Warwick is one of the Cape’s pioneering estates for many reasons, including the fact that it is home to the region’s first female winemaker, co-owner Norma Ratcliffe – a noteworthy achievement in the male-driven world of wine farming in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Such was Ratcliffe’s influence on winemaking in the Cape that she was also the first woman to become a member of the Cape Winemakers’ Guild and, to date, the only woman to have served as its Chairperson. Her status as the Cape’s ‘First Lady’ is immortalised in a range of four wines at the estate and lives on – even though the family has sold up to foreign ownership.
Warwick’s focus on the classic Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc also affords it a spot at the top end of the South African wine spectrum – but the estate produces plenty of other great varietal wines and blends, too. Despite having bought the farm in 1964, the first wines to emerge under the Warwick label only did so 20 years later, with the iconic three varietal Bordeaux-based blend – Warwick Trilogy – following two years later. Even today, Trilogy has a home on some of the world’s most exclusive wine lists and leading the estate’s awards charge on numerous international fronts.
The two tasting options offer the perfect summary of the estate’s products. Both the Standard Tasting (R50) and Exclusive Tasting (R100) offer the chance to sample six wines, though the latter has a heavy bias towards red wines, with just one white blend on the list. The tasting room is cosy and unpretentious and shares a wall with the restaurant – meaning that a variety of paired platters are available to complement tastings, along with excellent sit-down lunches a short hop away.
The opportunity to explore the farm in greater detail shouldn’t be passed up, with the ‘Big Five Vineyard Safari’ offering a fun, educational trip up through the mountain vineyards for a fun comparison between the world-famous Big Five fauna and the estate’s Big Five list of varietals – with accompanying tastings in a glorious setting. There are plenty of gourmet picnic options too, which show off the farm’s various beautiful spaces to maximum effect in conjunction with a selection of wines and the freshest produce – meaning that a visit to Warwick could quite easily be an all-day affair.
Ask about the opportunity to taste older vintages of wines during tastings – there’s normally at least an older vintage bottle of Cabernet Franc knocking about!
Visit the official website at: www.warwickwine.com
The name itself means ‘far away’ – and, at the furthest reaches of Somerset West, it most certainly requires a significant drive out from the Cape Town CBD. What the trip does reward visitors with, though, is the opportunity to taste some of South Africa’s great wines, enjoy the exquisite gardens and (with advance booking) sample fare from the Camphors at Vergelegen restaurant – a regular contender for the title of the country’s best.
Since the estate is so sprawling, it’s a popular site for visits by those without even a passing interest in wine – dog walkers, flora aficionados, twitchers and concert-goers. As a result, entry is charged at R10 per car – something of an anathema in the Cape, but an understandable surcharge.
The estate also claimed the title of ‘Africa’s Top Winery’ in the 2019 World’s Best Vineyard awards, coming in at 34th overall amongst a crop of 1 500 wineries in 17 countries. And the experience certainly lives up to the hype, with a warm welcome at the Wine Tasting Centre the entry point to being led through the range of award-winning wines by the knowledgeable wine advisors. The foyer is dominated by large-scale artworks and the patio overlooks the estate’s circa-1700 octagonal garden, while the interior includes several plush seating options, scattered tables, or stools along a beautiful bar.
There are five tasting options – the Flagship Range (R100) which includes the storied GVB Red and White, and the signature ‘V’; a Bordeaux-driven tasting of four wines in the Reserve Range (R50); a mixed tasting of the Reserve Range (R50); the Vineyard Range tasting of 3 wines at R80; a Premium tasting of 4 wines for R30 and a single tasting of the estate’s Dessert Wine for R10. The estate’s output is focussed, meaning there isn’t a lot of variety – but there’s certainly something to be said for zeroing in on what you know, and doing it well. The wines regularly win international acclaim and the 2016 GVB White is widely regarded as one of the finest white wines of its vintage, in the world.
There’s also the option of a tour of the futuristic, multi-level gravity flow cellar, with bookings advised to avoid disappointment and attracting a fee of R50. While children are welcome in the Tasting Centre and the gardens, they won’t be able to join in on the cellar tour for health & safety reasons. The 70 stairs that allow access to the different levels also make it relatively inaccessible to visitors who may have mobility limitations.
if you’re visiting during Spring or Summer, pre-book a picnic and a bottle of wine and make the most of the beautiful gardens with a lunch in the heart of some of the Cape’s most spectacularly landscaped flora.
