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Exploring the Tempting South Africa Wine Region

Traditional colonial Dutch architecture at the Morgenhof Estate winery on the Stellenbosch Wine Route.

South African wines leave some people salivating and some scratching their heads. For some Old World and New World wine producers, South Africa is an ‘also ran’ – sometimes ranking in the top 10 wine producing regions in the world. And for years, South African wine was essentially limited to the domestic market due to international boycotts. Those days are long gone. Now, oenophiles far and wide are recognizing the superiority of wines from the Rainbow Nation – exciting things are happening in the South Africa wine region!

The first South African wine region was Constantia – a massive vineyard located on the cool mountain slopes outside of Cape Town. Founded in 1679 by Commander Simon van der Stel of the Dutch East India Company as part of the resupply efforts for ships rounding the Cape Peninsula and Cape of Good Hope, South African wines quickly developed a worldwide reputation for excellence. Royalty in Europe were fond of the sweet dessert wines from Constantia, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen wrote of its marvelous character, and Napoleon even had it sent to him in exile.

“Clearly, the pleasures wines afford are transitory – but so are those of the ballet, or of a musical performance. Wine is inspiring and adds greatly to the joy of living.” – Napoleon

Wine glasses lined up at Creation Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (one of the South Africa wine regions)

Today, there are over 60 specific South Africa wine regions (or appellations), based loosely on the French AOC system. From humid, warm weather microclimates resembling Tuscany to cool, wet regions that look like the Pacific Northwest, South Africa has something for everyone! We traveled to South Africa to explore and indulge in the latest vintages.

The rows of vines at Groot Constantia in the Western Cape Wine Region, South Africa

The vineyard at Groot Constantia

Constantia – Liquid Gold

The Constantia ward of the Western Cape Coastal Region District is South Africa’s oldest wine region. Founded by Dutch viticulturist van der Stel, the Constantia Wine Route has been long noted for its production of Constantia Wyn – a naturally sweet dessert wine grown from Muscat Blanc grapes. Constantia Wyn goes by several proprietary names at the various vineyards, however, the nine wineries in the ward produce many other exceptional wine varietals. Constantia has a totally unique terroir (thanks to the mountains) and a rich history. It is quite easy to see why a visit to the Constantia Wine Route is one of the top things to do while visiting Cape Town.

The sign for Groot Constantia, the oldest winery in the South Africa wine region.

Groot Constantia
Founded on the original 1685 vineyard, Groot Constantia is South Africa’s oldest winery. In addition to producing Constantia Wyn (called Grand Constance), over 70% of the vintages produced are red wines. In addition to traditional wine tastings, Groot Constantia offers a unique chocolate and wine pairing (four small custom-crafted chocolates each designed to pair with one of wines – the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage, Shiraz and Gouverneurs Reserve), which we thoroughly enjoyed.

At Groot Constantia, a highlight is the Sauvignon Blanc 2013 paired with tropical guava white chocolate. The Sauvignon Blanc is sharply acidic and had a remarkably long finish with overt kiwi notes, which is brought out by the chocolate. Not part of the pairing, but the Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 may well be my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon in a long time – lightly kissed with oak, delicate tannins and very fruit forward (lots of blackberries), but with a subtler blueberry bouquet. There is a lot going on in this wine. Of course, no visit would be complete without drinking the wine that made Constantia famous – the Grand Constance 2011 – a calmly sweet vintage with a pineapple bouquet and a light raisin finish. After drinking it for the first time, we can certainly see what the all the fuss is about!

Barrels in the aging cellar at Klein Constantia on the Constantia Wine Route.

Klein Constantia
Founded in 1817 when the original Constantia vineyard was divided into Groot (big) Constantia and Klein (little) Constantia, it traces its legacy back to the same 1685 plot. Klein Constantia quite simply produces elegantly balanced wines and excels in white varietals. We enjoyed the Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – a floral, pineapple vintage with a brittle acidity and minerality. The Chardonnay 2012 is a moderately creamy and had just a hint of a buttery finish – more like a new world Chardonnay. However, Klein Constantia’s version of Constantia Wyn, called Vin de Constance 2008 is a near religious experience – a perfect marriage of raisin and vanilla notes.

The vineyard at Steenberg winery on the Constantia Wine Route, part of the South Africa Wine Region.

The vineyard at Steenberg

Steenberg
The Steenberg (translated Mountain of Stone) farm is the oldest in the Cape Town region and the vineyard can trace its roots back to 1695. The ultra-modern and thoroughly comfortable tasting room was added in 2009. Steenberg focuses on environmentally-friendly production techniques and grows a majority of white varietals. This was also the only winery we encountered producing the Nebbiolo varietal. We picked Steenberg’s Bistro 1682, as a spot for a light, late lunch.

The Sparkling Chardonnay (Mèthode Cap Classique) at Steenberg Vineyards in Constantia

Sparkling Chardonnay (Mèthode Cap Classique)

We loved a number of the wines at Steenberg, starting with the Steenberg 1682 Chardonnay Mèthode Cap Classique – a delightfully full sparkling wine with subtle notes of green apples. The Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is a moody, unwooded vintage giving off a funky, earthy bouquet. If you can get past the asparagus fragrance, there is a huge minerality and complicated, herbaceous finish. This is a very complex wine. The Steenberg Shiraz 2012 is a passionate wine that blends anise, coriander, and cinnamon notes. We finished on the Nebbiolo 2012 with its sweet nose of strawberry and apricots and a lingering jasmine finish.

