In 2018, a Japanese fraternity of sommeliers named the Limestone Hill Chardonnay from De Wetshof the “Oyster Wine of the Year”. Being a Pacific Ocean-embraced island with a culture and cuisine deeply rooted in seafood, they should know, shouldn’t they? Originating from South Africa’s very own “House of Chardonnay” in the Robertson Wine Valley, the Limestone Hill Chardonnay is no stranger to accolades with bottles of past vintages appearing more decorated than a Christmas tree.
But it wasn’t to celebrate and explore the wines of vintages past that we gathered at SeaBreeze Fish & Shell Restaurant on Bree Street, the carotid artery of Cape Town’s culinary scene. No, it was to celebrate the arrival of the brand new vintage, the 2019, over a lavish three-course seafood lunch!
South Africa’s “House of Chardonnay”
For three generations, the De Wets have toiled over their hectares in the Robertson Wine Valley, transforming sunshine, terroir, and grape juice into a generous selection of variously styled and site specific Chardonnay wines. So intimately intertwined is the history and present of this estate with this noble Burgundian grape varietal that De Wetshof has earned an international reputation as South Africa’s eminent Chardonnay House. The De Wets live and breathe Chardonnay: it runs in their veins (and probably not just figuratively speaking either).
The Limestone Hill Chardonnay
The Limestone Hill Chardonnay is one of the estate’s more accessible wines, both in price and in ease of drinkability. It’s widely known, well trusted, reliably delicious, and (be warned) dangerously quaffable. Now, typically, I like my wines wooded and with a few years under their belts, but there’s a whole lot to be said for this youthful, vivacious, unwooded Chardonnay and even more so because, at only a few months old, it is rich and complex yet elegant, with fresh flavours of citrus and ripe fruits underscored by a gentle minerality.
Actually, since I couldn’t possibly better the words of American wine critic Robert M. Parker in describing this wine, I’ll simply quote them here:
“The De Wetshof Estate Limestone Hill Chardonnay offers impeccably pure, refreshing apple, peach and lemon fruit, a lovely leesy richness of texture, and a nutty, chalky, fruit-filled finish of imposing length. Understated and less tropical than some of the better un-oaked Chardonnays, this wine possesses far better balance and sheer drinkability – not to mention more finesse – than 99% of the world’s Chardonnay I have experienced.”
Yeah: what he said.
The De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay carries quite a hefty reputation and, as we’ve seen, one that extends both east and west of South Africa. But it’s when this accessible wine of great substance is paired with food that it truly sings.
Three-course seafood lunch ft. Limestone Hill Chardonnay
We sat down to lunch at the SeaBreeze Fish & Shell, which is owned and run by Britons Alex and Ruth Grahame, previously of the Hornblowers seafood restaurant in Gourdon, Scotland. This contemporary take on the traditional seafood restaurant prides itself on “sourcing local, sustainable seafood presented creatively and with a lighter touch.”
For starters, we were treated to a plate of fresh, naked oysters of various provenances (Saldanha Bay and Knysna) and two dressed with lime, horseradish, and Amasi – yoghurt-like fermented milk. Next up was an absolutely delicious and perfectly seared steak of locally landed yellowfin tuna served on a swath of herb pesto and garden peas, with grilled baby fennel and sautéed new potatoes. And finally, a tart wedge of lemon, uh, tart with a rich whipped, vanilla-infused Chantilly cream.
Every course was delicious: fresh, beautifully balanced, and satisfying without over-extending the belly, as can be the case with multi-course meals. What was truly extraordinary about it all – and to this I take my hat off to the Chef in the crafty design of the menu and skilful execution of flavours – was how every course showcased a different facet of the De Wetshof Limestone Hill’s personality. The Chardonnay’s citrus notes sang with the oysters, reached a fruity crescendo with the tuna, and settled into more saline flintiness and minerality with the sweet lemon tart. In turn, each course was elevated by the wine.
On the whole, it was a wonderfully flirtatious pairing and even a bit dangerous how easily that Chardonnay went down!
A tried, trusted, and true gem
A good wine and food pairing is the pinnacle of pleasure for yours truly and I was wholly impressed with the 2019 De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay, not only as a wine to be enjoyed on its own but as a pairing to three remarkably different seafood courses. It’s unsurprising that its one of the top selling unwooded Chardonnays in Cape Town and, according to winemaker Johann De Wet, the 2019 is set to become one of the best vintages too (with fantastic aging potential).
The Limestone Hill Chardonnay is drinking proof that a great wine doesn’t need to cost a small fortune, be accessible only by stepladder, or be older than Kirk Douglas. Oftentimes, true gems are made in the same year and exist at eye level.
