Unwind, wine, and dine at The Alphen Boutique Hotel’s brand-new Incognito Bar

We know how important that after-work unwind spot is: you only have one opportunity to cleanse the palate of the day’s stresses and if the establishment you choose doesn’t help you forget the high-pitched whine of your colleague’s voice or the smell of cheap coffee, your only hope is at least three episodes of your favourite Netflix series, which means yet another late night. So, your after-work spot is an important decision.

It should have a calming ambiance, a little style and pizzazz, interesting and delicious cocktails, a wine list that is a compliment to the South African wine industry, and, because it is vrek cold at the moment, a sexy fireplace that radiates heat. It should be run by happy people who are so well versed in the menu that they make menu and wine suggestions that are actually very good (some, better than your own choices – true story) and they should have a tapas menu stacked with both indulgent and healthy bites. A view of Constantia’s verdant, clipped lawns, towering winter naked oak trees, and heritage buildings doesn’t hurt, either.

What a coincidence because Incognito Bar at the Alphen Boutique Hotel has all of the above!

incognito bar

Anytime good time

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Incognito is a relatively new space at the Alphen Boutique Hotel. Past a gaily-painted rhinoceros, you’ll find this bar tucked behind the hotel and it offers guests with all manner of agendas an intimate place for, as previously stated, after work drinks and small bites. It’s also the perfect venue from which to launch a grand evening, whether it’s a dinner at Alphen’s flagship restaurant, Blanko or a jol in town.

Basically, if there’s a glass of wine or a signature cocktail to be enjoyed and an appetite to be whet with friends, family, or a date, Incognito is a devilishly seductive place to do it. It’s open until midnight on most nights and, on Fridays and Saturdays, they have a DJ providing the perfect sound track to get you in the mood for whatever mischief is on your mind.

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Wine, cocktails, and tapas

Arriving at Incognito, we were graciously led to our fire-side table, where we wasted little time getting comfortable, admiring the view, and appraising the wine list. Being a bar – and being there to appreciate its full offering – we accepted the offer of a signature cocktail, even though wine is and always will be my first choice. I’m glad we did, though because the passion fruit whisky sours was all kinds of creamy, sweet, deliciousness and, in the absence of any sweet dishes on the tapas menu, would have made a fabulous “dessert”.

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incognito bar

I then wavered over the wine list and it was here that our server, the dashing Kudakwashe, stepped in and suggested the Glen Carlou Grand Classique. He even went so far as to bring us a taste of the Classique and the wine I had almost settled on; and would you know it, the Glen Carlou was the superior choice. Kudos to Kuda! With a smooth, supple, and dark chocolatey glass of red wine in hand, we were now ready to launch our assault on Incognito’s tapas menu.

We started with the fried, stuffed olives with garlic and Parmesan and the arancini – breaded and fried balls of risotto rice and mozzarella that are crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. We followed this rich and indulgent “first course” with the Caprese stack (fresh tomato, basil leaves, and fior di

It should have a calming ambiance, a little style and pizzazz, interesting and delicious cocktails, a wine list that is a compliment to the South African wine industry, and, because it is vrek cold at the moment, a sexy fireplace that radiates heat. It should be run by happy people who are so well versed in the menu that they make menu and wine suggestions that are actually very good (some, better than your own choices – true story) and they should have a tapas menu stacked with both indulgent and healthy bites. A view of Constantia’s verdant, clipped lawns, towering winter naked oak trees, and heritage buildings doesn’t hurt, either.

What a coincidence because Incognito Bar at the Alphen Boutique Hotel has all of the above!

latte mozzarella cheese), the grilled sirloin tapas plate, medium rare and served sliced with a walnut salsa verde, and the tomato bruschetta (toasted bread) with basil, garlic, olive oil, black pepper, and sea salt because sometimes it’s the simple pleasures in life that are the best. We also had the smoked salmon bruschetta.

