Stellenbosch is the most widely-known and highly-regarded wine region in Africa. It is located 50 km east of Cape Town.
This region has their own signature varietal, Pinotage, which is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault created about 100 years ago in Stellenbosch. Pinotage is very earthy and acidic, and we don't particularly care for it. After trying many different winemakers' offerings, there were only a few we truly enjoyed.
We stayed at Marianne Wine Estate in south Paarl, the town just north of Stellenbosch. The views were beautiful and our room was spacious and luxurious. We really recommend a stay there, although their wine was overpriced and not very good.
Overall, Stellenbosch is one of the most affordable wine regions we've ever visited. The food and wine are very high quality, the people are welcoming, and the attitude is laid-back. We only made to a handful of wine estates over three days and will definitely go back in the future to spend more time exploring.
The first winery we visited in Stellenbosch was Fairview Estate. They are known in the U.S. for their budget label Goats Do Roam, which is pretty decent. Their upmarket labels under the Fairview name are incrementally better. We did a private tasting of all their premier labels with cheese pairings for only about $8 per person. We really enjoyed the Extraño, a Rioja-style blend, and the Chenin Blanc.
We also didn't realize Fairview is a major cheese producer in South Africa. The cheese was as enjoyable as the wine. They make a soft cow/goat cheese blend called Roydon in a style similar to Brie. It is rich, creamy, and the goaty sourness is well-balanced. We bought a big block to eat later on a picnic.
Fairview Estate is large and I imagine quite busy in the tourist season, but it is really worth a visit. We also ate lunch at their restaurant which has an impressive farm-to-table menu and is reasonably priced.
Just up the road from Fairview is Spice Route, which has a community of shops on its property. It has a really cool artisan village feel to it and is perched on a hill overlooking the vines. On site there is a craft brewery, a chocolatier, a sausage and biltong (cured meat) maker, a hand-tossed pizza cafe, and of course, a winery.
We did a chocolate tasting and a wine tasting, one paired with homemade cured meats. The chocolate tasting was outstanding. Each type of cocoa is single-sourced from countries like Uganda, Venezuela, Trinidad, and Madagascar. All are at least 60% dark chocolate and produced on site. It is a really interesting experience to taste chocolate with the equivalent of a sommelier guiding you through and teaching you about the differences.
The wine at Spice Route was unimpressive. Lindsay had a list of the 100 best South African wines, and Spice Route's signature Chakalaka blend was pretty high up. We didn't care for any of the wines we tasted, and I wouldn't put Chakalaka on any of my top lists.
However, a visit to Spice Route is still a culinary joy and worth a full afternoon.
This place is easily our favorite Stellenbosch vineyard in terms of wine and food quality. We went to Mulderbosch specifically for lunch because their gourmet pizzas were supposed to be outstanding. Not only were the pizzas excellent, the wines were, too.
Our favorites were the Marvelous Blue, a Bordeuax-style blend, and Marvelous Red, a Cotes du Rhone-style blend. Both are full-bodied and fruit-forward and are available in the U.S.
This winery was recommended by our friend Brandie Miklus from her visit the previous year. It did not disappoint!
Vergenoegd is a bit far away from town, and we were the only people at the estate that afternoon. Our hostess was a riot. She shared in the tasting with us, and we are certain she was a bit toasty after a full day of tastings. She taught us some words in the indigenous "clicking" language. Our tasting was also interrupted by a curious goose who announced his presence in the manor with an ear-splitting honk. Our new friend picked him up like a pet and told us he is a frequent guest.
The tasting was the cheapest one we've ever done, at about $5 for two people for their full range of wines. The wine is pretty decent, especially the Estate Blend, but isn't available at home. You'll have to go to SA to experience it yourself!
This wine estate is supposed to be one of the best in Stellenbosch. We had previously tried their Pinotage and Shiraz varietals off the supermarket shelf and thought they were good. After visiting other wineries, though, our bar had been raised.
Spier did not impress us, not even their signature Frans K. Smit lineup. The wine estate itself is gigantic and includes an upscale resort, conference center, and restaurant. The tasting center is huge and the tastings are pricey compared with other places. None of the wines stood out to us, especially after visiting Fairview and Mulderbosch.
With any wine region comes a bevy of highly-ranked restaurants. After much research, Lindsay decided on a reservation at Jordan Wine Estate. It was our fancy pre-birthday dinner, since both our birthdays were within the next week.
That day we visted the Cape of Good Hope and drove the grand Chapman's Peak drive, then cut back across the city through rush hour in order to make our reservation.
We changed into nicer clothes in the car and headed inside early. This is one of the top-ranked restaurants in wine country, but it was a bit of a letdown. The sommelier was snotty and we had three different waiters who never left us alone. We felt so much pressure to just hurry up and order. It was really uncomfortable.
After ordering, we finally got some peace and enjoyed our starters. We also splurged to order a bottle of their signature wine, Cobblers Hill 2012, which was delicious. Brian's meal of springbok filet was very good, but Lindsay's fish was so average she didn't even finish it. Dessert consisted of a visit to the cheese room, but only three out of our five picks were palatable.
For such an expensive and highly-ranked restaurant, we were disappointed. However, the wines were very good. The Cobblers Hill was one of the best we had in Stellenbosch.
The final wine estate we visited in Stellenbosch was Beyerskloof. It is a large producer whose wines can be found in most South African supermarkets.
We visited on a Saturday and the tasting room was packed. We still got good service, and the tasting menu is affordable and pours are generous.
Their Pinotage Reserve was quite good, especially given that we don't care much for Pinotage. We bought a bottle and stayed for lunch, which was delicious. Lindsay had a juicy gourmet burger and Brian had a very cheap, but super quality, filet au poivre.
Beyerskloof is definitely worth the visit if you go for lunch, although probably not for just the tasting alone. Make sure you call ahead for a reservation, especially on weekends, because this is a popular place for Cape Towners.