A short 45-minute drive outside of the Mother City, lies a pearl within a pearl; a luxury guesthouse tucked into a verdant oasis of clipped hedges, flowering bushes, and winding garden paths, in the charming town of Paarl. The Light House Boutique Suites is a tranquil haven to retreat and recover from the rigors of the working week, or from travel, as is the case with 90% of the guests here. It was here that we found ourselves on what would turn out to be the hottest weekend the Cape had seen all spring. It’s just as well, because with air-conditioned interiors and a gorgeous pool at our disposal, not even Paarl’s sweltering heat could compromise our comfort.
The forgotten sibling
Paarl has been given somewhat of a raw deal as far as reputation is concerned. Forced to contend with the likes of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, the historic town has unfortunately lost out on a little bit of the attention it deserves. Sure, while Franschhoek may be a “fancy box of chocolates” compared with its more rustic cousin, Paarl is the real deal. Here, frills, fuss, and French charm are roughly exchanged for the kind of honest, rustic goodness that we all, at heart, find so endearing.
Named for the bulbous granite extrusion that stands sentry over the town (and whose constituent quartz and mica crystals make it glitter in the sunlight), Paarl – meaning “pearl” – features a fabulous array of diversions. Notably, a wine route dotted with exceptional wineries such as Avondale, which is an absolute must visit for great wine, an enchanting cellar tour, and a delicious lunch or dinner at its restaurant, FABER. The town is also home to a plethora of historic attractions and other top-notch restaurants like Noop, Terra Mare, and The Red Table at Nederburg wine estate.
Paarl Rock itself offers a decent hiking challenge and breath-taking views from the top. The Light House Boutique Suites, therefore, is the perfect base from which to explore the treasures this somewhat ignored town has to offer. Your biggest challenge will be extricating yourself from the sweet embrace of the poolside chaise longues or your bed’s Egyptian cotton sheets to go exploring!
Décor and aesthetic
The gentlemen that run The Light House Boutique Suites on behalf of the owners are Darrol and Hendrik, whose career has been unpacked in various disciplines of design and, according to their own testament, have “absolutely no hotelier experience”. Of course, you would never guess from the stratospheric standard of hospitality achieved here. Their design background, however, is evident in every quarter from the gorgeous artworks that thoughtfully adorn the walls to the unique design theme and colour palette of every suite. Even the dining room changes colour every day with the different themed tablecloths that are laid out each morning for breakfast.
At our request, Darrol was kind enough to take us on a brief tour of the guesthouse’s five suites, each of which has a unique personality inspired by luxury designer Ralph Lauren, with a dash of warm Africanism thrown in. Our particular suite, the Manhattan room, had black and white photographs of its namesake city with gorgeous lemon yellow highlights adding colour and vivaciousness to a design base of clean whites, warm greys, and crystal embellishments.
Every element of the design here – colour, texture, and otherwise – has been thoughtfully curated to achieve a theme and feel that is at once luxurious and comfortable. For this reason, The Light House delivers a level of comfort above that of any hotel; you don’t need to scatter your possessions and clothing all over the place for it to start feeling like “yours”. It feels familiar from the outset.
Weekend plans out the window
Outside, The Light House’s garden lazily sprawls down a series of terraces, culminating at the lowest level in an enormous crystal-clear swimming pool. Although temperatures soared in the thirties, the water was surprisingly icy and so we repaired to the poolside chaise longues on which we happily lounged with a glass of Avondale MCC 2010 in hand. With that, all of our carefully crafted weekend plans to give Paarl a thorough exploration went completely and utterly out of the window. I made peace with it, though. This place is so darned beautiful that I’d be willing to sacrifice the hours spent hiking Paarl Rock, visiting the Taal Monument, and enduring the unforgiving sun to remain within the cool, luxurious embrace of this tranquil location.
The promise of excellent wine and food did eventually lure us from the pool and so we dined at Noop on Friday night and indulged in wine and lunch at Avondale on Saturday, both located a short drive from The Light House. We barely had to lift a finger; the staff made the bookings for us and even dropped us off and collected us in The Light House’s resident steed: a very sexy and sleek Limited Edition Chrysler.
From beginning to end, we were thoroughly spoiled and wanted for nothing. Anything your heart or stomach could desire, just ask and The Light House staff will pull the necessary strings (and pop the necessary corks) to make it happen for you. The staff almost constantly stands to attention at the bottom of the staircase and wherever you go – to your suite or down to the pool – you’re never far from the assistance you might need in getting a snack, a glass of bubbly, or arranging weekend plans.
Take me back!
I stand stubbornly by my original sentiment – The Light House Boutique Suites is a pearl within a pearl, a verdant oasis, and a luxury guesthouse of the highest order; indeed, higher than any I’ve experienced previously. The fact that it has a smorgasbord of wineries, fine restaurants, historic attractions, and outdoor adventures at its doorstep is a plus but, if you’re anything like me, you’ll struggle to get there.