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

Our final wave of tapas probably extended one big toe into the realm of over-indulgence but when it comes to pizza, there’s always space for more. We ordered the asparagus pizzette, a 30 cm pizza dressed with swaths of prosciutto ham, pecorino cheese, fresh asparagus, and olive oil. I’ve never thought of tapas as substantial food – more like what you eat before you eat – but, as it turns out, if you order enough of it you can walk out of a restaurant or bar feeling blissfully full and more than ready for a bit of shut-eye. This is particularly true when paired with beautiful Cape wines and inventive cocktails.

Yet another seamless offering from the Alphen

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We were superlatively impressed by Incognito Bar. It has a warm, uber appealing ambiance with truly beguiling views of manicured, centuries old gardens. There are quality beverages to unfurl even the most clenched of nerves and really, really good tapas! The Alphen Boutique Hotel and its constellation of eateries have established a rather formidable reputation as luxury hospitality and foodie destinations and, I’m happy to say, the Incognito Bar fits in perfectly seamlessly with this offering.

Incognito Bar is open Monday to Friday, 16:00 to 00:00 | Saturdays 12:00 to 00:00 and Sunday and public holidays, 12:00 to 21:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@incognitobar.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 795 6300.

www.incognitobar.co.za

Alphen Boutique Hotel, Alphen Drive, Constantia

This article was originally written for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/07/09/alphen-boutique-hotels-incognito-bar/

One of a Million V&A Waterfront Restaurants, Firefish Manages to be “One IN a Million”

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have your tried-and-tested V&A Waterfront restaurant: the one you make a beeline for because you know the sushi is good, the wine list isn’t an insult to the wine educated, and the prices aren’t a total swindle. I know, right? Sounds like a bit of a unicorn at the V&A. The problem with this tendency is that restaurants like Firefish can sail under the radar, when in fact they more than meet all of the above criteria: the food is delicious (and healthy to boot), the atmosphere cheery and chic, and the views of Table Mountain a postcard of Cape Town you’ll take home and keep with you forever. And if all of that isn’t enough, Firefish is currently offering a winter menu special, which runs until 31stAugust 2019.

With all of this considered, I was seduced away from my usual V&A Waterfront routine for lunch at Firefish, hosted by the Kove Collection, the hospitality group behind this sophisticated harbour-side eatery and a portfolio of other South African restaurants, bars, and hotels.

Welcome drinks

Graham-Beck-Brut

Firefish Restaurant opened its doors towards the end of 2017, adding to V&A Waterfront’s existing cornucopia of eateries. Initially, the sheer variety of restaurants on the Waterfront’s Breakwater Boulevard can seem a bit overwhelming but once inside Firefish, its naturally bright and cheery interior and sophisticated, chic atmosphere drown out the noise and distraction of its neighbouring restaurants.

Firefish is an upmarket restaurant – and a Writer’s Choice Top Rated one at that – perched right on the harbour’s edge, yielding iconic views of the Cape Town harbour, from its tourist boats and restaurant-lined quay to the coruscating Ferris wheel and Table Mountain beyond. It has a delightful sheltered outdoor seating area but, due to the cold weather, we gathered inside and eased into our lunch with a flute of Graham Beck Brut and a bit of a chinwag with fellow foodie writers, bloggers, and photographers.

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-2

Three-course lunch with Kove Collection Wine

The Kove Collection has teamed up with various wine estates around the Cape to put together a signature range of wines, which we were treated to over the course of our lunch. To begin with, I had a glass of the Kove Collection Thelema Mountain White, an aromatic, lively, and elegant French oak barrel matured blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Rousanne. This paired excellently with my delicious starter of tuna tartare: cubes of raw, tender tuna served with avocado purée, crème fraiche, citrus dressing, and what tasted like a wasabi soy sauce with slices of raw chilli for kick. Also on offer were the parsley, butter, and lemon-dressed grilled baby squid and a fried goat’s cheese pastry, which, according to the exclamations of joy from my fellow diners were equally as delicious.

