Here in the UK, wine drinking is usually reserved to the evening (unless you’re a financial journalist at a boozy Friday lunch, of course), but in South Africa wine tastings are more of an afternoon affair. In fact, the first vineyard we went to was not even open past 4.30pm, except on Thursdays and Fridays, when it closes at 6pm.
Durbanville Hills Wine, which was to be my first mid-afternoon wine tasting experience in the land of the grape, is just 20 minutes drive from the centre of Cape Town, in a flat valley surrounded by acres and acres of greenery. Turning up without a reservation can be a little hit and miss, as it is so busy during the South African summer period (October-February), but we managed to find some comfy seats with a view of the luxurious vineyards.
It was still early on in my trip, so the novelty of leisurely, sizzling sunshine-filled afternoons in the days running up to News Year’s Eve hadn’t worn off yet, and knowing I had most of the holiday ahead of me made it a very special kind of treat.
I would wholly recommend the biltong and wine tasting experience if, like me, you love wine and meat. Although I did wonder what they put on that biltong to make it taste so damn good, I pushed the thoughts to the farthest corner of my mind and just enjoyed the experience.
Each of the fine wines came with its own type of biltong, enough to to give a large man his protein hit for the day. I even tried chicken biltong, much softer and chewier than the game and red meat varieties, though it was not my favourite.
My biltong consumption was only going to increase throughout the holiday, it turned out. And so was the wine intake, naturally.
Thankfully, wine tasting does not need to be a one-off luxury in the Cape, partly because it is so cheap. And what better way to welcome in the New Year than by trying five different local wines and a nice crisp glass of champagne for the equivalent of just over £2 (45 rand)?
The second vineyard we went to, Leopard’s Leap, is situated in Franschhoek and offers a simpler version of wine tasting than the estate in Durnbanville: just wine and breadsticks, nothing fancy. Except for the wines themselves, of course!
I was so enthusiastic about the tastings that Zayn’s mother, who doesn’t really drink much at all, called me an alcoholic. I hope she was joking…
I think I may have actually started annoying the South Africans by laughing at the prices all the time, especially at the prices of wine. But I couldn’t help comparing sunny Western Cape with rainy London, and its over-priced booze! And of course it helps that the South African currency – the rand – has fallen so far against the pound now that us British feel like millionaires over there, which is hard not to take advantage of.
If you are planning a wine tasting in South Africa, one piece of advice is: do not plan anything else for the afternoon. You will almost certainly need a nap afterwards!