An awe-inspiring wine weekend in South Africa
What’s that? Never heard of South African wine? Thought we misspelled South American at first? We’re not surprised — but we are here to introduce you to a winemaking region that might just secure the top spot in your wine obsession list. From breathtaking Cape Town to seriously good Stellenbosch, elegant Elgin and wild Walker Bay, get a taste of a properly underrated part of the wine world.
A goldmine of vino both lesser-known (bonjour, clairette blanche) and more popular (hello again, cabernet sauvignon), South Africa is nevertheless a relatively undiscovered locale amongst the general wine public — which is pretty ironic when you consider that wine’s been coming out of the area since the 1650s.
Famous among those in the know, primarily for its distinctive chenin blanc and its bold-as-brass signature grape pinotage (an engineered cross between cinsault and pinot noir), South Africa is one of the top 10 wine-producing regions in the world, with vineyards concentrated around the capital city of Cape Town and a certification system called ‘Wine of Origin’ that ensures the quality of its wines.
So why should you branch out and give South African wine a shot? For one: it’s delicious. Seriously: these are world-class wines that stand among the planet’s best. But for two? Because they’re not super well-known or sought-after, their value-to-quality ratio is next to pretty much none.
Here’s your weekend wine guide to the glorious vino gem that is South Africa.
Fly into Cape Town, and definitely rent a car. We recommend trying to time your arriving flight in the early afternoon so you have a few hours to explore the area — and so you can have dinner at one of the many restaurants in the city serving up Thorne & Daughters Wines.
Nose-to-tail eatery La Tête offers a food menu that changes daily and a wine list featuring the Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse — a gentle but fulsome white blend of roussanne, chenin blanc, semillon, clairette blanche, and chardonnay.
If that doesn’t float your boat, try one of serial restaurateur Luke Dale-Roberts’s award-winning locations: the Shortmarket Club (innovative, modern dishes), the Pot Luck Club (tapas), or the Test Kitchen (Latin-South African fusion).
Each features Thorne & Daughters vino — which you can also try for yourself, because we’ve got a handful of their wines in stock now – find them in our collection of South African wines. Trust us: you want them all.
Day 1: Stellenbosch, oh my gosh!
Oh, you're up! Rise and shine and head to brekky.
Jarryds Espresso Bar + Eatery has your coffee fix and dishes crafted from locally sourced ingredients, or Origin Coffee Roasting has top-notch coffee and drool-worthy menu items such as a short-rib croque monsieur and an avocado, cheese, and onion ring burger — because no one says you can’t have burgers for breakfast.
Wine tasting and lunch
It’s time to make the 45-minute drive east to Stellenbosch — one of the premier wine-producing regions surrounding Cape Town and the home of Stellenrust Wine Estate. Established nearly a century ago, Stellenrust is one of South Africa’s biggest family-owned wineries and operates a tasting room (open from 10am-5pm on weekdays and 10am-3pm on Saturdays) where you can sample their selection, including stellar sparkling and barrel-fermented versions of the country's favourite white grape, chenin blanc. (If you're quick, you can also nab these for yourself from the 'fo).
Stellenbosch also hosts several of the vineyards that produce fruit for Rall Wines — the brainchild of winemaker Dominic Rall and the name behind some of the country’s most sought-after vino. Rall doesn’t have a tasting room, but that’s okay because we’ve nabbed two of their best bottles for your taste buds to enjoy: their creative and delectable Red Blend (syrah, cinsault, grenache, and carignane) and White Blend (chenin blanc, verdelho, and viognier). Find them here.
From Stellenbosch, drive 20 minutes south to Somerset West, and pay a visit to biodynamically-farmed Waterkloof for lunch and a tasting (particularly of their award-winning and 'fo-approved False Bay Slow Chenin Blanc). They’re open from 10am-5pm Wednesday through Sunday.
After your tastings, give yourself a bit of time to explore the spectacularly scenic area, perhaps with a stop at Helderberg Nature Reserve or a swim at Strand Beach.
When you’re dinner-ready, pop over to Henri’s Restaurant and Wine Bar, which offers an extensive wine list and a wide-ranging menu featuring dishes such as braised rabbit pappardelle, crispy Patagonian calamari, and even homemade waffles. Yum.
We suggest making a reservation beforehand at Henri’s — and we also suggest stationing yourself in Somerset West for the night, as day two’s tastings will take you a bit further south. Sleep tight!
Day 2: Elegant Elgin
Ready for day two?
Let’s start by grabbing some coffee and a bite to eat at Sage & Thyme Village Coffee Shop. Their menu, stacked with classics like eggs Benedict and French toast, should set you up nicely for a new day of tasting.
Elgin, the first region on tap for your second day, lies an easy 30-minute drive to the south of Somerset West. It’s a cooler South African appellation, making it ideal for varietals such as pinot noir and riesling that don’t get as much stage space elsewhere in the country.
To taste what we mean, make Paul Cluver Estate your first pitstop (their Tasting Centre is open seven days a week from 9am-4pm) and try their excellent range of cool-climate varietals. You can even opt for a cheeky peach schnapps if you’re so inclined.
Après Paul Cluver, Julien Schaal would be our next recommendation — but unfortunately the winery doesn’t operate a tasting room, so you can only get your fix through us. They make a marvellous shiraz from Walker Bay, another of South Africa’s cool-climate spots and shit-hot chardonnay crafted with two parcels of fruit – one from Elgin and another from the mountainous Hemel-en-Aarde. If you time it right, you can try them for yourself here.
So instead of a jaunt to see Julien, hop in your car and shoot 20 minutes southeast to Gabriëlskloof Wines in the Bot River area. An environmentally focused winery and a WWF Conservation Champion, Gabriëlskloof makes olive oil and two sets of vino — the more affordable Estate Range and the top-tier Landscape range. You can try it all in the winery’s courtyard tasting room from 9am-5pm every day, or grab their cabernet franc and silky-spicy syrahs from our site.
Mofos: we hope you enjoyed this weekend wine guide to South Africa and that it’s inspired you to give the country’s truly remarkable vino a shot. If it has, why not start with some (or all!) of the wines we mentioned above? Head here to get started with South African wine.