Firefish Cape Town-Tuna-Tartare
Tuna Tartare

Kove-Collection-White-Blend

For mains, I chose the pan-roasted sea bass, cooked to succulent perfection with a crispy skin, and served with mussels, olives, cherry tomato halves, buttery baby new potatoes, and fresh thyme and fennel. Curious to try another of the Kove Collection wines, I veered from the tradition of pairing fish with white wine and ordered a glass of the Thelema Mountain Red, a gentle, smooth, and cherry-fragranced blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Shiraz, and Cabernet Franc. Whoever said red wine and fish don’t go together has clearly never paired their seafood with the right red wine.

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Pan-roasted Sea Bass
Other dishes served for lunch were the grilled cauliflower steak with cauliflower purée and a walnut caper salsa, and grilled sirloin with walnut salsa verde, charred shallots, and potato fries. Here, it should be mentioned that while Firefish presents as a seafood restaurant (probably because of its ice bar, where guests can make their choice of fish, crustacean, or freshly shucked oysters), its menu is more accurately described as “surf and turf”. Making use of a Josper Charcoal Grill, Firefish turns out seafood, meat, and even vegetarian dishes that are both grilled to perfection and that retain their nuanced flavours. Also, using this state-of-the-art cooking equipment means that the restaurant can offer guests a varied menu that caters to all palates.

Our final course was a choice between creamy coconut panna cotta with mango sorbet, lime soil, and fresh wedges of grapefruit and orange, and vanilla crème brûlée with strawberries and olive oil sponge. I know: what a cruel thing to do making us choose between the two! I opted for the former, since my love of coconut panna cotta knows no bounds; not even the lure of crème brûlée.

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-Panna-Cotta

One in a million

Firefish is one in a million for several reasons. Quite literally, it is one of a million V&A Waterfront restaurants, many of which are located cheek-by-jowl along the harbour’s edge. In spite of that, it manages to stand right out with its delicious, well-priced, and varied menu; impressive wine list; artful food presentation; chic ambiance; friendly, efficient service; and, let’s not forget, extraordinary harbour and mountain views. And so, for more esoteric reasons, Firefish is, to me, one in a million!

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-1

Firefish is open Monday to Sunday, 12:00 to 22:30. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 21 286 4933 or go to the website at www.firefishrestaurant.co.za

Shop 154 Victoria Wharf, Breakwater Boulevard, V&A Waterfront

This article was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/07/02/firefish-one-in-a-million/

Launching the 2019 Vintage of De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay

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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

DeWetshof Wines: www.dewetshof.comSeabreeze Restaurant is open Monday to Sunday, 12:00 to 21:30. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 74 79 39 349 or email hello@seabreezecapetown.co.za

www.seabreezecapetown.co.za

211 – 213 Bree Street, Cape Town

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/18/launching-the-2019-vintage-of-de-wetshof-limestone-hill-chardonnay/

Boplaas Family Vineyards Celebrate Their Portuguese Wine Range Over Lunch at Jonkershuis Restaurant

The Portuguese are an indelible part of the Cape’s rich tapestry of history, having paved the way for the Dutch seafarers and the Cape’s first settlement by European explorers more than 500 years ago. So, while Verdehlo, Tinta Barocca, Souzã, and Touriga Nacional might not sound like they belong here in South Africa, there is something about Boplaas’ range of Portuguese wines that feels like a return to the roots for us.

The question asked by many, though, is why? Why Portuguese wine? Well, that comes down to a fortuitous, yet quite accidental turn of events…

The Portuguese connection

Boplaas Wine South Africa

After a visit to the Swartland in the late 1970’s Boplaas patriarch Oupa Danie Nel returned with a desire to plant Shiraz in Calitzdorp, so he promptly ordered vines from a nursery, only to discover several years later that what he had planted was, in fact, Tinta Barocca. What could have been viewed as a disastrous accident set the Nel family on a course that would forever change their farm, bringing to South Africa a range of grape varietals that are actually very much suited to our hot and dry climate, particularly that of the Klein Karoo.

