Stellenbosch, South Africa
One can easily spend a day, if not two, tasting in the Stellenbosch area but, as we know the area reasonably well, we decided to do a half day straight after landing to stock up on wine for the evening.
Cattle in Rustenberg meadow
Rustenberg; Monday - Friday: 09h00 to 16h30, Saturday: 10h00 - 13h30
Take the R44 north out of Stellenbosch. Turn right onto the R310 to Helshoogte and Franschhoek. At the lights turn left into the quaint village of Idas Valley and go past the Engen Petrol Station and the Friendly 7-11 (supermarket) on your left, straight across the small circle with Lucky's Store (Café) on your right until reaching a T-junction. The farm is clearly sign-posted from this point. www.rustenberg.com
If one was to visit only one wine farm, this would be the one we would choose. As you travel up a long narrow road beside the stream past cows in the fields up to the historic homestead you get a sense of what this part of Africa was like 300 years ago. And the wines are really good; a reliable benchmark. Here we tasted the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (R75) and the Stellenbosch Chardonnay (R135) both of which we bought. We also tasted the 2009 RM Nicholson (R85)(a soft and easy drinking entry level red blend). We bought this for dinner with some friends who are not into wine. We also tasted the 2007 John X Merriman, a Bordeaux blend, but decided to wait for the 2008. The 2006 Rustenberg Peter Barlow, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, obviously needed a lot more time before it was ready for drinking.
Neil Ellis; opening hours probably similar to Rustenberg
The new home of Neil Ellis Wines is on the R310 towards Helshoogte on the left just past the last of the houses. www.neilellis.com
Neil Ellis was the first and is one of the few winemakers in South Africa that only buys in grapes. His grapes primarily come from 3 farms in the Stellenbosch, Elgin and Darling areas. We tasted his two Sauvignon Blancs, the 2008 Elgin (R75) and the 2009 Groenekloof (R75) from Darling. Both are complex with great structure. The Elgin was fruity whilst the Groenekloof was full of green peppers. We bought the Elgin. We then tasted his 2009 Shiraz from Elgin (R90) and his 2006 Syrah (R200) from Stellenbosch grapes. Although completely different we were impressed by both, so we bought both.
Tokara cellar door
Tokara vine sculpture
Tokara; opening hours probably similar to Rustenberg
Tokara is on the R310 at the top of Helshoogte. www.tokara.com It also has a restaurant with a good reputation. And a spectacular view. The photo on the left is a refection of this view in the glass wall overlooking the stainless steel fermentation tanks one of which you can see, if you look carefully, in the bottom right of the picture.
Tokara bottles a premium range under its own name and a value range called Zondernaam. We tried their Sauvignon Blancs, the 2009 Zondernaam (R50), and the Reserve Collection 2009 from Walker Bay (R80) and from Elgin (R80); the former green peppers and the latter more herbaceous and fruity. We then tried a flight of their Chardonnay, the 2009 Zondernaam (R50), and the Reserve Collection 2009 from Walker Bay (R100) and from Stellenbosch (R100); the latter 2 too oaked from our perspective. Finally, a flight of Cabernet, the 2008 Zondernaam (R70), and the Reserve Red 2006 Bordeaux-like blend (R215). We bought the 2008 Cabernet.
Thelema cellar door
View from Thelema tasting room
Thelema; Monday to Friday: 09h00 - 17h00, Saturdays: 10h00 - 15h00
On the R310 at the top of Helshoogte turn left at Tokara and continue along the road which becomes a dirt road. The winery is at the end. www.thelema.co.za
Another benchmark winemaker. A spectacular view from the tasting room. We tasted and bought the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (R70); the 2009 Chardonnay (R90); the 2007 Shiraz (R110); 2008 Mint Cabernet (R200). Giles Webb, owner and winemaker, regards the Sauvignon as one of the best for many years; fruity and minerally. The chardonnay is citrus fruit with complex yeasty flavours and understated toasty oak. The shiraz is robust and round with good tannins and ripe black fruit and spice. The Mint Cabernet - wow! - was bought to put down back home for some time.