Why seek pleasure outside when The Light House is already such an exquisite escape?
For more information on the Lighthouse Boutique Suites, peruse the website at www.thelighthouse.co.za or call +27 21 863 4600 | +27 72 687 4516.
Address: 2 Lille Street | Courtrai | Paarl 7646 | Cape Winelands
Winter schminter! Franschhoek in winter is all about red wine, great deals, and multi-course “the diet starts on Monday” meals
Do you know why I love Franschhoek in winter?
The historic town – one of the Cape’s most famous wine and food destinations – tends to be quite seasonal and so, with the northward migration of the warm weather, visitors to this neck of the woods dry up, leaving its streets, restaurants, and wineries much quieter. No queuing for tables, no jostling for the server’s attention, and no accidental photo bombing while meandering from shop to shop (seriously, some tourists take pictures of everything.)
Franschhoek becomes sleepy in the winter and it’s a most darling atmosphere. It feels like it’s all yours – yours to explore at your leisure and your little secret slice of heaven. Besides, there isn’t a forecast that could keep a wine lover such as myself away from a quality wine tasting, and so on a blustery day with skies pendulous with heavy clouds, my ‘plus one’ and I drove to Franschhoek to spend the day and night sampling what this town has to offer in winter.
Our first stop: La Motte Wine Estate.
La Motte art experience
Twice per month in May, June, and July, (usually on a Tuesday at 10:00), the picturesque La Motte stages a dynamic art experience for guests. Hosted by museum curator Elzette de Beer at the estate’s Pierneef Art Gallery, the experience consists of a gallery tour, followed by a demonstration by a local artist or art student, which affords visitors a privileged window in on the creative process; something that is oftentimes not quite as glamorous or as romantic as we expect!
Currently, Pierneef is running the “Ink on Paper” exhibit, which showcases the artistic processes, various techniques, and conventions behind printmaking. Our demonstrator was the lovely Margarite Neethling, a Fine Arts student at the University of Stellenbosch, who showed us the lengthy and painstaking process behind this popular art form.
Our takeaways from the hour-long experience was, firstly, the incredible skill required to create a decent print (and there I was thinking printmaking was nothing more than sophisticated photocopying!) Secondly, I was struck by just how blurred the lines are between art and science, when quality craftsmanship demands an impeccable standard of precision, patience, and repetition.
Click here for more information on La Motte’s upcoming art experiences (R80 per person) scheduled for the 21st and 28th May, the 4th and 11th July, and 2nd and 9th July 2019.
Winter warmer special à La Motte
Our art experience concluded with a glass of La Motte Collection Syrah 2016 for me and the Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2018 for my partner-in-crime, and a rich, creamy bowl of smoked potato soup, which we enjoyed in front of the fireplace in the estate’s gorgeous flagship restaurant, Pierneef à La Motte. This winter warmer special of soup and a glass of wine goes for only R150 and includes a pan of the estate’s devilishly moreish sweet baked bread.
Where: R45, Franschhoek, next door to Leopard’s Leap Family Vineyards Contact: +27 (0) 876 8000 Web:www.la-motte.com
Tuesday burger special at Bovine Restaurant
Following our delicious winter warmer special and cheeky wine tasting in La Motte’s prepossessing cellar and tasting centre, we made our way to Bovine Restaurant for a meal that was guaranteed to help us cope with the day’s wine indulgence: good old burger and fries!
Located on Franschhoek’s main road, Bovine is the place to go when you’ve got a hankering for honest food that won’t set you back R300 a meal (we know that’s the money you’d like to be spending on wine). Now, with their Tuesday burger special on the go – R100 for any burger on their menu, except the “Fat Cow”, and a side – you can refuel and continue on your merry way without having to consult your family’s finance minister.
We shared two: the 100% springbok “Bonnievale Bok” burger with cheddar, tomatoes, pickles, and red onion and a side of sweet potato chips; and the 100% Oudtshoorn ostrich burger with onion jam, and Stellies blue cheese and a side of wood-roasted carrots and chimichurri.
By the way: unlike most other Franschhoek restaurants, Bovine is open on Mondays. Where: 42 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek Contact: +27 (0) 21 205 3053 Website:www.bovinerestaurant.co.za
La Galiniere Guest Cottages
Even the most intrepid of wine drinkers need to put their feet up at the end of a long day’s indulgence, and our abode for the evening was La Galiniere Guest Cottages, which you’ll find sandwiched between Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines and Big Dog Café. Naturally, we couldn’t turn down the opportunity to pop in at Mullineux & Leeu for a quick tasting and to admire the views of the truly resplendent Franschhoek Valley from this more altitudinous vantage point. Make sure you call ahead (+27 (0) 21 492 2224) – the tasting room is by appointment only.