The Dutch colonial architecture at the Morgenhof Estate on the Stellenbosch Wine Routes.

Dutch colonial architecture at Morgenhof Estate

Stellenbosch – Boldness at Every Turn

The Stellenbosch district in the Western Cape is nearly as old as Constantia, tracing its roots back to 1679, with grapes being planted in 1690. This makes Stellenbosch the second oldest South African wine region, but it is first in production volume. In 1971, the Stellenbosch Wine Route was established as a popular tourist destination, linking 152 vineyards on five routes. The terroir of the granite and sandstone hills with is porous clay soil and the very dry, hot summers produce an almost perfect Mediterranean-like climate. The Stellenbosch Wine Route is known for vineyards specializing in bold red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Bordeaux style blends. However, the region also produces a number of other subtler wines like Shiraz and the Pinotage. In fact, Pinotage was created in Stellenbosch nearly 100 years ago through a genetic cross of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir grapes. We loved the bold vintages from the Stellenbosch wine region!

Beyerskloof winery on the Stellenbosch Wine Route in the South Africa Wine Region

Beyerskloof
The self-proclaimed “Home of Pinotage,” Beyerskloof may well have legitimate claim to that title – we saw the Beyerskloof Pinotage on nearly every restaurant menu in South Africa. We visited on a weekend and found the winery packed with Capetonians out for a day of wine tasting. This was also the only winery that made us sign a liability waiver to enter the tasting room (we’re still not entirely sure what that was all about). Since Beyerskloof is the “home of Pinotage” that’s what we tried and found the Beyerskloof Pinotage Reserve 2013 much to our liking. This full bodied Pinotage with a blackberry bouquet is delicately oaked, easy to drink with a long, thin finish.

The vineyard at Beyerskloof on the Stellenbosch Wine Route in South Africa

The vineyard at Beyerskloof

Audacia
The boutique winery of Audacia produces only red wine varietals. We particularly enjoyed the Audacia Merlot – a lush, medium bodied red with supple tannins and rich berry notes. But, one of the highlights of the Audacia winery is the weekend Root44 Market – a weekend craft and farmers market on the winery’s ground. Root44 has a large tent with about a dozen food stalls serving local and international delights – including the Boerewors (the local South African sausage) which paired very well with the Merlot. We used this as our lunch spot during our Stellenbosch wine route tour.

The tasting room at the Morgenhof Estate winery on the Stellenbosch Wine Route, South Africa.

Morgenhof Winery tasting room

Morgenhof Estate
One of the oldest wineries in the South Africa wine region, the Morgenhof Wine Estate traces its roots back to 1692. Morgenhof’s location on the Simonsberg Mountains actually puts it just outside the Stellenbosch district and in the Simonsberg appellation. The Morgenhof Estate features charming Dutch colonial architecture and a vast underground cellar room.

Morgenhof focuses on estate origin wines, including a delightful Chardonnay 2013 – an oak aged, crisp wine with a strawberry bouquet and pineapple notes. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is delicious with light tannins and a slight blackberry fragrance. The estate is also well known for its Morgenhof Estate 2005 – a big, dry Bordeaux blend with heavy tannins and pungent earthy notes. The Morgenhof Estate vintage is a big, bold wine that will age well, but is still really young now.

Babylon Toren Peak towers over the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (Heaven on Earth) and Creation Wines.

Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven on Earth)

Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – Heaven on Earth

The Hemel-en-Aarde (literally translated Heaven on Earth) ward is patronized by those in the know, who come to buy arguably the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir the Western Cape has to offer as well as subtle cool climate Syrahs. The Hemel-en-Aarde is also patronized by people like us, vacationers who chance upon the cellars outside of Hermanus and feel like they’ve discovered a viticultural grail trail. If the wine weren’t enough reason to visit the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley appellation along the R320, it is also the most beautiful wine region we’ve visited anywhere in the world.

The tasting room at Sumaridge Estate Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, part of the Walker Bay Wine Region

Sumaridge Tasting Room

Sumaridge
As the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley crests a ridge and flattens out, a stone castle is perched above a small pond with commanding views of the entire valley. The vines stretch out like a carpet beneath the towering mountain peaks. The terrace offers stunning views of the valley below. We arrived just before closing and had the run of the place.

Aging barrels at Sumaridge Estate Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa.

Focusing on mostly single varietal wines, Sumaridge takes high marks for its 2010 Pinot Noir – aged 10 months, cellared for an additional year, and possessing delicious ripe cherry and cedar notes which balance both fruity and earthy qualities. I know the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is known for its Chardonnay, but I was also very impressed with the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc – lightly acidic with a crisp minerality, imparted with strong fig and tropical fruit notes.