Visit the official website at: www.vergelegen.co.za
3. Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines
Though the tasting room – The Wine Studio – for Mullineux & Leeu Family wines has a home in Franschhoek, the home of the fantastic Mullineux wines is on Roundstone Farm, near the Swartland town of Riebeek Kasteel, about an hour from Cape Town central.
As of 2019, the much-vaunted duo of Andrea & Chris Mullineux had seen their wines log 25 five-star ratings from Platter’s South African Wine Guide, claimed ‘Platter’s Winery of the Year’ titles for 2014, 2016 and 2019, had Andrea named Wine Enthusiast’s ‘2016 International Winemaker of the Year’ and jointly been named Tim Atkin’s ‘South African Winemakers of the Year’ for 2017. Taste their wines and you’ll know why.
An almost dogmatic focus on the Swartland region’s two most prominent cultivars, Chenin Blanc and Syrah, has yielded amazingly expressive terroir-focussed wines, influenced by the granite and schist soils of the area. Andrea & Chris established Mullineux Family Wines in 2007 before being joined by Analjit Singh as a partner in 2013. Singh purchased three farms in Franschhoek to form the Leeu Collection, and the newly-amalgamated Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines found its commercial home on the slopes of the mountains overlooking the quaint French-inspired town. The ‘Leeu Collection’ also spans restaurants and luxury accommodation options.
The Wine Studio on the property is a welcoming space – but laser-focussed on showcasing the wines in the best possible manner. Though it backs onto the working winery – visible through floor-to-ceiling glass, there’s no opportunity for a cellar tour. Instead, the immensely knowledgeable tasting team lead small numbers of daily guests through a variety of tastings that highlight the exceptional wines. Such is the attention to detail, that – unusually – booking is encouraged, particularly for the Single Terroir Tasting. The tasting experience is easily a contender for our ‘The Seven Best Wine Tasting Experiences in the Cape’ list, but the sheer quality of the wines puts the property on this list, instead.
The entry point to the tasting experience is the Mullineux Signature Tasting (R115), which offers tastings of the Mullineux White, Syrah and Straw Wine, along with the two accessible Kloof Street wines. There’s also a tasting of the two Leeu Passant wines (R130) – a Chardonnay and a ‘Dry Red’ blend that harks backs to the famous ‘anything goes’ red wines of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s which continue to demonstrate remarkable ageing potential.
The undoubted star though, is the Mullineux Single Terroir Tasting (R325) which offers contrasting tastings of the three single terroir Syrahs (Iron, Schist and Granite) in delicate hand-blown glasses. Invariably led by passionate Wine Studio manager Lizzie Groenewald – a gold mine of wonderful information about the estate’s wines, and the South African industry in general – the Single Terroir Tasting is limited in nature by the fact that just 1000 bottles of each wine are produced by the estate in each vintage. Indeed, some of the wines may not be available for tasting due to shortages, but since booking is essential for this tasting, guests will have their expectations managed in advance. Jars of the trio of soils accompany the tasting experience for an immersive journey through the way they influence the grapes – and the resultant winemaking process.
Make time to wander through the immaculate gardens outside the tasting room, which include some stunning Angus Taylor sculptures and perhaps the best views of Franschhoek.
Visit the official website at: www.mlfwines.com
A contender for possibly the country’s most-awarded estate – and definitely the ‘First Growth’ mantle, Kanonkop is home to some of the country’s most premium wines. A succession of luminary winemakers including Springbok rugby player Jan ‘Boland’ Coetzee, Pinotage Godfather Beyers Truter and incumbent three-time ‘World’s Best Winemaker’ winner Abrie Beeslaar have added layers to the rich history of the estate, which produces only red wines.
The offering is concise – the tier two Kadette range features accessible but still nuanced Pinotage Rosé, Pinotage and Cape Blend, while the tier one range includes a Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Paul Sauer blend, with the limited-edition Black Label Pinotage sharing prominence. The 2015 vintage of the Paul Sauer – traditionally a Cabernet Sauvignon-led blend which includes significant percentages of Cabernet Franc and Merlot – was the first wine in South African history to be awarded a perfect 100-point score by British Master of Wine Tim Atkin in his annual report. As a result, the full production run was snapped up on release and you’d be advised to pay whatever the asking price is, should you ever stumble across a bottle, for a truly remarkable experience.
While the Kadette range is designed for easy drinking, the upper reaches of the range reward careful cellaring for upwards of a decade – and well beyond. All of Kanonkop’s wines are layered, intense and fruit-driven in an unashamedly South African style that is gaining international traction. Though the price matches their history and complexity of the wines, the exchange rate to currencies like the Dollar, Pound or Euro make them astonishingly good value purchases. If their provenance were French rather than South African, they’d surely occupy the higher reaches of the premium price spectrum.
