My last Stellenblog post was about all the non-drinking things to do in Stellenbosch. I wrote that post for a couple of reasons: 1) I thought it would be useful for non-drinkers visiting Stellenbosch; and 2) I figured it would ease my conscience to write a post about non-drinking Stellenbosch activities before writing this post, which will be all about the delicious wine and other alcohol I drank in Stellenbosch.
A beautiful wall of wine at Love Wine Studio in downtown Stellenbosch.
A glass of white from Lanzerac.
I don’t have a sophisticated wine palette; I’m one of those “I like this/I don’t like that” kind of wine people. (Usually I like it.) But there’s one thing I do know: South African wine is damn good and affordable. If you like wine and want to take a wine-oriented vacation, there is no better place in the world to go than Stellenbosch.
Things I Learned About Wine in Stellenbosch
I drank a lot of different wine in Stellenbosch, and as I said my palette isn’t sophisticated. I won’t wax on for hours about the different varietals I tasted and what their bouquets were. But there are a couple of trends I’d like to highlight.
1) Wine Tastings Are About More Than Wine
I’m not sure when this happened, but casual wine tastings seem to have been usurped by delicious wine pairings. Wine-tasting is no longer about having a sip of wine, cleansing your pallet with a cracker, then sipping a different wine. Vineyards are coming up with quirky foods to pair with wine, making tastings more like meals.
My favorite pairing of the week was our first: a cupcake-and-wine pairing at Delheim. These bite-sized cupcakes were thoughtfully baked with delicate flavors to match their wines. I loved the pomegranate cupcake paired with a delicious dry rosé. Incidentally, our meal and overall experience at Delheim was one of my favorites — I highly recommend both the food and the wine at Delheim.
Guess what, meat-hungry South Africans? Wine tasting with biltong (a cured meat similar to — but way better than — jerky) is also now a thing. I don’t have photographic evidence, but we had a fabulous wine and biltong tasting at Love Wine Studio.
2) South African Champagne: It’s Bubbly. It’s Complicated. It’s Cool.
Champagne, which is basically wine with bubbles, is only called champagne when it comes from the Champagne region of France. In South Africa, champagne is called Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), which is almost the same as champagne but not quite. Not-from-France champagne goes by other names as well, including sparkling wine and prosecco. It’s very complicated but who cares because it’s delicious and it’s everywhere in Stellenbosch.
A glass of bubbly by the fire at Delaire Graff. (A good way to get around champagne name confusion is to call it “bubbly”. That’s what the cool Stellenbosch kids do.)
These are a few of the things I learned during my visit to J.C. Leroux. I also learned that J.C. Leroux MCC, which I used to think was cheap champagne drunk solely by broke college students, is actually really good.
I’ve always liked champagne (I mean sparkling wine, I mean MCC, I mean bubbly), but I hadn’t expected to be quite so delighted by my tour of J.C. Leroux. I loved visiting the factory and learning how the MCC bottles are slowly rotated at a downward angle to collect the sediment in the neck, then frozen so the sediment gets pushed out of the bottle neck in one icy chunk.
Most of all, I loved tasting the bubbly. I prefer the dry varieties to the sweeter ones.
The J.C. Leroux tour was so much fun. Our guide Inga was great, the tasting was great, and my friend Scrumpy even got to slice open a bottle of MCC with a sword.
3) There’s More to Taste Than Wine
Wine is where it’s at in Stellenbosch. But don’t despair if you’re a drinker who doesn’t care for wine. There are other drinks to taste, too.
First and foremost, gin.
Craft gin is a white-hot trend in South Africa right now, especially in the Western Cape. We had an incredible gin tasting at the Devon Valley Hotel, where the bartender whipped up colorful cocktails using different gins infused with local flavors.
And then, of course, beer.
4) White Wine with Ice: Yay or Nay?
When I first moved to South Africa, I noticed a strange phenomenon: When I ordered a glass of white wine in a restaurant, the server always delivered it with a small bucket of ice. Yes, people put ice in their white wine here, which I always thought was terribly gauche.
But during our wine tasting at Spier I learned that putting ice in your white wine is actually okay in South Africa, where the phenomenon originated because, well, this is Africa.
South African winemakers even consider the ice phenomenon while they’re making white wine, and might make it a bit stronger for exactly that reason. Even the winemakers themselves sometimes use ice on hot summer days.
Personally I still think putting ice in wine is weird and I only do it when I’m desperate (e.g., when I buy a bottle of room temperature white and I’m really eager to start drinking it).
To close out this post, here is a really silly video about me drinking wine in Stellenbosch.
Cheers. And please drink responsibly.
I wrote this post in partnership with #Stellenblog. Opinions expressed are mine.