Much like novels, I believe that trips can have themes. My trip to Southern Africa had several themes, and one of the more lighthearted ones was this: most things are better with wine. I do enjoy wine. I like the complex orchestra of flavors that plays out. I like the magic that happens when you successfully pair one with food. I like the social-lubricating effects of drinking it, and I especially enjoy the conversation that comes up when the effects begin to manifest. Wine tasting was something I could do pretty much anywhere, but I was happy to shake things up from a schedule of game drives, desert visits, and adventure sports. It was time to stick my pinkies in the air and sample some Stellenbosch wyn.
Stellenbosch is South Africa’s most well-known wine region, and its rich soil and Mediterranean climate is perfect for growing wine grapes. Wine tours are easily booked at lodges and hostels. I was in South Africa in the high season, so the wineries were packed and full of a lively atmosphere. Our first stop was the Simonsig Wine Estate. It was at this location that we spent the largest amount of time, and learned the most about wines. I think our guide knew that after this stop, our wine-soaked minds would be less willing to absorb any information. After a brief tour of the mechanical presses, bottling rooms, and fermenting racks, he sat us down in a large tasting room and passed out some glasses.
We began with champagne. Just for fun, he decided to show us how to slice open a champagne bottle with a sword. I wasn’t the lucky individual who was given the opportunity to do so, but he did explain to everyone how it can be done. On each champagne bottle, there is a seam running from the bottom to the top. Once you loosen the cork a little bit, you can run the blade of a sword or a large knife along the seam, and in one quick swipe the entire top part of the bottle will come off. The pressure from the inside of the bottle is too great for any broken glass to fall inside the bottle. So if you do it correctly, and point the bottle outside with no people obstructing the path of the cork, no one should get hurt. However, I don’t suggest trying it based solely on my description. The bottle popped open, and we clinked our glasses of bubbly to begin an afternoon of drinks.
After the champagne, we had two white wines of different ages. We were taught how to identify which one is older, and which one has the greater alcohol content. We then received two red wines and a similar discussion followed. To me, it doesn’t matter which one is older. They both went down smooth and tasted great. By this time, we were all pleasantly uninhibited. The collective volume had risen and laughing was heard at more frequent intervals. The magic of wine was starting to take hold.
Happily warmed up, we made the quick drive over to the Fairview Winery to have some cheese with our wine. The winery had wooden blocks with our cheeses neatly laid out for us in the order in which we would be eating them. An attendant came around and filled our glasses with a healthy gulp of wine, and we drank. The pairings started with a crisp white wine and a fresh feta. Now, I love white wine, and a good feta can make my day. It was heavenly. Next, we had another white wine paired with a goat cheese, which was equally moan-worthy. After that, the wines and cheeses became more complex, finishing with a Syrah and a bleu cheese. As stated, my preferences are for white wines and fresh cheeses, but I can appreciate a good red when I have one. Definitely not bad, they were very drinkable. I do wish I remembered the names of the wines and which cheeses they were paired with, but I beg forgiveness. Among its other super powers, wine tends to loosen the locks on the memory banks.
By this point, all of that wine was heartily sloshing around in our otherwise empty stomachs, and our ability to focus (or lack thereof) was telling us that we needed some real food. So a small group of us drove up to the nearby Taal Monument, offering some of the best views in the area, rivaled only by Table Mountain in Cape Town. The restaurant at the top had some great local food, and of course, more wine. Everything was so good, the view, the food, the drink, that I almost didn’t care how high the temperature was.
Our last stop of the day was the Dieu Donné Vineyards. Compared to the other two wineries, I didn’t think this one offered anything special in terms of food and drink. The wines were good, and the serving sizes not lacking, it was just hard to beat the previous two. What was special about it, was that the wine tasting room and restaurant were situated right on the vineyard itself. The view outside was absolutely beautiful. The shadows on the vines were starting to elongate from the late afternoon sun and the hazy heat made the distant mountains appear different colors. By this point, we were all happily full of wine and the conversation well-oiled. Wine is very good at making it seem like nothing matters other than the present moment.
Ideally, I would remember all of the details I learned from my fascinating wine tour. In the moment, I thought it was interesting, and wish I had committed it to memory, or at least written it down. However, wine tours are inherently fun social activities, not cerebral ones. The nature of the activities meant that there was no way I would remember anything except the jokes, the taste of the wine, and the convivial moments spent with the other people present. I think I would be hard-pressed to find individuals who would consider that time wasted. I certainly don’t. Cheers to good food, good drink, and good company!