Thereafter, we finally settled into our accommodations, barely escaping with our faces unlicked by an enormous and friendly (albeit rambunctious) resident puppy. Kicking off our tired shoes, we lit a fire, cracked open a bottle of Mullineux’s Kloof Street Chenin Blanc, and enjoyed a bit of downtime before dinner.
The three-star La Galiniere Guest Cottages are a convenient and rather pretty base from which to explore the Franschhoek Wine Valley and they come in at an exceptional price point for their location, facilities, and standard of comfort. Our cottage had two bedrooms, both with beds the sizes of cruise ships, one bathroom with a shower, a well-equipped open-plan kitchen, and spacious lounge and dining room with fireplace. There was also free Wi-Fi, a pool, and TV. All of that for only R1,400 a night (R700 per person sharing). They even left us a complimentary bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, which they make from grapes grown on vineyards fronting the property.
Note: Book in advance – La Galiniere only has two guest cottages (sleeping four each for a maximum of R2,500 per night) and, given their convenient proximity to Franschhoek and excellent price, they can sell out quickly!
Where: Franschhoek Main Road (R45), next door to Terbedore Coffee Roasters. Contact: +27 (0) 72 612 3806 Web:www.lagaliniere.co.za
Le Petit Manoir
For dinner, we sat down to an unbeatable four-course winter special at Le Petit Manoir, a lavish, elegant, and trendy restaurant on Franschhoek’s main road. For the winter special, guests can choose three courses from a slightly reduced à la carte menu, with a cheese course and bottle of Protea Wine from Anthonij Rupert thrown in for only R350. Not bad! Having come from La Motte and Mullineux & Leeu wines (and being the wine snobs that we are) we decided to change things up with a Viognier, settling the price difference with the bill.
For dinner, we had mushroom and truffle risotto to start, pork belly with cabbage compote, pickled apples, apple gel, gem squash purée, and pork jus for mains, and rose and rhubarb panna cotta with smoked plum gel and sous vide rhubarb for dessert. The cheese course consisted of blue cheese mousse on a crispy cracker with fig mostarda (an Italian candied fruit and mustard-flavoured syrup) and pickled beets.
Whichever way you cut it, R350 for a four-course dining experience and bottle of wine from Franschhoek is a smashing good deal! And we absolutely loved Le Petite Manoir’s ultra-modern glassware, pork belly, brass cutlery, and excellent service.
Note: Le Petit Manoir will be closed for their annual winter break from 3rd June to 3rd July 2019. Where: 54 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek Contact: +27 (0) 21 876 2110 Website:www.lepetitmanoir.co.za
Big Dog Café
Proceeding an entire day of wine appreciation (there’s a euphemism if I ever saw one), a good, healthy breakfast and strong cup of quality coffee were exactly what we needed to refuel, rejuvenate, and carry on our explorations of Franschhoek in winter. The Big Dog Café, conveniently located right next door to La Galiniere Guest Cottages, was our port of call and we kicked off the day with their delicious, house-roasted coffee, a tahini and cardamom granola bowl with milkweed’s Greek yoghurt, fermented berry compote, and fresh fruit, and a trio of breakfast toast slices, all of which were delicious but my favourite being the avocado, sumac, savoury granola, and mustard cress toast.
Our final activity for our whirlwind 24-hour Franschhoek romance was a farm tour of the Boschendal Estate, whose history dates back a whopping 334 years. To most of us, Boschendal is first and foremost a wine farm. In fact, their vast agricultural operations constitute the majority of their acreage and efforts with pears being their biggest export. The farm also sustainably produces all the poultry, beef, pork, fruits, vegetables, and herbs used in its deli and flagship restaurant, The Werf. And they are actively involved in researching the most forward-thinking and holistic agricultural methods for a sustainable and inter-connected farm.
Enrich, our warm and knowledgeable guide, lead us through the main homestead grounds, where the manor house, restaurant, and deli are located and then on through the vineyards, past the citrus orchards, and to Boschendal’s magnificent vegetable, fruit, and herb garden, paying their pigs, Angus calves, and Indian runner ducks a visits en route. Our hour-long tour culminated in a wine tasting under an enormous oak tree. Lookout out over the clipped lawns, Cape Dutch homesteads, and occasional squirrel-chasing-squirrel, it was hard not to feel grateful for the accessibility and affordability of the treats we have right on our doorsteps as Capetonians.
So many people avoid the Cape winelands during the wintertime, and it boggles the mind why. Here, the weather doesn’t rain on one’s parade. Sure, it’s a treat sitting beneath the canopy of a gnarled old oak tree, but is the atmospheric interior of a traditional Cape Dutch manor house really a poor trade? If anything, the lower prices, sumptuous deals, and less congested roads make this gorgeous French-inspired town an ideal winter destination. And with cloud cover adding drama to an already dramatic landscape, there’s simply no reason to wait for the fair weather to visit Franschhoek.