Despite all the gravity that the estate carries, its tasting room is welcomingly unpretentious and doesn’t come with any of the bells and whistles flaunted by so many other estates. There’s a small store and an art gallery beyond the cellar – the walk through the barrels to access it is something akin to a religious experience for devotees – but the focus is on a comfortable space where the wines themselves, shine. The tasting team know what they’re working with and don’t need to oversell the wines – meaning that visitors can simply revel in the wines without being faced with a barrage of statistics.
The Standard Tasting (R70) is astonishingly well-priced, since it offers the opportunity to try all available wines in the current vintage, bar the Black Label Pinotage. Unsurprisingly for a wine which costs upwards of R1 600 per bottle, the single-pour tasting is priced at R145, but is entirely worth it – even for comparative purposes. Premium and Private tutored tastings are also available with pre-booking. Fees for individual tastings are waived on purchase of the wines – another practice which has largely fallen by the wayside in the face of economic pressures.
If you’re travelling in a group, pre-book a traditional ‘snoek braai’ and revel in the estate team’s welcoming hospitality to get a real feel for life on the historic property – many of the 54-strong team live on the farm itself.
Visit the official website at: www.kanonkop.co.za
Jordan is a much-sung unsung hero of the South African wine industry. It’s set far off the regular tourist routes and isn’t accessible by the large coaches which invariably overrun larger estates during peak seasons. The winding drive down the near-single lane road is beautiful, even by Cape standards, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Bordeaux for the proximity of the vines to the road, rather than the terrain itself.
Though the farm’s history dates back over 300 years, Gary and Kathy Jordan have only been making wine there since 1993. The property hit the terroir jackpot for a number of reasons, but versatility is certainly a plus: slopes face all four compass points, vineyards sit at different altitudes from 160 to 410 metres above sea level and there’s influence from both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. A focus on using the farm’s natural assets as a sound base and managing the vines with innovative methodologies carries through to the cellar. Many wines have stories attached for marketing value – but the impression of the tales attached to each of Jordan’s products is that each plays a major role in setting apart the contents of each bottle.
The tasting room is small and cellar-adjacent, meaning that combining a tasting and cellar tour is easy (and particularly worthwhile). This is not an industrial operation, borne out by the scale of the tasting venue and the cellar itself. As a result, the experience is incredibly personal – particularly if you opt for the Reserve Tasting.
The tasting room staff are clearly invested in the winemaking process and go to great lengths to show off each wine’s assets. Something of a rarity in South Africa, there’s even a sample of shavings of barrels with different toasting levels to nose, to help unfurl the notes of some of the wines.
There’s an express tasting option (‘Short & Sweet’) which covers a selection of three wines – but if you’ve made the effort to drive out to the hidden valley, a more comprehensive exploration of the estate’s produce will be rewarded with the Terroir Tasting of five wines for R90 (per person) and the immersive Reserve tasting of the five top wines (including the astonishing flagship Sophia red blend – available only at the estate) for R295 (pp). The flagship wines are poured via Coravin preservation devices to ensure optimal delivery and the level of care taken by the tasting team in presenting each pour is almost deferential – and rightly so. As famous as the Jordan wines are, their profile should be ever so much higher.
There’s also a fine dining restaurant – aptly named ‘Jordan’ and the informal Bakery – both of which offer views across the dam and into the terraced vineyards.
If you’re a red wine fan and you don’t walk away with at least one bottle of the premium Sophia blend – which you can only purchase at the estate – you’ll regret it the instant you get home.
Visit the official website at: www.jordanwines.com
6. Groot Constantia
Quiz a South African about the country’s premiere wine-growing region and most will name Stellenbosch, but to international visitors, Constantia is the more famous home to South African wines. Indeed, the wines of Groot Constantia were favoured by Napoleon Bonaparte, French King Louis Philippe and Frederick the Great of Prussia and namechecked in Austin’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and Dickens’ ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.
Groot Constantia is therefore, clearly, one of the country’s heritage estates, having been established by Cape Governor Simon van der Stel in 1685 and producing a steady stream of internationally-famous wines, ever since. If ever the country decided on a First Growth-type classification for its estates, Groot Constantia would most likely be the first name on the list.
