Local group discovers South African wine


Do you remember about 40 or 50 years ago when your first impressions of Portuguese wine were formed by Mateus Rosé?

Then you moved to Portugal and you found that Portuguese wines were, in fact, not only wonderful but great value for money – and had very little to do with Mateus. Many people have a similar misunderstanding of South African wines. Never having actually been there, their impression is based on the plonk stocked in the local supermarket.

Well, 16 members of the Algarve Wine Society have now been there and have discovered for themselves just how good South African wines can be. For nine days in late September (springtime down under), we explored the Western Cape’s best vineyards and tasted some really wonderful wines in the process.

The AWS group on the steps of Buitenverwachting, a classic Constantia property.
The AWS group on the steps of Buitenverwachting, a classic Constantia property.

Our trip was organised by Michael Savage, who was greatly assisted on the ground by Richard Hilton of Greatest Cape (and, coincidentally, son of two Algarve Wine Society members).

In the Constantia winelands, which are actually located south of Cape Town, we started with Groot Constantia and followed on with Steenberg, Klein Constantia and Constantia Uitsig.

Each of these great producers had marvellous Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays and Chenin Blancs and, occasionally, a blend with a bit of Semillon. These whites were uniformly young, fresh and luscious.

From Constantia we ventured east to Stellenbosch. This is more of a red wine area and we sampled the production of Rust en Vrede, Ernie Els (yes, that Ernie Els), Mulderbosch, Simonsig, Hartenberg, Meerlust and Vergelegen.

Each had something special to offer us. The single varietal Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrah (usually called Shiraz in the Cape) and Merlots were very special indeed but, in addition, most producers made a “Bordeaux” blend of anything from three to five red grapes and these were outstanding.

Michael Savage and Ana and Jean Ferran a at Groot Constantia Estate.
Michael Savage and Ana and Jean Ferran a at Groot Constantia Estate.

Finally, the group moved to Franschhoek where we had the distinct pleasure of tasting the products of Boekenhoutskloof (this name is such a tongue twister that most locals refer to it simply as BHK).

The winemaker Marc Kent introduced us to his 5 star BHK Cabernet Sauvignon, 4½ star Syrah and 4 star Chocolate Block. Sublime tastes and a memorable experience. But this wasn’t the end.

We moved on to the Graham Beck Estate (known for its “Cap Classique” champagne style wines and its 5 star Ad Honorem, a Cab-Shiraz blend), and the L’Ormarins Wine Estate (a Rupert family enterprise that sports a collection of over 300 antique and top end cars), Backsberg Estate Cellars and La Motte. Particularly interesting was a wonderful Syrah-Viognier blend.

Our final wine stop was the last day, at the Newton Johnson Vineyards, located north of Hermanus and benefitting from its proximity to the ocean.

Jean Ferran, Anthony Pattison and Catherine Savage at lunch at Ernie Els Wines.
Jean Ferran, Anthony Pattison and Catherine Savage at lunch at Ernie Els Wines.

Their Pinot Noir deserved its 5 stars but equally interesting was a white blend of Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon called Resonance. Brilliant!

Virtually all great wine is best consumed with outstanding food. Our dinners were grand affairs in some of the Cape’s best restaurants (Catharina’s, Azzure, 95 On Keerom, La Colombe, Makaron, 96 Winery Road, Reubens and, on our last evening, a gala dinner at Pierneef).

Lunches were slightly more modest affairs, usually at a winery which provided an idyllic setting in a friendly but professional atmosphere. All these meals were complemented with wonderful wines.

You could be forgiven for thinking that all this crowd did was eat and drink but, in fact, we did manage to squeeze in a trip up Table Mt, a wander around the impressive Cape Town waterfront, a drive out to Cape Point reserve and lighthouse (beware the Baboons), the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botannical Gardens and Robben Island (an emotional experience).

We even ooh’d and aah’d as we sighted whales spouting just off Hermanus beach.

The final events in the Algarve Wine Society’s very active autumn calendar will be a tasting of Terras de Alter wines with Peter Bright, followed by dinner, at the Grande Real Santa Eulália resort hotel in Albufeira on October 19, a tasting of Chocopalha wines followed by dinner on November 16 and the Society’s traditional Christmas lunch on December 7.

Membership in the Algarve Wine Society is at its upper limit, and there is a waiting list, but if you would like further information please contact the Society’s Secretary, Larry Hampton by email: [email protected].