Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Sauvignon, Pinot, Chardonnay and gastronomy in the Western Cape

My second week in South Africa’s Western Cape was a mixture of visits to Elgin and Hermanus plus some wonderful holiday days in Franschhoek and finally Cape Town.  I cover a few more wines here, to complement my last post about the top wines of the visit.   My photo essay of the area around Cape Town is here.   

Sauvignon Blanc still has legs 

In the white wine corner, all the fuss in South Africa is, rightly, about Chenin Blanc and then Rhône blends and Chardonnay. But the cooler parts of the Cape can also do very good Sauvignon, in a range of styles.  A category tasting in Durbanville showed this with crisp and fruity examples and some oak-aged wines. Elsewhere I tasted perhaps the potentially most interesting category, Sauvignon/Semillon blends.  The issue in Durbanville is that the appellation is not that well known – even though it is as close to Cape Town as the more famous Constantia: see the picture.  The solution is hopefully the new wine of origin district: Cape Town. The fruit from Constantia, Durbanville Hills and Philadephia can go into wine labelled Cape Town.  The hope is that the millions of visitors to Cape Town will take to the newly labelled wine.     

Bistro food

The Western Cape is not short of excellent opportunities for informal eating.  As a guest and then a holiday maker, the real challenge was remembering that you were going to eat again relatively soon and you couldn’t try everything interesting or appealing on the menu!  Portion control is not really a thing in mid-tier dining: one pork belly dish I had would have fed a normal family.  But much of the bistro-style dining was superb: the upmarket Steenberg estate bistro gets the prize for really exciting S African/Asian fusion food served with real style and verve. But there were many more.  Bocca in the heart of Cape Town did a great job, as did many others.  

Pinot and Chardonnay lovers … 

should of course head for Hemel-en-Aarde and Elgin on the Cape’s super-cooled southern coast.  There are so many wonderful wines here, starting with the pioneer and consistent top performer, Hamilton Russell. There is real excitement here about a side project for a niche production of a really voluptuous Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir. The best view is perhaps from the stunning tasting room at nearby Newton Johnson. Here Chardonnay and Pinot are joined by exciting Albariño and an incisive Syrah/Mourvèdre blend. I snapped up their wines whenever I could on restaurant lists.  I also loved Richard Kershaw MW’s wines and the wines and vineyard tour with viticulturalist James Downes at Shannon Wines – what a beautiful site! 

Gastronomic highlights

If the standard of bistro-level catering was very good, there were also some real culinary high points – by any standards.  Four places really excelled. Janet and I would like to have eaten in the fully-booked main restaurant at Delaire Graff but you can enjoy the remarkable scenery even if you just visit.  And the fusion restaurant, Indochine, was really splendid with an excellent sommelier and wine list, and was great value. We were in good company too as the chief winemaker and the owners of Graham Beck were on the next table.  La Mouette does a wonderful tasting menu and matching wines in Sea Point, Cape Town, walking distance from our hotel.  (We didn’t enjoy the rather intrusive jazz music but some will like the hipster vibe.)

Ryan’s Kitchen, Franschhoek does brilliant food in an informal setting and was very quiet at lunchtime – apparently not so in the evening. 

But for sublime and beautifully executed food, great matching wines, flawless service and a beautiful, airy dining room, La Petite Colombe, Franschhoek, takes some beating.  And it is an offshoot of La Colombe in Constantia – perhaps on the next visit?  

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