How can you compete with this? The view from my apartment in Sea Point, a suburb of Cape Town, along the Atlantic Coast. The pool you see is the largest salt water pool in the southern hemisphere. The only problem is that it is not heated and I usually do not get in water unless it is at least 27 C / 80 F, but it is pretty to look at even if the temperature rarely gets above 20 C / 68 F on a hot day. Our week in Cape Town whizzed by at breakneck speed and I did not even have time to go shopping to some of my favourite shops. But, there is always next time, as they say. One entire day was spent at a conference to which I was invited as a guest speaker. It was hosted by Showcook and took place at the Cullinan Hotel on the Foreshore, a beautiful 5 star, grand colonial style hotel with contemporary amenities. The event was attended by chefs and sommeliers from around the Cape and was a great day of networking. I was asked to speak about what inspired me to cook in France and my decision to move there as well as where I saw French cooking moving to in the future. I met the owner of two local producers, one of olive oil, Rio Largo, and one of sea salt, called Khoisan Salt. The quality of both was superb and can compete with anything the rest of the world has to offer.
We arrived in Cape Town on Monday afternoon and my daughter surprised us by coming to the airport to meet us – what an unexpected treat. That evening we went out to dinner to NV-80. Offering guests intimate indoor dining, an alfresco balcony for sundowners and a chic centre bar, this oasis of a restaurant feels far removed from its shopping centre location in the Checkers center on Regent road, Sea Point. One of my favourite foods is calamari and so there was no question as to what I was going to order. Stuart and Nicole both chose steaks and none of us were disappointed to say the least. I will do a post on all the Cape Town restaurants we went to next week and provide you with photographs and reviews. The quality of food in Cape Town is very high indeed and we were always incredibly impressed by the food and prices (luckily we pay with Euros), service was not always the most efficient but it always came with a big smile.
One of my favourite things to do when in the Cape is go wine tasting. South African wines have come a long way from 40 years ago and now compete and win many awards at prestigious, international wine shows. It was the arrival of the French Huguenots, escaping religious persecution in France, in 1688 that began the wine industry. During the 1700s and 1800s, the only great wines produced in the southern hemisphere were the sweet wines produced at Governor Simon van der Stel’s farm, Groot Constantia. In fact, at the time, these dessert wines were among the most prized in the world. Legend has it that Napoleon, exiled on St Helena, asked for a glass of Groot Constantia wine on the eve of his death. There are now so many new wineries to try and visit but I wanted to revisit some of my favourites and share them with Stuart who did not know them. The difficult part was deciding which ones to go to. I do not like to rush my wine tasting and would rather settle on 3 estates and savour the wines than choose to go to 5 estates and simply down the wines before moving on to the next one. We had allotted two days to wine tasting and the Sunday was a special champagne tasting event – you all must know my weakness for the bubbly stuff by now.
I had decided to concentrate on the Paarl and Stellenbosch areas this time, about a 45 minute drive from Cape Town.
Kanonkop was the first on my list but we got sidetracked while driving there and decided to make an unscheduled stop at Simonsig.
Started by French Huguenot Jacques Malan in 1688, the Malan family’s wine knowledge accumulated over many generations, has equipped them to excel as one of the leading private producers of estate wines in South Africa. Malan’s groundbreaking innovations include South Africa’s first Méthode Cap Classique, Kaapse Vonkel, more than 40 years ago. This bottle fermented sparkling wine first produced on Simonsig Estate in 1971, is made in the style of French champagne. Today, his legacy lives on in his sons, Pieter, Francois and Johan, and grandson Francois-Jacques, the 3rd and 4th Malan generation at Simonsig Estate.
That was definitely worth the stop. Onward to Kanonkop next.
Kanonkop Estate is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape. It is between Stellenbosch and Paarl on the R44 and falls in a ward called Simonsberg, more commonly known as the “red wine bowl” of South Africa. It has earned a reputation both at home and abroad as the area producing the best wines in the country. They do exclusively red wines and one rosé. Kanonkop has won more awards than most other wineries and their wines are excellent.Kanonkop is renowned for its red wines, with Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon as the focus grape varieties. Pinotage accounts for 50% of all plantings, Cabernet Sauvignon 35%, Merlot 7.5% and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.They have two ranges the Kadette range, easy drinking reds to drink now or keep about 5 years and the Kanonkop range, slightly more expensive wines that can be laid down up to 25 years or so. We tasted their Rosé, which very interestingly is 100% Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cape Blend (pinotage 54%, cabernet sauvignon 29%, merlot 10%, cabernet franc 7%), Pinotage and Paul Sauer (cabernet sauvignon 70%, cabernet franc 18%, merlot 12%). Unfortunately the flagship wine the Black Label Pinotage is not available for tasting. That is one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, Pinotage in the world, and undoubtedly the best. Only 3500 bottles are produced each year and it retails for R1450. As an example the Cape Blend is R85 and the Kanonkop Cab is R330.
