Tag Archives: Wine Tasting

Wine a little, you’ll feel better…

Although our Shark Cage Diving experience was exciting, it was not exactly a romantic start to our South African vacation.  Luckily, my sweet hubby had planned a picture perfect part two: several days in the Franschhoek wine region, a foodie haven with spectacular scenery and world-class wines.  The drive from Cape Town was only a little over an hour, but it was filled with lovely views of vineyards and beautiful mountains.

We arrived at our hotel, Mont Rochelle, which Sir Richard Branson had recently acquired and completely refurbished.  Cool grays, bright pops of color, and modern lines dominate the decor. Everything seems very well thought out, as many of the newer “design hotels” are, but Sir Richard also threw in some whimsical pieces: chairs covered in artificial grass and strange yellow bowls that resembled large empty tennis balls.  The two resident cats also lend a homey touch.

Here are a few shots of the hotel and grounds:

Lovely views all around.  This was where we ate breakfast each morning.
Lovely views all around. This was where we ate breakfast each morning.
Grass chairs? But, of course!
Grass chairs? But, of course!


The wonderful restaurant, still a bit undiscovered...
The wonderful restaurant, still a bit undiscovered…
Not a bad view to wake up to!
Not a bad view to wake up to!

Our first night, we enjoyed the restaurant at the hotel and settled into the relaxing atmosphere.  The next morning, we had a full day wine tour planned of the Franschhoek/Stellenbosh Wine Regions, or at least a very small portion of it.  This wine area is enormous, with close to 300 wineries.  There was no way we could see them all and live to tell about it!

We learned the hard way on previous trips to Napa that trying to tackle more than three or four wineries in a day just makes you silly drunk and unable to taste much of anything.  Not starting out with a long list of must-see wineries made it much easier, as the pressure was off to rush about from place to place.  We left the choices up to our driver, and he picked three very nice spots based on our favorite types of wine.

Our first stop was Ernie Els winery, a gorgeous spot high on the side of a hill, with an amazing view and excellent red wines.  It also has the bonus of a trophy room featuring great photos of Ernie throughout his illustrious golfing career. We could have sat there all day, taking in the view, but we had given our driver permission to push us along when needed.  Here are a few photos of Ernie’s place:

What a view!
What a view!
Of course there was a putting green!
Of course there was a putting green!
Ernie makes some fabulous reds...
Ernie makes some fabulous reds…

Next, we visited Neethlingshof, to sample their excellent pinotage, a uniquely South African blend of hermitage and pinot noir grapes. We stopped for lunch at the lovely Bread & Wine restaurant at Moreson Winery, and nibbled on their recommended charcuterie platter.

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Our last stop for the day was at La Motte, and then we were done.  Even with pouring out much of what we were served, we had had enough wine for the day.  Slow and steady wins the race, and we had several more days of this ahead of us.

The next day we began with a lovely drive just outside of Franschhoek, where we discovered near wilderness.  This seems to be the main difference between this wine region and others we have visited.  Its vastness and relative sparse crowds give the impression that you have the place to yourself.  So relaxing.

Looking down at Franschhoek from the pass.
Looking down at Franschhoek from the pass.
Wide open spaces just outside of town.
Wide open spaces just outside of town.

After our short drive, we headed towards Stellenbosch to see a couple of places we had missed.

Visiting Haute Caubriere, were we tasted an un-oaked Pinot Noir, a lovely mix between a white and a red wine.  Not a rose, but something entirely new.
Visiting Haute Caubriere, were we tasted an un-oaked Pinot Noir, a lovely mix between a white and a red wine. Not a rose, but something entirely new.
Visiting Delaire Graff, a very posh hotel and winery with a spectacular view.

Dinner that night was a Le Bon Vivant, a small french restaurant in town. Franschhoek (which is dutch for “French corner”) was settled by French huguenots in the 1600’s.  Their influence is still strongly felt in many ways, not least of which is the predominance of excellent French restaurants in the area.

The next day we hopped aboard the “Wine Tram”, a slightly hokey, but fun way to see more great wineries without having to drive under the influence.  We enjoyed the experience and were able to try even more wine, even though we were both reaching our limits.

The Wine Tram.  All aboard!  Toot! Toot!
The Wine Tram. All aboard! Toot! Toot!

