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Unforgettable Cape wine experiences

Our pick of exclusive events and experiences in South Africa’s wine country goes well beyond the bottle to open your mind and your palate, while creating a raft of indelible memories.

Cycling for Chenin

Credit: Gavin Harvett

Fancy getting to know South Africa’s most prolific white a little better, while keeping active? You’ll find the world’s largest number of Chenin Blanc vines in South Africa, rooted in almost 19,000ha of Cape soil. But while some winemakers (notably Ken Forrester) have ushered in a new respect for South Africa’s ‘work horse’ cultivar, it’s still a work in progress due to the unpredictability of its flavour profile. According to research, Chenin’s very versatility confuses otherwise loyal local wine lovers in South Africa.

In an attempt to address this, the local Chenin Blanc Association has created the Chenin Safari, an annual six-week mountain-biking event that encourages riders to tour Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl, Bot River and Robertson (sadly not Swartland or Elim) to coincide with #DrinkChenin Day, celebrated globally on the third weekend of June. (The date has been in place since 2014, when a group of American sommeliers and winemakers first raised a communal toast to the variety.)

The challenge is to see how many Chenin Safari stops you can visit over six weeks. Bearing in mind the #drinkchenin website advice – ‘We realise you cannot taste all the Chenins at all the stops and still ride’ – you need to stop at a minimum of six of the 17 participating wine farms in the time period to win yourself a free cycling shirt. The idea is to create a social media storm of posts and tags as you go. But unless you’re hoping to win a prize, it’s okay to just focus on the ride: a series of gorgeous loops on slopes braided with vineyards and fynbos (South Africa’s unique heathland), before stopping at a winery for a tasting to see how each Chenin expresses that specific terroir.

Tip If the idea of touring vineyards on two wheels appeals to you, then Franschhoek Cycles, conveniently located on the Franschhoek high street, provides e-bikes, maps and advice for those who like to lead, and guides for those who like to follow.
Cost For the Chenin Safari, registration fees and day permits may apply – check out the T&Cs on drinkchenin.co.za for details. Individual winery tastings charges will vary.

Challenging your perceptions

Apparently it was a Roman called Apicius in the 1st century AD who first coined the phrase ‘we eat with our eyes’. Clever chap. Millennia later, neuroscientists recognise that the brain processes visual cues faster than it does taste and smell – so inevitably looks do affect taste. Wine lovers are not immune: in 2001, PhD psychologist and winegrower Frédéric Brochet conducted an experiment at the University of Bordeaux where 54 oenology students were presented with a white wine stained red with an odourless dye and asked to describe the flavour. All 54 used typical red wine adjectives. But what about sound? Can music or white noise influence taste?

Nederburg’s Five Senses Food & Wine Experience explores how the various senses are linked by depriving you of two of them. After a welcome glass of Nederburg Cap Classique, you are seated at a table in the 19th-century Cape Dutch manor house, then blindfolded. A pair of wireless headphones is placed over your ears, filling your brain with selected sounds. The first of three mini-canapé courses, each one matched with a Nederburg wine, is then brought to the table. For each match, guided by hand, your server will help you to find your wine glass and fork, to smell, then taste. The table is cleared, and the blindfold and headphones are removed. The exact same combination of bite-sized dish and paired wine is then brought to the table for you to experience with all senses on board. Does depriving certain senses enhance or detract from taste perception? If so, how much? Book and find out!

Tip Come with an open mind
Address Sonstraal Road, Dal Josafat, Paarl 7646
Tel +27 (0)21 862 3104. Available twice a day (at 11.00 and 15.00) every day apart from Tuesdays. Booking essential
Cost R550pp (£27), minimum four people

Enjoying rare vintages

A memorable wine pairing is always a pleasure, but at Salsify there is added poignancy. Located in one of Cape Town’s oldest surviving buildings – an 18th-century guardhouse tucked into Camps Bay’s wooded glen – the restaurant’s tree- fringed ocean views are lure enough, but the real focus is what’s on the table: a superlative tasting menu, each edible artwork served with some of the Cape’s rarest wines. Aptly named the Gem Series pairing, these are either seriously limited editions or the last bottles of a given vintage truffle-hunted from top winemakers’ cellars.