The tasting room at Creation Wines on the Hermanus Wine Route in South Africa

The tasting room at Creation Wines

Creation Wines
Founded by Carolyn and JC Martin in 2002 on a virgin sheep farm in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Creation Wines focuses on distinctively elegant vintages. Beneath the towering Babylon Toren peak, Creation Wines could not be more idyllic. The Creation Wines tasting room was the most unique space in any of the South African wineries we visited. Creation focuses on the entire experience – melding the wine tasting experience with gourmet dining and stunning views of the mountains from its floor-to-ceiling windows. Creation Wines is quite simply one of the premier wineries in the South Africa wine region.

The food and wine pairing at Creation Wines in the South Africa wine region.

Wine pairing at Creation Wines

All of the wines at Creation were exceptional. We particularly enjoyed the Creation Viognier 2014, a heady aromatic white rippling with strong minerality and accents of fresh peaches. The Creation Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 – a meaty vintage with spiced clove and dried cherry notes. But the grand finale was the sold-out Creation Syrah Grenache 2012 – an absolutely captivating vintage brushed with a light smokiness and strong black pepper finish.

Exploring South Africa’s wine regions was only a part of our larger trip to the Rainbow Nation. Based on our explorations, we will absolutely be back to sample more great wine!






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What do you think about Exploring the Tempting South Africa Wine Region?

  1. Jenna September 18, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    I always love visiting wineries–we are actually heading out to one this weekend! Wine isn’t the first thing I think of when I hear South Africa, but maybe it should be! The wines all sound fantastic, and the vineyards look gorgeous. I will definitely have to explore some wineries when we make it to South Africa! Great photos!

  2. Sophie @ Sophie's World September 20, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    Nice round-up and lots of interesting info. I’ve yet to visit Stellenbosch and the other wine regions in South Africa. Saving it for next time. 🙂

  3. Johanna September 22, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    Thanks for the memories! Just love the Cape and its wines. You’ve done a great wrap on some of the best wines and wineries – look forward to a follow up perhaps on more?

    • Laura Longwell September 22, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

      I wish! Hopefully we’ll get back there someday.

  4. Scott @ VacationCounts September 24, 2014 at 7:13 am #

    Another wonderful aspect of going wine tasting in South Africa is the food. We had spectacular outdoor meals overlooking the vineyards last year. Plus prices are very low due to the favorable exchange rate for visitors from the US, Canada, and Europe.

    For travelers that prefer not to drive (and drink wine), the wine shuttle bus in Stellenbosch is an easy recommendation. Here is a blog post with photos detailing that vacation day:
    http://www.sidewalksafari.com/2013/10/stellenbosch-wine-tour.html

  5. Renuka September 24, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    Wine regions anywhere are my favorite. South Africa is so enchanting and unique. I think touring its vineyards and wine-tasting experiences would be just too good.
    Renuka recently posted…That’s How I Discovered DarjeelingMy Profile

  6. Michelle Dunner October 7, 2014 at 1:32 am #

    This looks so good, I wish I could just jump a plane.

  7. Diana Edelman October 14, 2014 at 10:49 pm #

    I want ALL THE WINE. I need to book a trip to S Africa for this stat.

  8. Erica October 15, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

    South Africa 2016! I will do it!

    • Laura Longwell October 19, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

      It really could not be more amazing. Our favorite aspect was that you can make it whatever kind of trip you want — safari, wine tasting, shark diving, sightseeing, relaxing, anything.

  9. Raymond @ Man On The Lam October 15, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

    I’ve been to Creation Wines and loved the ambience there.

    • Lance Longwell October 16, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

      Thanks Raymond. We visit a lot of wineries (one of the benefits of our line of work) and Creation has to be one of our favorites!

  10. Mindy and Ligeia October 16, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    Wow, what a gorgeous location! We’ve got to get to South Africa. 🙂

  11. Giselle and Cody October 16, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    Mmmmm, nothing like wine and (vegan) cheese in our case

  12. Leah October 23, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    Never would have guessed South Africa’s climate was so varied! As a self-proclaimed oenophile, I will definitely have to explore it myself at some point. Great info!
    Leah recently posted…Friday Snapshots: The Streets of Casco ViejoMy Profile

    • Laura Longwell October 26, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

      The best thing is that you can visit so many areas with very little driving. (And, of course, the wine is great, too)

  13. Valen-Eating The Globe November 4, 2014 at 3:01 am #

    Wow! This looks like a region I would definitely enjoy visiting. Very nice….

  14. Esther December 17, 2014 at 5:47 am #

    I was so happy to visit Groot Constantia earlier this year, when I visited Cape Town. It’s just so weird being a Dutchie half a world from home and seeing Dutch footstepts from so long ago. Magical.

    • Lance Longwell December 17, 2014 at 9:15 pm #

      I think someone can understand the Dutch influence on South Africa on a logical level, but seeing it (particularly the architecture) is a whole different level of appreciation. Some of the rooflines are taken right out of Amsterdam.

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    […] onto something almost everybody loves… a drop of vino. I found “Exploring the tempting South Africa wine region” on Travel Addicts . It certainly looks like a tempting tipple to me – and I am sure  a lot of […]

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