Today, Boplaas Family Vineyards produce, in addition to several other table wines, award-winning Cape Vintage Ports, and spirits, a “Portuguese Collection”. This is a range of single varietal and blended wines that really showcase the quality and diversity of wines produced from traditional Portuguese varieties as interpreted by South African soil.

On a more practical level, Boplaas’ introduction of Portuguese varietals constitutes an important move towards a more sustainable future for South Africa’s wine industry. Through conditioning, these vines tend to be hardy, well-adjusted to heat, and comfortable with drought, making them an excellent fit for parts of the country that were previously not considered suitable to viticulture, such as Calitzdorp in the Little Karoo, which is where Boplaas is located; and potentially a better fit overall considering our drought crisis.

Portuguese wine has a deep connection with the Cape’s past (early Portuguese explorers) and a very valid connection with our present and future (it’s suitability to our climate and ability to withstand drought).

But is it any good?

We gathered at Jonkershuis Restaurant in Groot Constantia to find out because, at 370 km distance from Cape Town, a trip to the town of Calitzdorp would have been a bit too far, even for a good lunch!

Groot Constantia Wine Estate

A tasting of Boplaas’ Portuguese Collection

We commenced our tasting with a flight of four wines and two vintages of the Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve Port. The first wine was the Boplaas Cape Portuguese White Blend 2018, a refreshing and easy-drinking blend of 50% Verdehlo (Portuguese varietal), 25% Chardonnay, and 25% Sauvignon Blanc. This light white wine has a fragrant nose of tropical fruits, pineapple, citrus, and yellow pair with a crisp acidity, making it easy drinking and, at only R70 per bottle online*, incredibly good value for money.

*All prices quoted have been sourced online at www.boplaas.co.za/shop/

Boplaas Wine South Africa

Next up was the Boplaas Gamka Branca 2017 (R177), the estate’s flagship white, a Chardonnay-based blend featuring an alchemy of five other wine varietals, including Chenin, Rousanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and Verdehlo (Portuguese varietal). This barrel fermented and matured white blend displays a satisfying mélange of citrus blossom, lime marmalade, creamy lemon, and subtle spice, supported by grippy tannins.

We then tried the Boplaas Tinta Barocca 2017 (R89), an aromatic, medium bodied red wine with a gorgeous earthy and red fruit perfume of ripe plums, raspberry jam, and lively spices and velvety soft tannins. It was the accidental planting of this grape varietal that pretty much kicked off Nel family’s affinity for Portuguese wines. Today, a paltry 221 hectares of this tenacious, quality Portuguese grape varietal grow throughout the Cape, which accounts for only 0.2% of the total vineyard area in the country.

Our final wine before the two ports was the Boplaas Gamka 2015 (R259), a seductively smooth, full bodied red blend (the estate’s flagship) of old vine Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barocca from the Boplaas farm, and Shiraz from Stellenbosch. This Portuguese varietal-driven blend is matured in new French oak for 12 months and boasts dark, plummy fruits, lovely spice, strong tannins, and a long, languorous finish. My favourite thus far!

A charming bit of trivia: The name for both the white and red flagship wines comes from the Gamka River, which flows through Calitzdorp, and from which the farm receives its irrigation. The Gamka River was named after the Xhosa word for lion because of the roaring sound it makes when swollen with rainwater.

Boplaas Cape Vintage Ports

Boplaas also pays homage to Portugal through its Cape Vintage Reserve Ports, of which we tasted the 2006 and 2016 vintages. Port – or Cape port, lest I get into trouble – ages exceptionally well; so well that our host Carel Nel kept referring to the 2006 vintage as “still a baby”. In that case, the 2016 must be positively prenatal, although it tasted beautifully lush, fruity, and moreish to my uneducated palate.

Boplaas Wine Tasting South Africa

Carel then related a most interesting anecdote about a blind port tasting he participated in, which involved “real” port from the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal and Boplaas’ very own Cape Vintage Reserve Port. With Boplaas’ Cape port declared the best, Carel had the pleasure of revealing its provenance, and I’m sure there were more than just a few red faces around the room that day.

Lunch and (even more) wine

With the tasting concluded, it was now time to test the wines’ mettle against food. Lunch was catered for by the farm-style, yet elegantly dressed Jonkershuis Restaurant at Groot Constantia and was a three-course affair starting with creamy mussels and freshly baked bread paired with the Boplaas Bobbejaanberg Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (R116). This wine is made from single vineyard grapes high up in the Outeniqua Mountains of the Upper Langkloof ward. Owing to its cool climate origin, it delivers a rich vegetal bouquet of capsicum and green asparagus, flavours of lime leaf, white peach, and calciferous minerality, and a lush fynbos finish.

Jonkershuis Restaurant Groot Constantia

Mains was slow-roasted lamb with rosemary reduction, crispy potatoes, new broccoli, and carrots, which beautifully paired with the Boplaas Touriga Nacional 2017 (R92), a varietal aptly known as “the king of Portuguese vines.” This powerfully elegant wine featured fulsome tannins, a nose of ripe black plum, vibrant rich spice, and fynbos, and notes of cocoa with a savoury undercurrent.

Jonkershuis Restaurant Groot Constantia

Finally, dessert was a vanilla pod panna cotta with a seasonal berry compote and fresh strawberries, which was paired with the honey sweet Ouma Cloete Straw Wine 2015 (R154), named after Carel Nel’s great grandmother who originally moved from the Constantia valley in the late 1800’s to settle in Calitzdorp. It was then that we all recognised the significance of hosting the Boplaas tasting at Groot Constantia, aside from saving us the monstrous drive to Calitzdorp. The Cloetes used to live here!

Jonkershuis Restaurant Groot Constantia

In the spirit of things

In addition to their numerous wine ranges, ports, and gorgeous sweet dessert wines, Boplaas also has a distillery, and it’s here that Daniel Nel is the boss. The event kicked off with Boplaas gin and tonics beneath Groot Constantia’s ancient oaks and concluded with a tasting of their six-year single grain whiskey, aged in a port cask, and their famous potstill reserve brandy. It’s a miracle I walked out of there with my dignity intact.

Boplaas Wine and spirits South Africa

A part of the story of the Cape

531 Years ago, Portuguese mariner Bartolomeu Dias became the very first European to explore the southern coastline of South Africa. His mission was to plot a trade route to the Far East via the “Cabo das Tormentas” – the Cape of Storms. Nine years later, Portuguese seafarer Vasco da Gama completed the trip, landing in India a whole 14 months after departing Lisbon. In a way, the Nel family of the Boplaas Family Vineyards are as intrepid explorers as these early Portuguese seafarers, which, to me, tells a wonderful tale of innovation, unquenchable curiosity, and bravery.

Boplaas Family Vineyards
Saayman Street, Calitzdorp
Contact: +27 44 21 33 326, boplaas@mweb.co.za
www.boplaas.co.za

Groot Constantia is open seven days a week. For bookings and enquiries, please email enquiries@grootconstantia.co.za or call 021 794 5128. For more information, check out the website at www.grootconstantia.co.za.

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: http://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/04/boplaas-family-vineyards-jonkershuis-restaurant/

Red, Red Wine and Purple, Purple Teeth at this Year’s Franschhoek Winter Wines

As a lover of red wines – robust, voluptuous red wines – I have been looking forward to the Franschhoek Winter Wines festival since the first press release hit my inbox. This is a festival that celebrates, honours, and showcases those wines that are best suited to a frosty, wintry day in the Cape: in other words, red, red wine (and the odd wooded white).