Since this was our final night, we had saved the best restaurant for last.  La Petite Ferme is a very popular spot, but usually only open for lunch.  But on Friday nights it is open for dinner and live music is played on the lawn overlooking the vineyard.  We had called several weeks before the trip and made a reservation for 7:00 pm.  We arrive on time only to have a very surly hostess inform us that we did not have a reservation, but she did find our name on a waiting list. The place was completely booked, especially the outside tables overlooking the jazz band.  What to do? I’ve found the best tactic is to smile sweetly and stand your ground until someone finds a solution.  We were not leaving, so they needed to figure out where to put us.

The surly hostess placed us at a table in the back near the kitchen.  It was’t exactly what we had in mind, but at least we would be able to have a nice meal.  Then, our darling waitress saved the day.  She sat up a table outside in what is normally the bar area.  It had a perfect view of the band and vineyards and we felt very special.  See, there are angels among us.

We had the best spot in the house.
We had the best spot in the house.
An excellent band played all kinds of music and we even had a chance to dance under the stars.
An excellent band played all kinds of music. After the sun went down, we danced under the stars.

It was a wonderful week in South Africa and we cannot wait to return.  Having only scratched the surface of what this beautiful country has to offer, we look forward to finding new treasures on our next trip.  As long as my husband doesn’t announce a lifelong desire to go bungee jumping or hang-gliding, our future trips are sure to be romantic from start to finish!

© 2015 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

Wine Tasting for Dummies…

Cat Pee.  Dirty Socks. Wet Dog.  Did you know all of these “notes” are present in some very fine and expensive wines?  We learned this and much more at a Portuguese Wine Tasting event held on Friday night in the community room of our apartment building.  Sure, I had been to wine tastings before.  And truth be told, I had probably consumed wines with worse notes than those previously mentioned – especially in college.  I wonder what notes are found in Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill.  Frat House?  Bar Bathroom?  No matter, I have finally outgrown the world of convenience store wine and, after our session on Friday night, am one step closer to knowing how to properly “taste” wine.  And no, just pouring it in the right glass is NOT enough.

After learning about the event, we were very excited to go and taste some great Portuguese wines.  We have been to Portugal twice and have come to enjoy the excellent wines there, especially those from the lovely Douro Valley.  When we arrived at the community room on Friday night, however, I was surprised to find that this was not just a “show up and taste” event.  The room was decked out with long tables set with an assortment of different glasses, a stack of handouts about the notes present in wine and other crucial information, plates full of bland crackers to clear our palates between tastes, large spittoons (that I was sure would go unused), and some very mysterious tiny, numbered bottles.  We took our seats and faced the large screen, obviously set for a slide show, and waited.  And waited.

The event was due to begin at 6:00 pm.  It was now 6:30 pm and most of the sixty-odd seats were still empty.  Shortly after 6:40 pm, our moderators, both degreed Portuguese wine experts, declared that the remaining participants, mostly Angolan, would arrive at some point.  This is Africa.  Even for such a high-falooting event, the start time is merely a suggestion.

Our moderators (I will call them Mr. White and Mr. Red) proceeded to run through a very detailed description of how our nasal passages and tongues work together to process tastes.  There were slides, pictures, and even a little game where we sniffed the contents of the mystery bottles and tried to decipher what they were.  Luckily, there was no Cat Pee involved!  About 7:00 pm, the remaining participants sauntered in and immediately began to talk amongst themselves, oblivious to the slide show and lecture going on.

Mr. White and Mr. Red struggled to keep control of the increasingly restless crowd.  Where is the wine, we all wondered? One-by-one we each got up to nibble from the plates of appetizers set on the bar, and checked our watches to see how much longer this was going to last. Finally, after an hour and a half of very in-depth discussion, the first glasses of wine were poured. Hallelujah! The addition of wine did nothing to improve our attention, but it certainly made for a more jovial crowd! As they say, ‘wine goes in and happiness comes out’.

We began with a lovely sparkling wine, worked our way through various whites and reds, and finished with a sweet, port-like dessert wine. Along the way, we discussed the notes detected in each wine and whether or not we liked them.  But…more education was clearly needed before we could be considered “qualified” to properly taste wine.  At one point, one poor misguided soul asked what kind of cheese would go with a particular wine.  “That is another class”, Mr. White snapped,  “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

Really. What an amateur.

All kidding aside, and despite the slow start, it was a fun and informative evening and we met some very nice folks.  Of course, we bought some very nice wines as well and look forward to our next get-together.  In the meantime, I will do my best to sniff out the notes in any new wine I try.

But, at the risk of labeling myself as unsophisticated, if I come across a Chateau St. Cat Pee, I am giving it a pass…

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved