Any trip to Cape Town would be incomplete without a visit to the best Stellenbosch wineries in the Cape Winelands. Discover a dozen incredible wine tasting experiences and plan a Stellenbosch wine tour.
After three months in Europe, we were wary about the wine situation in South Africa.
On our flight to South Africa, Daryl expressed trepidation about the wine situation. South Africa is, more or less, a new world wine region that is growing in popularity. He wondered whether wines from places like Stellenbosch would be branded with the kind of overinflated wine prices that remove the day to day joy from wine drinking like in the Americas.
Mindi, meanwhile, was so excited by the prospect of drinking bold new wines from the Cape Town wineries that she could barely contain herself during the long flight to Cape Town. She looked forward to drinking some good table wine at affordable prices much like we did throughout France, Spain and Italy.
In fact, she started enjoying South African wine on the flight.
As fate would have it, we were both wrong. South African wines are even cheaper and better than we imagined.
And we’re talking about world-class quality here. Yes, the Cape Winelands has carved a wine identity with signature varietals like Pinotage and Chenin Blanc, but the astounding quality wines produced from common grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and even Chardonnay surprised us. No, let’s rephrase that…
We were pleasantly shocked by the quality of wine in South Africa.
For two and a half glorious months, we spent the equivalent of just 4 to 5 US dollars for delightfully quaffable Cabernets and Merlots with scents of berries on their nose; lean yet rich Chenin Blancs with scents and flavors of stone fruit and melon. Even better, $10-12 bought us age-worthy wines with earthy complexity, minerality and hints of leather in the bouquet.
Let it be said that we are wine lovers and not wine experts. Beyond tannins, acidity, mouthfeel and a low-level understanding of olfactory descriptions, our understanding of wine can best be described as above average. That being said, we drink a lot of wine and we know what we like.
We’ve tasted some of the greatest vintages of the last 30 years including wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piemonte, Alsace and Tuscany. We’ve enjoyed great wines from California, Oregon and Australia. We can’t give a technical dissertation, but we will say this:
The wines of the Cape Winelands (Stellenbosch in particular) are extraordinary. As a bonus, world-class South African wines won’t bust your wallet.
To make the South Africa wine situation even better, many of the great South African wines are produced in one of the most beautiful places on earth – Stellenbosch. In Stellenbosch, vineyards are set at the foot of jutting mountain peaks shrouded by misty clouds that evoke a Shangri-la like landscape.
The quality of Stellenbosch wine should be no surprise since the Stellenbosch weather is ideal for growing grapes. Everything about its mineral-rich soil to Southern South Africa’s hot, dry climate allows grapes to reach their potential. In other words, Stellenbosch wine producers have an enviable palette for their work.
Best of all, wine tasting in Stellenboschf is a casual experience that visitors can easily enjoy without pomp and circumstance. At wineries like Peter Falke Wines, it’s entirely possible to buy wine (we recommend an affordable bottle of Cab), plop down on a bean bag chair in the beautifully manicured garden, order a wonderful cheese sampling and melt into the bucolic, golden sunset – a sunset that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
Table of Contents
- Stellenbosch Wine Tasting Experiences
- Plan Your Stellenbosch Trip
- Stellenbosch Transportation
- Planning Checklist
Stellenbosch Wine Tasting Experiences
The best place to drink South African wine is at the source, and we suggest you start with the 150+ wineries located along the Stellenbosch Wine Route. Not only do these wineries produce extraordinary wines, but many offer themed tastings with foods as varied as cheese, biltong, ice cream and cupcakes.
When we weren’t eating at Stellenbosch restaurants, we visited as many Stellenbosch wine farms as our livers could handle during our six-day visit and can honestly report that there were no clunkers. Not one.
Read our Stellenbosch restaurant guide.
We highly recommend staying overnight in Stellenbosch. You can stay at a range of Stellenbosch hotels, many of which are conveniently located on or adjacent to wine farms.
This approach will give you more time to drink some of the best wine in South Africa, if not the world. Plus, you don’t have to worry about driving back to Cape Town when you stay overnight.
However, we understand that not everybody has enough time to sleep in Stellenbosch as part of a South Africa vacation. If you fall into this camp, you can take one of the following tours from Cape Town and leave the driving to somebody else:
However, if you have the time and stamina to plan your own Stellenbosch wine tour, we say do it!