The property sits back from the main road in the leafy Southern Suburb of Constantia and offers a few different options for visitors, depending on whether their bent is for exploring the history of the estate or sampling its produce – or both. The new Visitors’ Route offers a self-guided exploration of the heritage areas of the estate, including the original Cape Dutch Manor House, a wine and cultural history museum and audio walking tours of the vineyards and cellar.
If tasting the estate’s great wines is the priority, there are three venues to choose from. The cellar building is refreshingly ‘old school’ – there’s some art for sale and a few nods to the estate’s heritage, but the space is largely functional, which gives the wines the opportunity to speak for themselves. The basic tasting offers the choice of five available wines for R90 (including a souvenir Spiegelau Crystal glass – also something of a throwback to wine tasting experiences of yesteryear where a collection of tasting glasses was considered a badge of honour) and the Chocolate & Wine Pairing offers five selected wines, paired with handmade chocolates for R140. So many estates offer pairing opportunities these days – with chocolate looking relatively pedestrian in the face of matches with cupcakes and nougat – but this particular pairing opens up different notes in the wines which are well worth contemplating, and certainly showcases their versatility. Thankfully, it’s not a gimmick for inferior wines to hide behind – they certainly stand up on their own, just as they have done for more than three centuries.
The breadth of available wines – from fresh ‘everyday’ Blanc de Noir, through a complex Chardonnay and on to the bold Shiraz and flagship Gouverneur’s Reserve. The estate’s history draws tens of thousands of visitors every year, so the team in the tasting room can be a little rushed and the tasting process a little perfunctory, but the opportunity to enjoy some of the country’s great wines in the cellar in which they are produced makes a visit to Groot Constantia a must for anyone looking to gain an understanding of the history of South Africa’s wines.
Groot Constantia is a major stop on the City Sightseeing Hop On-Hop Off bus tour – a great way to access the estate without self-driving, and a chance learn a lot about the history of the Cape, on the way.
Visit the official website at: www.grootconstantia.co.za
7. Delaire Graff
If you enjoy sipping quality wines in a sophisticated space, you’ll struggle to top Delaire Graff. Purchased by diamond magnate Laurence Graff OBE in 2003 with the explicit purpose of turning it into ‘the jewel of the winelands’, Delaire Graff is certainly one of the most opulent properties across any of the Cape wine routes.
The imposing property is set atop the Helshoogte Pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek and its lofty position is mirrored in its statement features – the rolling gardens are punctuated by lavish artworks; Indochine restaurant serves some of the country’s most spectacular food; there are several plush accommodation options; the diamond boutique in the foyer is home to some extraordinary gems and jewellery creations and the walls are laden with prestige artworks (including works from big names like Tretchikoff).
With such a focus on opulence, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the wines are an afterthought – but a visit to the Wine Lounge quickly dispels that notion. All plush seating, warm wood, copper and floor-to-ceiling glass, the tasting area is part members’ club and part design masterpiece with yet more artworks from the likes of William Kentridge, Robert Hodgkins and Deborah Bell on the walls. You’re almost more likely to see a Kentridge at a high-end winery than you are at a gallery these days – not a criticism, but rather an indication of the aspirations of the country’s producers in associating their wines with the work of probably South Africa’s most acclaimed artist.
Tastings are conducted by enthusiastic Wine Tutors whose breadth of knowledge exceeds fact sheet data – a welcome respite from parrot-fashion recitals of alcohol volumes and cellaring stats. Tastings vary in scale across the excellent Estate Range (2, 4 and 5 wines for R75, R100 and R125 respectively) and the premiere Icon Tasting at R350 for 5 wines. There’s quite a breadth of options (though not all are available for tasting), from the floral and unusual Cabernet Franc Rosé to the bold flagship Laurence Graff Reserve – and a dessert wine that the team will gladly upsell you on for an additional fee of R40 for a significant pour. Winemaker Morné Vrey has an unusually deft touch across both reds and whites, making for some tough choices in the tasting selection.
In keeping with the estate’s cachet, tastings are conducted in Riedel glasses and service is faultless – it’s quite easy to turn a quick pop-in for some wine sampling, into an afternoon languishing on the comfortable couches and taking in the views, while enjoying snacks from an artfully-curated selection. Delaire Graff was rated as the 39th best winery in the world in the 2019 World’s Best Vineyard awards – one of 3 South African estates on the list.
Book ahead for an ultimately indulgent lunch at Indochine, to see how the estate’s wines really come alive when paired with some of the best food in South Africa.
Visit the official website at: www.delaire.co.za
There we have it! The best African wine estates the continent has to offer. Let us know your favourite wine estate experiences in the comments – we’d love to hear about it!