BABYLONSTORENOur first stop was at Babylonstoren in Franschhoek, an area originally colonised by the French Huguenots, who brought with them their wine traditions and expertise. However, the first vineyards were in fact planted shortly after the Dutch settlers arrived in 1652, with the estate of Babylonstoren dating back to 1692.
A historic Cape Dutch farm, Babylonstoren is much admired for its magnificent grounds of over eight acres, including fruit and vegetable gardens. Many of the original farm buildings are also now transformed into a quaint and character-filled Farm Hotel and Spa, retaining the traditional thick whitewashed walls, distinctive gables and large fireplaces. In addition to the superb wine and meals on offer here, there is also a farm shop where other products can be purchased.The idyllic surroundings provide the ideal atmosphere for tasting some very special wines, accompanied by a choice of complementary food platters.
All platters are served with Babylonstoren freshly baked artisan bread, their award-winning extra virgin olive oil, as well as crisp vegetables and juicy fruit, freshly picked from the garden. You really can’t go wrong by choosing the excellent white wine here, particularly the unoaked Chardonnay, and also the Viognier and the Chenin Blanc. We also tried a delicious light red Shiraz.Daily cellar tours start at the Tasting Room, every hour on the hour, from 11.00 to 15.00. Photographs courtesy of Babylonstoren.
MAISON ESTATEOur next stop was the highly recommended Maison Estate, also in Franschhoek, where we had booked to have lunch. The Chefs’ Warehouse restaurant here is known for its inventive menu, pairing various flavours in unexpected and exciting ways. The menu was so tempting and imaginatively presented, we all tried something different to take full advantage. Special highlights for us were the Perlemoen (abalone, or New Zealand paua) with choy, celtuce, sea lettuce and yoghurt, and the line fish with leeks and gooseberry.
The restaurant is in a glorious position, with tables on a verandah overlooking a huge garden with trees, all set against a backdrop of vineyards. The vegetables, fruit and herbs all come from the estate’s garden and orchards.If you don’t feel up to such a lavish lunch, you can also purchase a selection of delicious cured meats, cheeses and preserves, all freshly made on the farm, and a selection of simple dishes to take away, or to have as a picnic on the lawn under the ancient oak trees – or take a rest after lunch in the addictively relaxing hanging chair.
The wines we tasted were all delicious, but one that we still continue to talk about is the Straw wine, with its hints of honey and vanilla. The grapes used in this wine are sweetened on straw bales in the sun, then Chenin wine is added to separate the grapes from the straw, before being fermented in oak barrels for up to two years.The Chefs’ Warehouse restaurant is open for lunch from midday until 16.45, and dinner from 18.00 – 20.45. The tasting room and deli are open from 10.00 – 16.00, Monday to Saturday, and on Sundays from 10.00 – 14.00. Photographs courtesy of Claire Gunn.
JORDAN WINE ESTATEOur next outing was to Stellenbosch, the first region in South Africa to establish an official wine route. Here we discovered the impressive Jordan Wine Estate. Gary and Kathy Jordan have been making world-class wines since 1993 on a farm with a history going back over 300 years. Gary’s parents bought the 146 hectare Stellenbosch property in 1982, and embarked on an extensive replanting programme, specialising in classic varieties suited to the different soils and slopes. The result is some really top class wines – we liked, in particular, the Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the dessert wine.
Again, there is a very tempting lunch menu, which changes daily, based on the best seasonal produce available on the day. We tried, and would highly recommend, visiting the Cheese Room, which features South African cheeses, including blues such as Fairview Blue Rock and Cremalat Gorgonzola, hard cheeses like Klein Rivier Gruyere and Dalewood Huguenot and a selection of seasonal goat’s cheese. Guests are invited to make their own selection to enjoy with wine, or as a dessert.The tasting Room is open Monday – Sunday from 09.30 – 16.30 for wine tastings and tours.
BEAU CONSTANTIALast, but not least, we visited the beautiful Beau Constantia, a 22 hectare, boutique wine farm at the top of Constantia Nek, with views of the Stellenbosch and Helderberg Mountain ranges and over False Bay as far as Hangklip. The cultivated varieties include Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Shiraz and Petit Verdot. A particularly good red wine here is the Lucca red, a classic Bordeaux-style wine, aptly described as ‘liquid chocolate’! Beau Constantia has recently launched a second tier range of wines called Pas De Nom, of which we particularly liked the rosé, the white (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Sémillon) and the sparkling wine.
The fabulous tasting area on a terrace features magnificent views over the valley. Seating includes huge hanging sofas for relaxing outdoors.The Chef’s Warehouse restaurant here offers a seasonal menu which changes regularly, and tapas plates for two are also offered. We particularly recommend the delicious tapas and sushi plate.Photographs courtesy of Claire Gunn.
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