Not-To-Miss Stellenbosch Wineries
As much as we enjoyed tasting wine in Stellenbosch, a handful of wineries stood out to us foremost for the quality of their wines and secondarily for the wonderful wine tasting experiences that they provide.
In our opinion, the following wineries offer some of the best wine tastings in Stellenbosch:
Peter Falke Wines
Peter Falke Wines knocked our socks off. We’re not just saying that because owner Peter Falke made his fortune by selling socks in Europe.
The hosiery mogul bought the Stellenbosch wine farm in 1995 and produced his first wine, a Cabernet, in 2003. Today, winemaker Werner Shernek produces more varietals, most of them red.
You need to visit Peter Falke to taste many of them since the winery chooses to distribute its wine primarily to restaurants and boutique stores. The grounds of the winery are nothing short of gorgeous, with a colorful rose garden, designed by Falke’s Parisienne wife Danièle, and views of the Helderberg Mountains in the distance.
Interestingly, Peter Falke Wines does not host weddings or other private events. Instead, the winery chooses to keep the property open to visitors looking to enjoy good wine in a breathtakingly chill environment.
Order a cheese plate to go with your wine and the view. Also, be sure to try the Bordeaux style Exclusive Blend with 85% Cabernet, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot.
Peter Falke Wines is located at Groenvlei Farm, Annandale Road, Stellenbosch, 7600, South Africa.
Off the typical tourist track, Meinert Wines conducts limited tastings by appointment only. These tastings don’t include any sugary treats or a flashy tasting room. At this Stellenbosch winery, wine tastings are all about the wine and the man who makes it.
A former journalist from Namibia, Martin Meinert trained and studied as a winemaker and worked at top South African vineyards (including the legendary Vergelegen Wine Estate in the 1990s) before opening his self-named winery. He quietly runs his boutique winery by annually producing 80,000 bottles of affordably priced, age-worthy wines, each bottle labeled by hand and sealed with a screw top.
If you’re skeptical about wine bottles without corks, these luscious, complex wines will turn you into a screw-top believer.
Buy a bottle of Synchronicity, the top Meinert wine with 55% Cabernet and a blend of Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot grapes, to enjoy later. Better yet, buy a case or two.
Meinert Wines is located at Devon Crest Vineyards, Devon Valley, Stellenbosch, 7600, South Africa.
Ken Forrester Wines
Known as the “Home of Chenin” for the wonderful Chenin Blanc wines they produce, Ken Forrester Wines also makes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon. Many of the wines here sparkle with fruit-forward flavors including the aptly named Sparklehorse, a white sparkling wine produced with 100% Chenin Blanc grapes grown on 37-year-old vines.
A tasting at Ken Forrester includes either six tastes or the full range of wines, with the winery waiving the fee for tasters who purchase two or more bottles after the tasting. We recommend ordering a cheese plate to enjoy with the wine tasting.
Be sure to select several Chenins to taste since this is the “House of Chenin” after all. Then just sip and nibble away the afternoon at the winery’s lovely outdoor tasting room.
Don’t be surprised if you love the FMC, a Chenin Blanc that fizzes with minerality. Martin Meinert (see above) produces this wine for Ken Forrester Wines.
Ken Forrester Wines is located at Scholtzenhof Farm, 96 Winery Road, R44, 7600, South Africa.
Proving that it’s never too early to reinvent yourself, May de Lencquesaing sold her ancestral winery in Bordeaux and started Glenelly Estate on a former fruit farm on the Stellenbosch Wine Route at age 78. That was over a decade ago, and both de Lencquesaing and the winery are going strong.
She doesn’t do it alone though. Winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain runs a tight ship in Glenelly’s pristine, modern facility, utilizing his previous experiences in Bordeaux and Napa to make bold red wines rooted in South African soil.
We were surprised to discover the winery’s excellent, crisp Chardonnay – the kind of varietal we don’t usually associate with the hot Cape Winelands climate. As O’Cuinneagain explained to us, the Stellenbosch soil never suffered through the ice age, making it older and more weathered compared to the soil in Europe and the Americas.
O’Cuinneagain produces three wine ranges, including the Lady May, all of which can be sampled during an on-site tasting. If you’re hungry, you can order an accompanying cheese plate from the onsite bistro.
Take some time to peruse the winery’s spectacular glass collection. Not only do its pieces span the centuries, but it also happens to be one of the largest private glass collections in the world.