Now, some of you might be wondering what on earth Pinotage is or a Cape Blend, so let me explain very briefly. Firstly a Cape Blend is a unique South African blend that can be described as any red wine blended with significant portion of Pinotage. (The statutory minimum portion of a variety to be mentioned on the label is 20% according to the regulations set by the South African Wine & Spirits Board, usually between 30% and 70%). But what is Pinotage? -It is our national grape and its innate wildness symbolizes the ruggedness of Africa. Pinotage is a uniquely South African grape variety and was bred by the late Prof A I Perold in 1925 as a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsault, then locally known as Hermitage. Oh and by the way, it is one of my favourite varietals. Unfortunately now living in France, it is not easy to come by so I will have to ration my limited supply and go back often to Cape Town to sample and stock up. If anyone wants to come visit me here in Dordogne, you are very welcome as long as you bring a bottle of Pinotage:)
But I digress. Back to my wine-tasting adventure. Next was Fairview.
Fairview is one of my favourites and a must each time I come to South Africa.
The official demarcation of Fairview as a formal farm occurred in 1693. Just six years later, in 1699, the first wine was made on the farm. They are as well known for their wines, mainly reds, as they are for their superb cheeses. They have 4 main wine ranges:
The Limited Release – These terroir-driven wines are only produced from the best vintages.These wines include single-vineyard bottlings and cellar selections of the finest wines from the vintage.
Fairview Range – Fairview produces a wide range of varietals under its Fairview label and consistently over-delivers on quality. Since the first bottling under the Fairview label in 1974, red wines have formed the core of the wine range, offering excellent value and well balanced drinkability. Innovation remains a focus and this range reflects both their traditional strengths and current fascinations.
La Capra – The fun, single varietal and fruit-forward range. La Capra is the newest addition to the Fairview brand. The La Capra range of wines provides the entry point into the Fairview range of wines are known for their ease of drinking and fruit-forward style.
Goats do roam – The winemaking focus here is on blended styles, incorporating grapes from vineyards in a number of winemaking regions.
They make both goat and cow-milk cheeses.The Fairview Vineyard Cheesery produces a range of over 20 cow’s milk and goat’s milk artisanal cheeses. So obviously I had to do their famous cheese and wine pairing. I had been looking forward to this for weeks as it truly is a great taste and sensory experience.
It was however getting late and we had not eaten anything since breakfast which had consisted of a guava yogurt (why is this only available in South Africa?) and fresh fruit, so we headed to the restaurant on the estate, The Goatshed Restaurant.
Lunch was the special of the day: Springbok medallions on a bed of roasted vegetables, succulent, tender, melt in the mouth. Perfection. With filled tummies, we proceeded to head over to the tasting area. The tasting room comprises a number of tasting pods. This unique pod concept was implemented in 2009 and is aimed at creating a more welcoming and less rigid environment. The pods offer a tasting selection of 6 different wines with dedicated hosts to guide and assist guests. There is a wide range of wines available to choose from, including a selection from the single vineyard range.The tasting also includes a selection of 6 to 8 of Fairview’s Jersey milk and goat’s milk cheeses. These are tasted at the deli, allowing guests to enjoy their wine and then move across to the cheese section as they seek out interesting pairings and their particular favourites.
We headed to the Beryl Back Master Tasting Room for the cheese, wine and olive oil tasting. The Beryl Back tasting room, by the way, is named in honour of Charles Back’s (the owner) late mother. This room is set apart from the main tasting area and offers seated, tutored tasting at R75 per person – includes 8 wines, selection of cheeses & olive oil. It is managed by highly qualified staff whose passion for wine and experience make this a wonderful experience.
The cheese pairings were a perfect choice and accompaniment to the chosen wines. Our server offered us a few extra tastings of wines not included on the list as well. All in all, a splendid afternoon.
I can strongly recommend all three wine estates we visited today, especially if you enjoy good red wines.
We spent the next two days doing administrative stuff, having my hair cut, by my favourite hair stylist in the entire world, Wayne Gates. I would travel to Cape Town just to have him do my hair if I was wealthy – but alas, it has to be just a special treat now and then. But after two days, we were ready to hit the wine trail once more and in my next posts, I will continue with Warwick, Beyerskloof, restaurants and more including a Champagne tasting at the Vineyard Hotel.