We’re getting there. At the date of this writing, Pennsylvania has moved into the “Yellow Phase,” and we can finally at least start the return to normal. Hopefully, the “Green Phase” will not be far behind.

Many of us, though, are cautious about things like airplane travel and trips to far away and exotic places. So let’s take one more virtual wine trip together. Sit back, enjoy the “scenery” and imagine the beauty and hospitality of South Africa. Put this destination on your bucket list. Maybe next year…

“Wow” is a word we used a lot on our 2018 adventure in South Africa and Zimbabwe. An intrepid band of eight, whom we now refer to as “Team Africa,” embarked on a two-plus week trip sponsored by Crossing Vineyards and Winery. The scenery, the people, the wines were… for want of a better word…. Wow!

We enjoyed our first dinner in Cape Town (after 27 straight hours of travel!) at a cool “locals’ place” called Arnold’s, not far from our cute, quirky and perfectly located hotel, More Quarters. We experimented with ostrich, kudu and warthog ribs. And we sampled two wines that South Africa has become famous for: Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. Tasting them was sort of like meeting a new friend…the kind you like instantly.

Chenin Blanc, also known as Steen, has traditionally been the most widely planted white grape variety in South Africa, and presently accounts for over 20% of all S.A. grape production. Chenin Blanc can be made into many different styles of wine, from dry to sweet, oaked or unoaked. The varietal is so versatile that it seems to be the white wine of choice, no matter which bar or restaurant you go to in Cape Town.

The unique South African red Pinotage is made from a grape varietal that combines Pinot Noir and Cinsault. It has a bold, earthy flavor and a spectacular deep red color. Pinotage has a taste all its own, one born to pair with African game meat, especially those warthog ribs we tried.

As we began to explore the Western Cape, we came to understand that the South Africa wine story goes far beyond Steen and Pinotage. The first wine estate we visited was Cape Point Vineyards, located in Noordhoek. We stopped here after an exciting day of touring Cape Point and the Peninsula. We visited Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town, where we experienced colonies of the rare and endangered South African penguins and the mostly starkly dramatic, downright spectacular beaches any of us had ever seen.

So, after that, how could a mere winery impress us?

We were wowed not only by the quality of the wines at Cape Point Vineyards, but also by the hospitality and professionalism of the winery personnel. You need to go there. We discovered that the Cape Peninsula has close proximity to the ocean and the ancient soils of the Table Mountain Range, as well as a terroir ideal for the production of world-class Sauvignon Blanc. Who knew? When I think of Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand comes to mind. Maybe even California. And of course, France. But South Africa? Yes…and wow!

After a few days in Cape Town, exploring spectacular tourist sites like Table Mountain and Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years), we moved on to an area of the Western Cape known as The Winelands.

At The Waterford Estate in the world-renowned Stellenbosch Region, we all piled into a Range Rover with our guide Trent, who took us on a “Wine Safari.” After a drive through the picturesque vineyards on a crisp fall day, we stopped amid the vines for a wine tasting with some yummy cheeses, meats, marinated veggies and dried fruits.

We were surprised to see that Chenin Blanc and Pinotage were not among the wines served, but rather all European varietals, including Chardonnay and two of the leading red grapes grown in South Africa: Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

This winery is not to be missed when you visit The Winelands in South Africa. One quick look at the tank farm here, and the cellars filled with oak barrels, and there is no denying that this is a serious place, where wines of character and substance are produced.

At Haut Cabrière in Franschhoek, we discovered a wine commonly known in South Africa as MCC (or Méthode Cap Classique). This sparkling wine is produced in the méthode champenoise, with secondary fermentation taking place in the bottle. MCC is also made from the same grape varietals as champagne: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunière and Chardonnay.

At Haut Cabrière, we enjoyed a Méthode Cap Classique tasting of Pierre Jourdan sparkling wines, named for the French Huguenot to whom the farm was granted in 1694. The MCC tasting included their Brut, Belle Rosé and Blanc de Blancs. It's hard to imagine a scene more delightful than sipping champagne on a sunny autumn day, while taking in the breathtaking vistas of the Franschhoek Valley. Sigh…Wow…

Two more of the wineries we visited are well worth mentioning. The first is Tokara, situated on top of the Helshoogte Pass outside Stellenbosch. Again, we were wowed, not only with the world-class wines we tasted, but also with the food that rivaled in quality and presentation the most sophisticated New York restaurant.

Along with lunch choices that ranged from beef tartare to lemon and pepper glazed hake to olive oil ice cream, we enjoyed Western Cape Wines of Origin, including a 2017 Sauvignon Blanc and a 2016 Shiraz. The meal, the atmosphere and the service were sublime. Dare I say it again? Wow…

The second exceptional winery we toured was The Kanonkop Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. Winemakers at Kanonkop follow the age-old tradition of processing grapes in open concrete fermenters. Kanonkop Estate has been described by industry experts as the South African equivalent of a Premier Cru or First Growth Estate.

Since Kanonkop specializes in Pinotage, here we gained our deepest understanding of this unique South African varietal. The wines we tasted represent, in my opinion, some of the best South Africa has to offer.

One more comment about The Winelands before I stop raving about South Africa. If you are fortunate enough to plan a trip here, stay at Leeu Estates in Franschhoek. It’s hard to characterize the beauty, comfort and sophistication of the place. It is a luxurious hotel, world class restaurant, vineyard and winery and superb art museum, all rolled into one. Season that with a dash of superior hospitality, and I would say you couldn’t find a better place, not only in South Africa, but in the world, to experience the best life has to offer.

I hope you won’t think I am overstating my case. And there is only one way to find out. You must visit South Africa yourself someday. When you do, I think you’ll agree. There’s only one word about this beautiful part of the world and its wines that says it all.

Wow!

Christine Carroll is a Certified Specialist of Wine. She is also a columnist for Wines and Vines Magazine in San Rafael, California, and one of the principals of Crossing Vineyards and Winery. You can contact her at: info@crossingvineyards.com

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