Glenelly Estate is located at Ida’s Valley, Lelie Street, Stellenbosch, 7600, South Africa.
L’Avenir Wine Estate
If L’Avenir represents the future of South African wine, then that future looks bright. Owned by a French company, the winery’s name of L’Avenir literally translates to “the future” in French.
This French theme carries over to the mostly French barrels (except for those from Hungary), but L’Avenir’s grapes are purely South African. The team at L’Avenir picks these grapes by hand before Winemaker Dirk Coetzee transforms them into highly drinkable wines.
Although the winery makes some fun Rose and sparkling Methode Cap Classique wines, the real winners at L’Avenir are the big fruit-forward Pinotage wines. Be sure to try L’Avenirs best in class Single Block wines.
We stayed overnight at the L’Avenir Country Lodge in a lovely room with a private pool. It’s a perfect spot to unwind, eat great food and drink excellent wine. Check out the best rates and reviews. Highly recommended!
Do your tasting outside in a serene spot overlooking water and vines. Better yet, pair your wine tasting with a selection of Wagyu beef biltong from Ken Forrester Wines. (See above.)
L’Avenir Wine Estate is located at Off R44, Klapmuts Road, R44, Stellenbosch, 7599, South Africa.
Middelvlei Wine Estate
Owned by the Momberg family, Middelvlei Wine Estate clocks in as one of the five biggest wine farms in Stellenbosch. Despite its size covering 160 hectares, the winery manages to feel intimate and fun with its grazing cows, outdoor braai, tapas menu and wine blending.
Sure, you could visit Middelvlei just to taste the mostly red wine produced at this certified sustainable farm, but you’d be missing out on half the fun.
Instead, join Alsace the dog for a cellar tour and learn about how the Mombergs produce their free-range Pinotage and why they repurpose barrels for their Rooster wines. If you’re lucky, you can even “steal” some wine from a barrel for a bonus taste.
Be sure to include at least 40% Pinotage grapes when you blend your own wine at Middelvlei. This is the minimum for your wine to qualify as a Cape Blend. By sheer luck, we included 50% Pinotage in ours plus 40% Shiraz and 10% Merlot.
Middelvlei Wine Estate is located at Middelvlei Wine Estate, Flamingo Street, Stellenbosch, 7600, South Africa.
Fun Stellenbosch Wine Tastings
Now that you’ve tasted some of the best Stellenbosch wines, it’s time to let your hair down and have fun by… tasting wine yet again. But now you’re ready for the more unique Stellenbosch tasting experiences.
If you’re looking for a bit of fun when you taste wine in Stellenbosch, we recommend the following six unique experiences:
Vergenoegd Wine Estate
Vergenoegd Wine Estate is a great winery to visit on Saturdays when the winery’s weekly market is in full force. But don’t fret if you can’t make the market. This winery lives up to its name by offering fun activities every day of the week. FYI, vergenoegd translates to satisfaction.
We recommend that you take a tea blending class at Vergenoegd as we did during our visit. Jan Mahlangu guided us through the process of blending Rooibos, Buho and Tanzanian leaves. We had so much fun that we followed this session by blending coffee beans from Uganda and Ethiopia.
Though Vergenoegd has an indoor tasting room, we chose to taste wine on the outdoor deck. Not only did this choice allow us to soak up some sun, but it also gave us a front-row seat for the winery’s duck parade.
Trust us – you do NOT want to miss one of Africa’s wildest animal experiences when you visit Stellenbosch.
Plan your visit around the daily duck parades at Vergenoegd. This parade features 1,000 Indian Ducks. Though we’re admittedly tough to impress, we were wowed by these marching canards.
Vergenoegd Wine Estate is located at Baden Powell Drive, Faure, Stellenbosch, 7131, South Africa.
Clos Malverne Wine Farm
If you love ice cream, why not do an Ice Cream and Wine Tasting? It sounds weird, we must admit, but Chef Nadia Louw Smith creates seasonal ice creams that pair well with the estate’s Clos Malverne wines.
We’re not just talking about typical vanilla and chocolate flavors. Her sophisticated flavors include the likes of Saffron Cheesecake with Sesame Brittle (paired with Chardonnay) and Salted Coconut with Lime and White Chocolate (paired with Sauvignon Blanc).
Be sure to make an advance reservation for your Ice Cream and Wine Tasting. The popular restaurant at Clos Malverne is rated #1 on TripAdvisor.
Clos Malverne Wine Farm is located at Devon Valley Road, Stellenbosch, 7600, South Africa.
Delheim Wine Estate
Now that you’ve tried an ice cream pairing, why not keep the fun going with a cupcake pairing?
Delheim Wine Estate has been offering a Cupcake and Wine Pairing since 2013. Don’t be afraid if you’re not big on sweets – these cupcakes skew toward the savory side with flavors like Pomegranate, Rooibos, Pumpkin and Makataan. To us though, this tasting was all about the wines including a big, bold Shiraz aged for 12 years.
Arrive early and eat lunch at the delightful restaurant at Delheim Wine Estate. During our lunch, we ate dishes like Cape Malay Free Range Curry with Homemade Rotie and the Cold-Smoked Salmon Salad pictured here. Also, be sure to sit on the deck during your meal so that you can enjoy the beautiful view with your lunch as well as a glass or two of wine.
Delheim Wine Estate is located at Knorhoek Road, Stellenbosch, 7599, South Africa.
If you fancy fine wine and fast horses, then a visit to the lush grounds owned by the Taberer family is a must. During our visit, 40 magnificent Thoroughbreds (38 mares and 2 stallions) blew us away with their graceful limbs and powerful muscles.
The winery offers a fun tasting pairing five of their wines paired with candy from Basilei Handcrafted Confectionery, a local shop that specializes in fudge and nougat. Request a taste of the Cabernet Franc – it’s owner Michael Taberer’s favorite wine from the estate and ours too.
Don’t feel compelled to eat all of the candy during the tasting. In fact, we recommend that you taste the wine without candy so that you can appreciate the flavors without hindrance. Plus, candy makes for a great late-night snack after a day of wine tasting.
Avontuur Estate is located at 7130 R44, Firgrove Rural, Somerset West, 7130, South Africa.
Although pairing salt and wine sound bizarre, the Salt and Wine Pairing at Die Bergkelder is a fun way to taste unfiltered Fleur du Cap wine while learning about salts from around the world. Don’t worry – the tasting doesn’t literally involve eating salt with a spoon.
Instead, the salt is served with foods like Green Olive Tapenade and Chicken Liver Pate. During our tasting, we sampled salts from Pakistan, Hawaii, Himalaya and South Africa.
Stock up on wine and corks when you’re at Die Bergkelder. The wine shop stocks over 275 wines for sale at all price points, not to mention some really fun wine bottle toppers. Despite the popularity of screw tops in South Africa, these corks are really fun. Or, you can buy tasty salted caramels as we did.
Die Bergkelder is located at George Blake Street, Stellenbosch Central, Stellenbosch, 7600, South Africa.
Tokara Wine Estate
“Olive oil is not fashion. It’s passion.”
When you need a break from wine tasting (trust us, it happens), why not try an olive oil tasting at Tokara? Gert van Dyk runs the olive oil program with a high level of passion and Italian presses. His olive oil sells out every year, with bottles sold locally in South African and as far away as Taiwan and the United States.
During a tasting, you can try our best to identify flavors like rocket, lettuce, tomato and green praline. Hopefully, you’ll do better than us since we found that all of the olive oils tasted like… olive oil.
Be sure to taste van Dyk’s experimental olive oil. You will love its bold, unfiltered flavor profile.
Tokara Wine Estate is located at Helshoogte Road, Stellenbosch, 7600, South Africa.
Stellenbosch Wine Video
Watch our YouTube video to see us taste wine with Luke O’Cuinneagain, the winemaker at Glenelly Estate.
Plan Your Stellenbosch Trip
The drive from Cape Town to Stellenbosch takes less than one hour. Although you could easily do a Stellenosch day trip from Cape Town, we recommend a multi-night stay so that you have time to visit more Stellenbosch wine estates and restaurants without feeling rushed. We stayed in four hotels over six days in Stellenbosch, and we didn’t get bored even for a minute.
As for transportation, your best bet is to rent a car in Cape Town so that you can drive to all the wineries as well as the best restaurants in Stellenbosch. Other options include public transportation (i.e. a bus or train) to downtown Stellenbosch or Uber, a popular car-share service in South Africa.
Once you’re in Stellenbosch, Uber is a great option since you can taste wine without worrying about assigning a designated driver. You can also arrange a Stellenbosch wine tour with companies like Cape Food & Wine Tours.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
Original Publication Date: August 1, 2017