Fun Things to do this summer in Cape Town: #Wine Tastings
Viticulture, the art of winemaking is a fascinating craft and according to historians dates back thousands of years in human existence. But just how did primitive man stumble across fermented grapes, eat them and enjoy the warm feeling of drunkenness? Well pretty much just like that, and over thousands of years spawned itself into what we know and love today wine farms and yes, wine tastings.
Now, forget Stellenbosch, Robertson and any other wine region synonymous with wine production and tastings in the good old Cape of Good Hope. Rather think a little closer to the city centre. Where nearby valleys are cooled by a cold Atlantic breeze and the soil is enriched by crushed granite. All culminating into a fine vine whose offspring; grapes, although a slight bit more acidic offer up far more superior summer drinking nectar namely white wine.
And that’s exactly what the Constantiaberg wine regions offers up best. I have to admit though up until last year, white wine was not my thing. So I changed my tactics and made a concerted effort to get into it. And our first stop the very old yet prestigious Groot Constantia wine farm was the best place to start. Originally the home of the first governor of the Cape Simon van der Stel, it sure boasted an extensive history along with an extensive wine tastings repertoire. But before we could even get to savour the nectar of the gods a cellar tour was booked and soon we were in the very capable hands of our guide James.
James explained as per protocol how the wine actually gets from the soil and into your glass, forever wetting the appetite of all present for a glass of their finest. He was probably just signalling me out though. Probably due to my desperate attempts earlier to grab a sip before the tour even started. And to my horror, the poor barman I was haggling was none other than James himself. But he seemed unfazed as if it happens all the time and left us with a great fact instead. Jan van Riebeeck the first commander of the Cape was also the first to try his hand at viticulture. Apparently his wine was a little crappy and a fellow Dutchman Simon van der Stel took over and established Groot Constantia in honour of a girl, or a ship, I blame it on the wine.
But back to the wine tastings, the Cape has been blessed with a mild Mediterranean climate much like, well the Mediterranean and is thus perfect for drinking wine in the summer and growing of course. Now we’re not condoning driving while drunk but if you’ve become all too familiar with one of the guides then you better have a cab on speed dial. To start we opted for their unique chocolate and wine pairing. The chocolate being made exclusively by a chocolatier whose passion for chocolate was on par with his passion for wine. And, was to say the least sensory overload as we made our way through one white, one red, one dessert wine and to finish a port. And as little as it sounds trust when we say it’s not, for they don’t seem to care how many times you come back for more.
Finally and once done we had to make a hasty retreat due to familiarising ourselves a little too much with the staff, who wanted to rope us into another tastings. So we exited the farm drunkenly albeit sophisticatedly only to fall headfirst into a beautiful vista of exquisite valleys complete with perfectly pruned rose bushes lining the roadway. I must say Groot Constantia’s backyard does not disappoint.
However when you come to think of it, it is only part of a much bigger wine farm, or smaller for that matter called Klein Constantia. It’s located literally next door and is in its own way an even better wine farm. I put this down to their foyer bursting with the history of the farm, the vines they grow on display, critic choice awards and a Jack Russell lazing about. It did seem like it was an ode to the sublime and charming nature of viticulture in the Cape. Privately owned unlike Groot, which is half private and government, the 7 wines they had on offer were the best I’ve ever tasted. And was rounded off quite nicely with their in-house Grappa, smooth like a great Irish whiskey, and I’ve drunk some fantastic Grappa while in Italy the year before. But our time there was short and although sweeter (they specialise in award-winning dessert wines) it too was a steal for the cash paid. Roughly half of what we paid at Groot.
But before heading home a stroll through the vineyards, would be just the thing to get our head clear for the drive home. Stumbling over crushed granite soil, letting it slip through the fingers as the sun beamed through the leaves, watching the grapes swell ready for fermentation, I could really appreciate what our primitive and colonial forefathers had strived to do. Make great wine, to feel great and to go with a great place.
- Unknown to most, the Constantia wine lands is the oldest and first region of the Cape to have been cultivated for viticulture.
- Both wine farms offer an excellent repertoire of wines and are amazingly priced. Expect to pay no less than R 30 and no more than R 90 a tasting session.
- Other than wine tastings, most farms will offer a cellar tour, wine food pairings, a restaurant, grape wine crushing, and place on an open field to enjoy a picnic.
- The Constantiaberg wine region specialises in dessert wines and white wines, even a few red variants outsourced from some of their sister farms in Stellenbosch and Robertson. Their dessert wines are also world-renowned as evident in a bottle of Vin de Constance (a famous Klein Constantia desert wine), which was picked up off the coast of Delaware, USA in 2004 dating back to the 1700s.
Tips for Virgin Wine Tasters/ Drinkers
- If you’re a hardened red wine drinker such as me here’s some advice. Although red wine is great over ice in the summer, Chardonnay is by far a first class switch for the summer. It’s dry, yet fruity, mild but bold and could be considered literally the “red wine” of white, and will have you finishing off at least a bottle or two.
- Look, if you feel compelled to do the wine swirl, sniff, taste and spit, be our guest. And do so with pride, everyone does it from time to time and it’s a great way to enhance your experience and not get drunk. Or you could just drink it and let the feeling do the tasting for you.
- If visiting only one wine farm, go later in the day. Firstly it’s less crowded and secondly it’s a lot more fun. By then the staff have loosened up a bit and would rather have you finish the last of their tasting wine than throw it away. For it should never go to waste, agreed?
Going wine tasting in the Constantiaberg ranks highly on the Nomadic Existence: Fun Things to do this summer in Cape Town.
Special thanks go out to the staff at both Groot and Klein Constantia wine farms, the friends we made and our friends Richard, Beth and little paddy. Who helped us with making a decision on which wine farms to visit providing us with an experience we normally would not have had.
Our tastings took place on Friday the 21st of November 2014.
By Slippery Joe Lyzard © (Writer for Nomadic Existence)
Photography: Nomadic Bug ©
Nomadic Existence 2015 ©
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