his job. It was educational, inspiring and a little discombobulating (thanks to the generous servings of wine) all at the same time. I can highly recommend getting yourself on a private tour to learn from the expert crafters and appreciate the wine that little bit more.
I call it Flashpacking, because the Backpackers lodges we stayed in on our South Africa trip were way classier than you’d expect – check out the family cabin at Otter’s Bend for example. Quirky, funky, charming, some more like a rustic boutique hotel; they were always great value for money. From a private self-catering hut in the woods, to a little wooden shed in someone’s back garden, community spirit reigned in all. Shared kitchen/diners, fire-pits, nightly drumming and jolly folk, keen to share their new-found favourite tipple with you from whichever vineyard they visited that day, makes for a sweet, sociable tasting experience. It’s also a great way to pick up fellow travellers tips on the best wine tasting to do in the area.
Take the wine tram
This is a genius idea! The Frankschhoek wine tram offers open-air hop-on hop-off wine tours on a loop around the vineyards so you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving. There are six different lines to choose from, each visiting eight wine estates. Children are welcome too and as ever, the top deck is always a highlight for kiddos. Take a wine tour, mooch around the estates, go wine tasting, have lunch or just admire the spectacular views as you’re transported around this beautiful region.
Make it a family day out
So how to combine this adult-favoured pastime with children in tow? Wine tasting sometimes comes with a tag of pretentiousness, but in the winelands along South Africa’s picturesque Garden Route, I came across no such affectations. Tasting glasses were filled generously, nibbles were plentiful and families flocked to the wine estates, picnicking in their droves on a Sunday. There are plenty of child-friendly wine estates with play areas, sand pits and acres of space for the kids to run around in while you enjoy a bit of plonk.
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