A clear and cloudless Saturday dawned over the Franschhoek valley on the day of the festival but with morning temperatures in the single digits, the wines would still be showing their mettle against the cold. We were amongst the first to arrive at the Franschhoek Cellar, the venue for this year’s instalment of the festival – and what a fabulous venue it was!

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The Franschhoek Cellar

Franschhoek Cellar, “a beautiful asset to the Franschhoek wine route”, can be compared in layout and concept to Paarl’s Spice Route. Its sprawling grounds are home to a collection of gems like a tram-side restaurant, a bistro & beer garden, a wine cellar for tastings and food pairings, and an alfresco eating area complete with central water feature. Visitors here can enjoy the leisurely charms of country life with all the elegance and deep sense of history the Franschhoek valley is known and loved for.

Thanks to the unseasonably sunny day, the festivities were sprawled out in the open with the wine tasting booths scattered across the clipped lawns and beneath the shade of the oak trees. There was also a large separate area furnished with an elaborate jungle gym and guarded by watchful staff, which not only offered parents a respite from being responsible but also saved festivalgoers from tripping over kids. After your 10th wine tasting, you’d be surprised how easy that is to do.

After collecting our tasting glasses and a brief wander, we and sat down to strategize (because when there are 19 wines to taste, a strategy is absolutely necessary if you plan to walk, rather than be carried out of the festival!)

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Leg one: dipping our big toes

We decided like good wine nerds to begin with the lighter-style reds and the one white wine present and so, armed with our branded wine glasses, we commenced on the first leg of our grand tour of the Franschhoek wine valley. We tasted:

  • The Wildeberg White 2018, a wooded Sémillon with a lovely crisp acidity.
  • La Couronne Malbec 2016, touted as “the best Malbec in Franschhoek” and a beautiful food wine.
  • La Bourgogne’s 1694 Progeny Red 2016, the only Syrah and Malbec wine blend to be found in Franschhoek.
  • Pardonnez-Moi Cinsaut from Old Road Wine Co., named for its dangerous ease of drinkability and tendency to necessitate the drinker to later ask for forgiveness.

Leg two: wading in

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With four tastings done and dusted, we paused for a tender barbequed chicken kebab and a pull of water – all a part of the strategy, you see. We then resumed our assault upon Franschhoek’s winter wines with a tasting of:

  • The sultry Cape of Good Hope Southern Slopes 2014, a Shiraz, Mourvèdre, and Petit Syrah blend from Anthonij Rupert Wyne (grapes sourced from Swartland).
  • Amazing Grace 2015 from Black Elephant Vintners, a rich and velvety Cabernet Sauvignon with lovely Eucalyptus notes on the nose.
  • The inaugural vintage of the Holden Manz Proprietors’ Blend 2015, an unusual but absolutely exquisite blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
  • Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2016, an impeccably smooth and versatile Bordeaux style blend featuring rich dark fruits and tobacco on the nose.

Lunch Interlude

By this stage of the day – sun merrily beaming down upon the festivities, crowds thickening, teeth purpling – the effects of all the quality red wine were beginning to show themselves. And so we ordered a truffle mushroom pizza and sat down to eat in the tram-side restaurant located adjacent to the gardens, with spectacular views over autumnal-coloured vineyards to the blue, hazy mountains beyond. By the way, when (not if) you visit the Franschhoek Cellar, you owe it to all that is good in the world to try the truffle mushroom pizza. It will ruin you for all future pizzas: it is that good.

Franschhoek-Winter-Wines-2019-5

Leg three: all in

Stomachs lined with heavenly cheesy, truffle oil-doused pizza and a bottle of water for hydration, we headed back out for the final onslaught and to tackle what we reckoned to be the heaviest reds the festival had to offer.

