(images: Jared Ruttenberg)
Paarl is the largest town in the Cape Winelands, and at only a 35 minute drive from Cape Town, you hardly need an excuse to visit. Comparable to some of the better known wineland towns, Paarl has plenty to offer. I recently spent a weekend with some friends, and we found some unmissable wine tasting experiences:
I knew that my first Paarl farm would have to be the legendary Nederburg. The name is synonymous with winemaking in the country, and it’s no shock that for the third consecutive year the farm has been placed in Drinks International’s Top 50 ‘World’s Most Admired Wine Brands’ list, and remains one of the most awarded wineries in the country.
The farm first was acquired by Philippus Wolvaart in 1791, however its trajectory took a leap in 1937 when it was bought by Johann Graue, a German wine, tea, and beer specialist.
White Winemaker Elmarie Botes told me that a Grade 11 cellar visit with her father was what first planted the seed of being a winemaker. “It was always a dream to work at Nederburg, I just never knew it would be so soon.” I asked if she was intimidated by the reputation of the farm and task at hand, she replied, “Obviously! It’s been overwhelming. During harvest I didn’t know if I was coming or going.”
“The drought also posed a challenge, but I still managed to produce quality wines. After that, I told myself, OK you can do this!” The Anchorman Chenin Blanc is a favourite for both Elmarie and I, and happens to be one of the top awarded Chenins in the country.
Ranging from lifestyle wines to premium and experiential wines, there’s something to suit everyone’s palate. Be sure to include a cellar tour as part of your visit. There are various options from R65, including ice cream pairings, and a tasting designed for kids. The Red Table is the on-site eatery and is located in the heritage manor home itself. Delectable dining in outstanding surroundings.
2. Mitre’s Edge Wine Estate
The wine district of Paarl stretches further than you’d imagine, and on one of the outer edges was my next stop. I’ve passed the farm countless times on my way to Franschhoek, and never knew that only two minutes off the main road lay the hidden gem known as Mitre’s Edge Wine Estate.
Husband and wife team, Lola and Bernard Nicholls, are the tour de force behind this family-run boutique winery. The farm is named after the mountain adjacent to the farm that bears an uncanny resemblance to a bishop’s mitre.
There’s a strong focus on Bordeaux reds varietals. Sholto, Gaelic for sower of seeds, is Lola’s father’s middle name, and also the flagship blend. Quite possibly one of the best I’ve tasted in the Cape, it is a brilliant balance of Bordeaux beauties. What’s fascinating is that the farm also produces single varietal offerings of each of the Bordeau reds.
Last year, the 2015 Malbec was most highly rated by the Platters Wine Guide. I tasted my first 100% Petit Verdot with it’s delicate intensity, inviting me to sip more and enjoy as the flavours developed.
If you fancy a farm stayover, there are two cottages for rental at reasonable prices. Find more information on the farm here – and I’d advise calling ahead to book your tasting.
3. Mellasat Vineyards
When researching the various Paarl wine farms, the phrase ‘White Pinotage‘ popped up, stopping me in my digital tracks. What on earth was a White Pinotage? How was it made? More importantly, what did it taste like? Curiosity led me to my third and final farm visit in Paarl, Mellasat Vineyards.
Hailing from Norfolk, owner Stephen Richardson’s grandfather had, from a fairly young age, introduced him to some of the wines in his handsome collection, and already at the age of eighteen Stephen was contemplating viticulture in his British corner of the world.
Although his plans didn’t initially take root, several 1990’s visits to South Africa eventually led to a ‘96 purchase of the land that is now Mellasat. Conversation revealed that in his desire to produce wine, Stephen wanted to pay homage to both his Burgundy old-world style wine preferences, but also allow a sense of place or terroir to dictate the direction of the wine.
As I’d guessed the enigmatic White Pinotage is made with no contact time, and it’s matured in Romanian oak to produce a very unique offering. I’ll be opening my bottle soon at my dinner table, where it’s guaranteed to be a talking point. As for the taste… I’d rather you get your hands on a bottle and see for yourself!
My second surprise at the farm is in the downstairs cellar where you’ll discover the remarkable ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Wines’. Ask about where the concept was born, and spend some time browsing the variety of South African historical wines.
The restaurant has tasty platters available, and the monthly Gourmet Burger weekends are very popular with the locals. A five-wine tasting costs R50, but for R100 opt for the upgrade to five premium wines enjoyed in the cellar and paired with some delicious nibbles.
* In order to fully and responsibly appreciate the three farm visits, I stayed at the Light House Boutique Suites. Quite possibly Paarl’s most luxurious lodgings, and certainly some of the most dedicated hospitality and service you’ll ever experience.