Before you jump to conclusions, no, I’m not (re)married! This post is by my friend and today’s guest author, Andras. He recently remarried and he and his new wife honeymooned in the wine country of South Africa around Cape Town. Grab a bottle, a bowl of popcorn, and be prepared to enjoy this wonderful account of their enviable honeymoon!

One Night in Cape Town, and the World is Your Oyster!

It was a dark and rainy night when we arrived in Casablanca. Our mission ….
Sorry, that is the novel I have been trying to write for the past 40 years.

Let me begin again.

It was a dark and cool night when we arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. Welcome to the Mother City! My new wife and I were on our honeymoon and intent on exploring some South African wines. Our guide, Anne-Marie Breen, met us at the airport after we cleared customs. Anne-Marie is a British ex-pat who has lived in Cape Town for 25 years. She checked us into the Cape Grace, a stunning hotel on the waterfront. Our suite had a spectacular view of the marina and Cape Town’s picturesque and ubiquitous Table Mountain.

Gerald, our wine-savvy bartender
Gerald, our wine-savvy bartender

It was late, but my bride and I were hungry following an 11-hour flight from Amsterdam, so we went down to the bar. The bartender, Gerald, greeted us warmly, and our exploration of South African wines was about to begin.

I am, admittedly, a novice when it comes to South African wines. I had deliberately boycotted South African wines and refused to learn or even try them due to its former racist Apartheid policies. Moreover, I thought that South African wines consisted of little more than cheap Chenin Blancs. I was gravely mistaken, and Gerald proved to be an excellent cheerleader and cognoscente.

The South African wine industry has a history dating back to the first plantings in 1659 during the Dutch colonization of the region. Post-Apartheid, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, caused the industry to focus on other well-known varieties such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. They also began to promote some fortified wines such as port-style wines and sherries, and a uniquely South African variety of Pinotage (more about that later).

Post-Apartheid, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, caused the industry to focus on other well-known varieties such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.

Gerald gave us a primer on South African varietals. He also introduced us to Platter’s South African Wine Guide. Platter’s is South Africa’s first and best-selling wine annual. Platter’s Guide is the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and authoritative guide to who’s who and what’s what in South African wines. We bought a copy, and Platter’s Guide proved to be our bible throughout the trip.

My bride and I love Cabernet Sauvignons, so at Gerald’s suggestion, we began our journey by comparing two Cab Sauvs: a 2015 Eikendal (Platter’s Guide ★★★★) and a 2015 Stark-Condé (Platter’s Guide ★★★★★).

The Eikendal was surprisingly sophisticated and full-bodied for a young wine. Made with 100.00% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, it is deeply red, with a hint of cassis, eucalyptus, and loaminess on the nose. The tannins were taut and danced across my gums. On the palate, there were notes of chocolate, leather, coffee, black pepper, and dark fruits, particularly, plums and cassis. The wine opened up very nicely in the glass. If you love a Bordeaux, you will enjoy this wine. This is a wine that will age well.

There are cool coastal breezes cascading over undulating hills, spiraling sandstone mountains, and deep valleys.

The Stark-Condé proved even more surprising, with licorice, blackberry, and lavender on the nose. The Stark-Condé is deep red to purple in color, full-bodied on the palate with a great and lingering finish. The wine is bold, yet approachable. Medium tannins and well-balanced in acidity, it is structured, smooth, oaky and rounded in the mouth, with notes of mocha, dark fruits and cedar. It opened considerably as it lingered in the glass. The 2015 is made with 85.00% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5.00% Petit Verdot, 4.00% Malbec, 4.00% Cabernet Franc, and 2.00% Merlot. The Stark-Condé is very sophisticated and complex. This is a wine you would want to put down for a few years. Like a former lover, it is a wine you will want to revisit.

Cabernets
Cabernets

As Gerald explained, South African wines, like Australian wines, are typically high in alcohol, and the Stark-Condé and Eikendal proved this to be true, at 14.50% and 15.00%, respectively. Gerald further explained that South African vineyard areas are located mainly along the coastal zone and toward certain inland areas of the Western Cape Province, within a two hour’s drive from Cape Town.

There is a remarkable chemistry at play in the topography of the Western Cape. There are cool coastal breezes cascading over undulating hills, spiraling sandstone mountains, and deep valleys. The farms, not called vineyards in South Africa, produce grapes as varied as Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, and Sémillon, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon.

Colmant Sparkling Wine
Colmant Sparkling Wine

It was early April, but it was Autumn in South Africa, as we were below the equator in the Southern Hemisphere. The traditional coastal and bordering inland vineyard areas benefit from a Mediterranean-type climate but are cooler than similar areas at the same latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. The coastal zone has the benefit of the confluence of the nearby oceans. The cold current from the South Pole flows northwards along the western coast via the Atlantic Ocean. The warmer Mozambique current follows the Indian Ocean from the equator from the south coast in a westerly direction. The two currents or oceans converge between Cape Agulhas (the southernmost point) and Cape Point. The prevailing winds and breezes from these oceans have a cooling effect on the nearby land.

Rainfall generally decreases from the coast to the inland areas and from south to north. The Western Cape’s topography causes variable rainfall, with the mountains and valley areas receiving higher rainfall than the surrounding areas. Rainfall usually ranges from 16-31 inches (400-800 mm) per year. Approximately 30.00% of the rainfall occurs during early summer, and there is virtually no rain during late summer and the ripening season.

Hannibal & Chamonix

Gerald had two more suggestions before we retired for the evening. The next wine was a 2015 Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal (Platter’s Guide ★★★★☆), a Sangiovese-Pinot Noir blend. Sangiovese and Nebbiolo grapes are fairly new to South Africa, having been introduced only in 1989. As the vineyard’s tasting notes states, “The name ‘Hannibal’ was adopted as a symbolic expression of the synergy with the African elephant participating in linking the wine lands of France and Italy together two thousand years ago under the invading command of the classic Carthaginian general.”

With 14.13% alcohol, the Hannibal is a marriage of 46.00% Sangiovese, 18.00% Pinot Noir, 16.00% Nebbiolo, 11.00% Shiraz, 5.00% Barbera and 4.00% Mourvédre, matured for 16 months in French oak. The nose is dominated by plums with hints of oak. The wine is taut, with firm acidity. The tannins are ample. The Hannibal is flavored with ripe dark fruits, particularly black plums and cassis with a hint of strawberry undertones. The French oak barrel maturation is understated. The wine cried out to be paired with rare, red meat.

Suddenly, my mouth was attacked by strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, with a mouth-filling finish of sweetness and texture with nuanced flavors of cherry, red berries, smoke and spices framed by a tango of acidity and firm-edged tannins.

The last wine of the evening was a 2015 Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve (Platter’s Guide ★★★★☆), from one of South Africa’s premier wine terroir, Franschhoek. This Pinot was lush with fresh strawberry, cherries, with coffee and a hint of mint, licorice, spices and menthol, and raspberry, on the nose. The mouthfeel was velvety and intense. Suddenly, my mouth was attacked by strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, with a mouth-filling finish of sweetness and texture with nuanced flavors of cherry, red berries, smoke and spices framed by a tango of acidity and firm-edged tannins. Then, out of nowhere, came a lingering perfume. This wine was impressive, and I can only begin to imagine what it would be like after several years of cellaring. It has only (only)13.50% alcohol. The style was pronounced Burgundian! Platter’s Guide gave it a well deserved four and a half stars.

What a glorious end to a wonderful evening. Tomorrow, we go to wine country!

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