  • La Bri Affinity 2015, a beautifully elegant and well-structured Bordeaux style blend.
  • Franschhoek Cellar Shiraz, a textbook New World Shiraz boasting exuberant and juicy plum, pepper, and mulberry flavours (and a surprising price point of only R70 per bottle!)
  • A great “Cab-King” of the Cape Winelands: the rich, full-bodied and multi-award winning Plaisir de Merle Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.
  • The maiden vintage of the Boekenhoutskloof Franschhoek Cabernet Sauvignon 2016.

Franschhoek-Winter-Wines-2019-2

Truth be told, we tasted other wines…but by the time we got to them, the palates had been dulled and the focus shifted to enjoying the company of the fabulous and interesting people present. So, I would like to fondly acknowledge the Boschendal Wines Nicolas 2016, Anthonij Rupert Optima 2014, Bellingham Pinotage, and Leopard’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 for the role they played in my (deserved) headache the morning after.

Why I’ll go back…again and again

While I can appreciate wines of all complexity, colour, and body, the Franschhoek Winter Wines festival is dedicated to the wines I love the most: red wine. Does it get any better than being able to meander from one wine tasting station to the other, sipping on beautiful winter wines, speaking to winemakers and ambassadors whose passion and knowledge are offered in equal measure, and all in one of the most magical places on Earth, the Franschhoek winelands? It does but only for one reason:

Nobody cares that your teeth are purple.

Franschhoek-Cellar-Artwork

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/18/franschhoek-winter-wines/

Say Hello to a New Label and New Look for Kunjani Wines

Positioned near the top of a hill in the north-western reaches of the Stellenbosch wine route, the Kunjani winery leaps from the Shiraz vineyards like a jack-in-the-box. Alive with vibrant colour and exuberant energy, this winery completely sidesteps the typical Cape winelands set-up, where the only thing older than the history-steeped manor houses on the estates is the regal mountainscapes that embrace their vineyards.

The philosophy behind the Kunjani brand was and still is about celebrating the cross-pollination of cultures (Africa meets Europe). But 18 months after it opened its doors (November 2017), owners Paul Barth and Pia Watermeyer decided to change the aesthetics of the brand, which is what attracted literal bus-loads of media to the winery on an autumn-perfect Wednesday afternoon.

Kunjani-Wines Stellenbosch

The question was: does the rebranding honour the Kunjani ethos? Does it do Kunjani justice?

We’d find out!

A love story for the ages

Paul-Barth-Pia-Watermeyer
Pia Watermeyer and Paul Barth, the heart and brains behind Kunjani Wines

One cannot tell the story of Kunjani Wines without a swoon-worthy account of the cross-continental and cross-cultural love affair that began it all.

Paul Barth is a German entrepreneur who grew up in the Riesling vineyards of his father’s wine farm in the Rheingau region of Germany. Pia Watermeyer is a successful South African businesswoman and aspiring winemaker. The two met at a mutual friend’s wedding in 2011 and while Paul spoke next to no English and Pia not a word of German, a shared love for wine, dancing, and adventure paved the way for a great romance.

“We travelled Europe with a pocket English-German dictionary in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other,” said Pia to a starry-eyed audience during Kunjani’s brand relaunch.

What do you get when you combine sharp business acumen with a love for wine?

A wine farm, of course!

And so, in 2014, the two purchased a plot of land in Stellenbosch with established vineyards and what began as a serendipitous chance meeting evolved into all that is Kunjani Wines with the lovely and extraordinarily talented Carmen Stevens as winemaker.

The launch

Kunjani Wine Launch Stellenbosch
Listening to speeches at the new label launch (which one am I do you think?)

