Forget the South of France. Brimming with rich history, jaw-dropping natural beauty, and some of the best food and wine either side of the equator, Stellenbosch is a local wonderland that’s well worth the trip — every time.
That’s certainly what I rediscovered on a recent weekend away there.
Making up for lost (lockdown) time, we set out to experience as much of Stellenbosch as we possibly could in the short time we had there. Our first stop, Simonsig. It is one of the country’s oldest wine farms, and it’s also the proud birthplace of SA’s first Méthode Cap Classique — in fact, in 2021, it celebrates the 50th anniversary of its Kaapse Vonkel.
Back when it all started in 1971, priced at a hefty R3 a bottle, it was the most expensive wine in SA. Every bottle included a pamphlet with photographs to illustrate the painstaking process involved in creating this exceptional wine, along with a label explicitly stating: “Fermented in THIS bottle.” Half a century later and Simonsig’s bubbly is as effervescent and in-demand as ever — both locally and abroad.
We toasted to our unfolding weekend with one of the estate’s new offerings, Kaapse Vonkel Satin Nectar. A marriage of pinot noir and chardonnay, its delicate fruit flavours and fine mousse proved to be the perfect aperitif for what was to come next ... lunch at Delheim’s family farm.
Founded by the late but legendary Spatz Sperling, his two children, Nora and Victor, have proudly continued the traditions started by their father. What a privilege to lunch with both of them, alongside a special bottle of 1988 merlot and 1991 Spatzendreck. The latter of which is celebrating its own big anniversary this year, having captivated wine lovers for 60 vintages thus far. A natural sweet, barrel-aged wine, this collector's item pays homage to the farm’s history, tenacity and much-loved founder.
As with all good things, our time at Delheim came to an end, and we continued our Stellenbosch sojourn at another world-class dining establishment.
Dinner at Rust en Vrede is always a treat, and our evening there was no exception. Famed for their top-notch food and wine pairing, our sommelier, Gift, was a delight from first sip to final rounds. Housed in the estate’s original cellar, chef Fabio Daniel serves contemporary French cuisine, adding his own unique flair from his Brazilian and Italian heritage.
Our pairing menu was a delight to the senses, with Rust en Vrede’s Estate Red 2012 being the evening’s standout — as balanced, layered and magnificent as the dish it was paired with.
All of this dining and wining is tiring business ... so, it was off to Majeka House to rest up. A Stellenbosch institution, Majeka is a five-star boutique hotel, ideally situated to take advantage of all that Stellenbosch has to offer. But be warned: its beautiful interiors, spa and majestic suites will make it very hard to leave once you’ve arrived.
After an early morning run up the Helderberg mountains, it was time to partake in more of Stellenbosch’s gastronomic delights. This time, at Platter’s Winery of the Year 2021, Kleine Zalze. Accompanied by the cellarmaster himself, Alistair Rimmer, we were treated to a very special wine tasting — featuring its acclaimed Family Reserve Chenin Blancs, and the award-winning Project Z Syrah 2017 too — followed by lunch from their exceptional tapas menu.
No trip to Stellenbosch is complete without venturing into its quaint town, and after a short browse, we were off to dinner at what must be one of the most spectacular settings in the region, Overture at Hidden Valley.
Known for his unique SA take on fine dining, chef Bertus Basson showcases traditional flavours through sophisticated, yet accessible, dishes. Be sure to try the springbok croquettes with aïoli and smoked aubergine, among many other temptations.
With so few international tourists at the moment, there’s never been a better time for locals to take advantage of the gems right on our doorstep. My recommendation, start with Stellenbosch — it’s a no-brainer.
• Wade Bales is the Founder of Wade Bales Wine Co.