It’s strangely affecting, knowing that your tasting is helping a particular vintage draw closer to its inevitable end – and it’s also a bold initiative. The pairings are constantly being updated due to the limited availability of the wines, requiring a resourceful and nimble sommelier – Victor Okolo has recently taken over from Samuel Ross. Offered in tandem is the Boutique pairing. If a certain wine on that list tickles your fancy then it is possible to ask to sample this alongside the Gem pairing, and compare notes on how they augment or contrast the flavours on the plate. Interactive and fun, the whole experience raises edifying discussions around South Africa’s varied terroir, reminiscing on the past while sipping on what was bottled in that year.

Tip When making an online booking (advised), ask to be seated in the Sea Room for an ocean view.
Address The Roundhouse, Roundhouse Road, Camps Bay, Cape Town 8005
Tel +27 (0)21 010 6444
Cost R3,050 (£147) per person for the Chef’s Menu with Gem Series pairing; R1,850pp (£89) for the Reduced Menu with Gem Series pairing

Zooming around in a vintage car

One of the most picturesque farms in postcard- pretty Franschhoek valley is the 50ha L’Ormarins, established at the foot of the Groot Drakenstein mountains in 1694, and under the custodianship of the Rupert family for the past five decades. Anton Rupert was a dedicated vintage car enthusiast, as is his son Johann, who built the Franschhoek Motor Museum on the estate in 2007 to house the largest collection of rare cars in Africa. He has more than 220, ranging in age from a 1898 Beeston motor tricycle to a 2016 Chevrolet Brute, as well as rarities, such as the 1956 Aston Martin DB2/4 MkII Touring Spyder with chassis number AM300/1162, one of three original Aston Martins sent to Carrozzeria Touring of Milan in 1955 to be fitted with what would become the Spyder’s distinctive Superleggera bodywork.

A revolving selection of 80 cars, on display in purpose-built exhibition halls, are kept in mint condition and are regularly driven. But few visitors know that you can, by prior arrangement, hop into whichever vehicles are running that day. If you’re in luck it will be one of the open-topped beauties, such as a 1915 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost or 1925 Bugatti Type 23. After tootling along, feeling like Toad in The Wind in the Willows, your driver will deposit you at the 19th-century manor house. You will be led through to the Anthonij Rupert tasting room, where rays of sunlight shine through large sash windows onto the glassware on the antique yellow wood table. There are several wine tasting menu choices here, so set aside a couple of hours. Then call it a day. A night, even.

Tip The selection of tasting options here can be discombobulating, but don’t miss L’Ormarins’ cool-climates and flagship reds. Or its Eau de Vie spirit range, distilled using an Armagnac still.
Address R45 road, nr Wemmershoek, Franschhoek 7690
To book Visits must be booked in advance. Book via the website, or contact Cartology to arrange this (and more) as part of your Franschhoek tour: cartologytravel.com; (UK mobile) 07716 095680
Cost Museum tour and classic car drive, R80pp (£4) each; wine flights from R60 (£3)

Becoming a winemaker for the day

For the ultimate wine lover’s activity…
i) Pull on an old pair of shorts or skirt and head out to Stellenrust Wine Estate, a few kilometres south of Stellenbosch town.
ii) Stroll through vineyards to fill a crate with whatever grape variety is ready to harvest. According to co-owner and viticulturist Kobus van der Westhuizen, the Pinotage is usually ripe in January, with Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon grapes typically ripening towards March. If you are lucky, the Shiraz might be available throughout the three-month harvest season, in different blocks.
iii) Return to the Stellenrust gardens, where your grapes are upended into a halved wine barrel.
iv) After rinsing your feet, step into your barrel and commence stomping, working the grapes until they are completely squashed and juicy.
v) Rinse and proceed directly to the cellar for a blending challenge.
vi) After receiving your tasting glasses and a test tube, you’ll taste one of the Stellenrust blends blind.
vii) The challenge is to then match that blend, using the three varieties provided, guided by Stellenrust’s sommelier. They will also decide the winner, should you be of a competitive bent.