Over delicious, carefully paired canapés and tastings of Kunjani’s six wines (2018 Sauvignon Blanc, 2018 Chenin Blanc, 2018 “Stolen Chicken” rosé, 2017 Merlot, 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2015 Shiraz) the crowds appraised the new branding on the bottles and the winery itself. Kunjani’s interior is ultra-modern in design and an exuberant and bold work art – the collaborative effort of Pia and iconic interior decorator Haldane Martin – and its spellbinding views over bronze and crimson Shiraz vineyards satisfy that expectation for natural beauty we all feel when journeying into the Cape winelands.

Kunjani-Wines-Restaurant Stellenbosch
Kunjani’s rather spectacular interior

Having attended the launch of Kunjani in 2017 (and held on to a precious bottle of the 2014 Shiraz until only recently), I was quite familiar with the old branding, which depicted two hands of different colour and gender “fist bumping” with a large, bold font. It was simultaneously fun and powerful in its messaging. The new label, packaging, and branding, however, has come of age.

From youthful and fun, the Kunjani brand has been remarkably elevated. Now, it is suave and sophisticated, but not at the sacrifice of its ethos or personality. The charcoal black label with its unique glossy and matt textures (borrowed from the winery’s wall paper) still depicts the two hands and the motto “two cultures, one passion”. To sum it all up: where before the Kunjani bottle looked like an easy-drinking, approachable, and affordable, weekday wine it now looks like a quality wine worthy of saving for a special occasion – a wine to treat yourself or impress a date (or your father/mother-in-law) with.

Kunjani old wine label
The old wine label and branding
Kunjani-Merlot Stellenbosch wine
The new wine label and branding (and a snack of pork belly!)

Judging a wine bottle by its label

Few people like to admit that their purchasing decisions are informed or swayed by the appearance of a wine bottle but, in reality, to say otherwise is to be a touch dishonest. We all sweep our eyes over the wine store shelves, looking for something that pops – something artistic, beautiful, and perhaps a little edgy; something that intrigues and pleases the eye. It’s only from that point that we start reading the label.

There are many wine brands whose stodgy and rather boring labels totally belie the calibre of the liquid they contain. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that South African wine estates have only in very recent years begun to get creative with their labelling and branding, abandoning the decade/century-long tradition of their forefathers. But while my mother taught me to never judge a book by its cover, in the case of Kunjani, you are very welcome to judge a wine bottle by its label.

Stolen-Chicken-Rose-Kunjani

Visit Kunjani

Kunjani Wines has a full service, a la carte restaurant and is open Monday to Sunday, 09:00 to 17:00 and 11:00 to 17:00 for wine tastings.  They also have luxury, self-catering accommodation on the farm. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@kunjaniwines.co.za or call +27 (0) 87 630 0409

Farm 90/20 Blumberg Drive, Devonvale, Stellenbosch

www.kunjaniwines.co.za

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/06/say-hello-to-a-new-label-and-new-look-for-kunjani-wines/

Why I Love Franschhoek in Winter

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.)

Mullinieux & Leeu, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

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

La Motte, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

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

La Motte winter, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

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

La Motte, tasting, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa
Cheeky wine tasting at La Motte’s cellar.

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

Bovine, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa
Credit: Jess McArthur (and the best “plus one” ever) of http://www.FoodTravelWine.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.

Mullinieux & Leeu wine tasting, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

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.

La Galliniere Cottages, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

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

La-Galiniere-Guest-cottages

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

Le petit manoir franschhoek

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.

Where: 191 Main Road, Franschhoek
Contact: +27 (0) 21 876 2731
Web: www.bigdogcafe.co.za

Terbedore coffee Big Dog Cafe, Franschhoek
Meet Jack – the Great Dane (puppy) of Big Dog Cafe.

Boschendal farm tour and wine tasting

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.

Where: R310 Pniel Road Groot Drakenstein
Contact: +27 (0) 21 870 4200
Web: www.boschendal.com

Boschendal Estate, Franschhoek, South Africa

Winter Schwinter

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.

Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, South Africa

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest leisure and lifestyle magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: http://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/05/24/why-we-love-franschhoek-in-winter/