Top Ten Cabernets and Chardonnays in SA

Notes from our trip to South Africa in 2012

Itinerary, Meals and Accommodation


We asked a great friend of ours and a person knowledgeable about SA wines (the "Good Value Guru") to suggest his Top 10 Cabernet Sauvignon and Top 10 Chardonnay producers within a 2 hour drive from Cape Town.  We went to taste what they had to offer.  This year’s tour of South Africa took in
Cabernet Sauvignon, and
Chardonnay (and Chenin Blanc).


We again stayed at  The Inn at Castle Hill Guesthouse, 37 Gatesville Road, Kalk Bay, +27 21 788 2554  A great B&B on the hillside with a superb veranda with direct views of the sea and within walking distance of several local beaches and seawater pools (St James shown above) and, about, 5 good restaurants in the village.  We got room 4 again, definitely the best room in the inn.  The previous owner sadly died after my visit last year.  The Inn is now under the management of Chatfield Guest House which is about 50 yards up the road (book the loft room).  This is definitely an improvement as they provide an excellent breakfast and have a swimming pool with loungers if the beach is just too far away.

 Chartfield pool and view
Chartfield pool and view
 St James to Muizenberg walk
St James - Muizenberg walk

Dinner (and lunch)

Sunday night is a good time for a pizza at Satori on the main road in Kalk Bay.  They make thin-base pizza just the way we like them.  A big pizza, main course salad and a bottle of the very acceptable Bellingham Shiraz for a reasonable R250 excluding tip.

Kleine Zalze Chenin Blanc

Crayfish Tempura at Kleine Zalze

Monday lunch in the Stellenbosch vineyards is a tricky thing.  Most of the top of the range restaurants are closed Mondays; the exception being the excellent Terrior Restaurant at Kleine Zalze, R44,Stellenbosch, Tel. +27 21 880 8167 The menu blackboard was excellent in its choices and we rather wished it was dinner rather than lunch time.  We arrived at 12.30 without a booking and got the last unreserved table.  The fact that they were hosting 30 people from a millionaires club may have had something to do with it.  They were an interesting bunch of people; very ordinary looking with their fair share of rude (on the pc throughout the meal) and inconsiderate people (smoke wafting over us as we ate).  Why one would want to go on a trip where everywhere you go there is a poster announcing that you are a member of the millionaires club is anyone’s guess.

Monday supper was at the ‘bring your own’ Outspan Seafood Restaurant on the main road in Kalk Bay.  They do a fish barbecue of the catch of the day.  Two catch of the day plus 6 prawns, calamari and chips for R230 plus tip.  They are a bit heavy on the sauces most of which had chilli.  We had a bottle of Backsberg Chenin Blanc, quite ordinary.

Test Kitchen, Cape Town

Test Kitchen action from the best seat in the house

Tuesday supper was one of the highlights of the trip, The Test Kitchen, Shop 104 A, The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock, Tel +27 21 447 2337, The owner, Luke Dale Roberts, has won many awards including Chef of the year 2011.  We had the 8 course Menu Gourmand (R600 plus R250 for wine pairing); excellent value for money. The beef Scottati was our favourite dish.  In general we thought that the food was too complex – too many tastes competing for one’s attention.  Reminds us of the scene from Amadeus where the young Mozart asks the prince for his view on the piano piece he had just played – the response was ‘too many notes’! Some of the wine parings were not successful, and some of the wines were not too our taste; the sweet wines were excellent.  The ambience and staff were great.  We thought that we had a good table with a ring-side view of the kitchen.  This was confirmed when we were paying the bill as we were asked when we had booked to be able to get this table; we had booked about 4 months earlier.

Wednesday morning it was off to the boulangerie (in a side road near the old church on the main road that has been converted into a theatre) for the best coffee in Kalk Bay.  They are closed Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday supper was at the Olympia Café on the main road in Kalk Bay.  This place does not take bookings and is always packed, lunch and dinner.  Dinner is either at 6.30 to 7pm or after 8.30pm.  The ox tail and cape salmon were both good.  We had a bottle of Zandvliet Shiraz (R200) to wash it down.  The wine list is mainly basic with a couple of quality wines in the white and red sections.  The bill came to R440 excluding tip.

Newton Johnson tasting lunch

Newton Johnson tasting lunch

Thursday lunch was at the Heaven restaurant at the Newton Johnson winery.  We were going to have lunch in Hermanus but this restaurant has a good reputation and a fabulous view.  


 Oak Valley chardonnay at Harbour House
Harbour House seafood platter for 2
and Oak Valley Chardonnay


 Vin de Constance at Harbour House
Vin de Constance and creme brulee

Thursday supper was at the Harbour House restaurant in Kalk Bay harbour.  It is right on the rocks and the rising moon over False Bay made a fabulous backdrop to an excellent seafood platter dinner (R780 for 2). They have a short, but well selected wine list.  They even had the same chardonnay that we brought with us just in case the list was poor, an Oak Valley 2010 that we had purchased at the winery R150 (R254).  We had a bottle of Vin de Constance 2006 (R650) for desert (as one does if it is available).  


Paul Cluver chardonnay at La Colombe
Alaskan crab with Paul Cluver chardonnay
Thelema Cab at La Colombe
Springbok with Thelema cabernet La Colombe Menu Gourmand

Friday night was reserved for a restaurant that has won many awards over the years under its former chef Luke Dale Roberts who is now at The Test Kitchen. La Colombe under chef Scot Kirton is not doing too badly either having achieved an impressive 12th place in the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants of the World Awards 2010.  We also had the tasting menu (R650, more or less the same price as at The Test Kitchen) but decided not to have the accompanying wines. The contrast between the two tasting menus was huge – La Colombe is more in the style of the great French restaurants; more to our taste.  The food was excellent – the best we have tasted outside 3 star Michelin restaurants in France. The wine list is also good but unfortunately the reds did not have any age despite being priced as though they had.  The Paul Cluver chardonnay was R260 and the Thelema Cab '08 R410.  You need to book this restaurant well in advance for the best tables – at least 6 months.

 Steenberg view
View across False Bay from Steenberg


 Steenberg squirel
It should have been more concerned
about the owls in the oak trees

Before going to La Colombe we went to the new ‘champagne’ bar, ‘Delicious by Graham Beck’ at the Steenberg vineyard hotel It served only Graham Beck sparkling wines which are pretty good.  We suppose it might be viewed as ‘hip’ but in the early evening we preferred to sit outside in the gardens.

Jordan Restaurant view
Jordan Restaurant view

Saturday lunch was at the restaurant at the Jordan wine estate, another top 10 restaurant in 2011.  We got as late a booking as we could to while away the time before our flight that night.  The view towards the mountains around Stellenbosch is spectacular as shown above.  Lunch was a selection from a small but interesting menu. We took a trip to their cheese room where they had an interesting selection of local artisanal cheeses. We had a couple of glasses of the Jordan Chardonnay 2011 and the Shiraz 2008, both of which were to our taste; really good. A bill of R686 excluding tip.