While you can take home a bottle from your blending challenge, a little more patience is required for your harvest activity. Your small-batch wine will be naturally fermented with stalks and skins for six months before spending 12 months in oak, safe in the hands of Stellenrust cellarmaster and co-owner Tertius Boshoff, before being bottled.

Tip To the north of Stellenbosch town, Muratie Wine Estate also offers wine stomping alongside wine tasting during its Harvest Festival, held every March (entrance R150/£7pp). Or practise your blending skills at Middelvlei Wine Estate, designed as an activity for two, with a blending kit to make one personalised bottle to take home, with additional bottles available as an optional extra (R300/£14pp).
Address Stellenrust Wine Estate, Stellenrust Road, Stellenbosch 7605
Tel +27 (0)21 880 2283
Cost Stellenrust ‘Make your own wine’ experience (must be booked in advance), available mid-January to end March, weekdays 10:00-15:00, R4,000 (£195) for one to 10 people (excludes courier cost for the wine). Blending Challenge, available all year, R1,800 (£88) for one to six people

Pairing up with a celebrity chef

Credit: Nickey Bothma Photography

Having done time in Michelin star restaurants, learning from the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Bryn Williams, chef Matt Manning decamped to Cape Town to open his first restaurant, Grub & Vine, in 2018. He then launched The Chef’s Studio, an industrial-chic demo kitchen in the loft above the restaurant, before expanding into adjacent spaces to open Culture Wine Bar. Culture is arguably the best-stocked wine bar in the city, offering not only a fine South African selection but an excellent choice of international wines too.

Manning prepares themed wine-paired demonstration dinners in The Chef’s Studio that change seasonally, but he also designs exclusive, highly bespoke wine-paired dinners, designed around your interests, be it traditional South African cuisine or a specific grape variety, carefully planned with one of his sommeliers.

Dinner comprises canapés, a bread course, starter, main and dessert. Manning will demonstrate how to make two courses – usually the starter and the main – that you then replicate at your own cooking station. Each course is enjoyed at the communal dining table, with Manning explaining the reasoning behind the particular choice of wine, usually from small-batch producers.

Tip The upstairs Wine Library hosts a regular Culture Club evening, intimate events with only 28 seats, focusing on a specific grape variety and region, and an opportunity to taste up to 16 wines that showcase it best.

Address 103 Bree Street, Cape Town 8001
Tel + 27 (0)87 1535 244
Cost Wine-paired demonstration dinners, from R945 (£42); bespoke dinners, from R1,250pp (£61). Culture Club, from R395 (£19)

Saddling up for a gourmet trail

There’s nothing quite like enjoying the fresh scent of the earth on horseback, serenaded by birds and surrounded by magnificent scenery. Located in the Drakenstein Valley, Cape Winelands Riding is a top outfit, with more than 40 horses, quality tack to give both rider and horse a comfortable ride, and a careful interview process to ensure that each rider is matched with the right horse, not only in terms of ability but also weight and personality.

As much as possible, riders are grouped according to ability (always working at the pace of the least experienced) and accompanied by guides that are knowledgeable about the environment, from identifying grape varieties and birds to providing a potted history of the area. The wine-tasting ride comprises a 3.5-hour jaunt to neighbouring Babylonstoren, famous for its gardens and fabulous new wine museum, to enjoy a small but excellent range of wines accompanied by platters of delectable fresh farm produce.

For serious foodie and oenophile riders, the five-day Cape Gourmet Wine Trail, led by owner Louis Geyer, is the one to book: a meandering ride through some of the Cape’s best wine estates (such as Plaisir de Merle, Niel Joubert, Marianne, Anura), with private tastings and/or meals with the winemakers. The next Cape Gourmet Wine Trail is scheduled for 17-22 April 2023.

Tip To set your own pace, book an exclusive wine- tasting ride – it costs only R100pp more than the price shown below. It is also possible to book the Gourmet Wine Trail as a private experience any time for a minimum of four people (costs vary).
Address Off R45 road, nr Klapmuts, Paarl 7670
Tel +27 (0)21 863 3852 / Mobile (0)82 924 6728
Cost Wine tasting ride, R1,050pp (£52). Cape Gourmet Wine Trail, R49, 950pp (£2,450)

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