When faced with something like 800 wineries, how do you go about identifying the top wines and wineries of the Cape? The decision of what to buy or drink can be nearly as daunting as trying to unravel the enigmatic French Appellation d’origine contrôlée system.
Some local wine writers have proposed a ‘first growth’ classification for the top Cape wines and wineries, based on pedigree and performance of their wines. This list of the Cape’s top 10 wineries is compiled from proposals in Wine magazine (South Africa).
Somerset West. Possibly the grandest of the Old Cape estates, established by Governor Willem Adriaen van der Stel in the late 17th century. It languished as a wine producer until viticultural wizard André van Rensburg took over the cellar in the early 2000s and turned it into the most decorated winery of the Cape. His reds and whites rival the best of Bordeaux.
Eersterivier, Stellenbosch. In the Myburgh family for eight generations, this most elegent of all Cape Dutch manors is renowned for it elegent, Bordeaux-style Rubicon blend. In years when the stars do not align at Meerlust, they do not bottle a Rubicon.
3. Rust en Vrede
Helderberg, Stellenbosch. One of the oldest wineries in the Stellenbosch region (established 1694), in 1977 it was bought by Springbok rugby legend Jannie Engelbrecht. Since then it has been a consistent performer, particularly with a red Bordeaux-style blend, as well as Shiraz (Syrah) and other single varietals.
Simonsberg, Stellenbosch. This is the flagship estate championing Pinotage, a South African hybrid created by crossing Hermitage (Cinsaut) and Pinot Noir. Because of some poor examples it’s had a bad press of late, but at its best Pinotage rivals the fruits of any noble vine.
5. Klein Constantia
Contantia, Cape Town. First made famous for its sweet Vin de Constance in the early 1800s, it is the current outstanding producer of the verdant Constantia valley. They have recreated Vin de Constance, sold in replica hand-produced bottles.
6. Hamilton Russell Vineyards
Hemel en Aarde Valley, Hermanus. Arguably the finest producer of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Cape, but also a strong campaigner for the local Pinotage grape.
7. Thelema Mountain Vineyards
Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch-Franschhoek. A prolific, award-winning producer of modern classics; the avenue of eucalyptus trees lining the approach to the winery lends a subtle, most pleasant, hint of mint to the Cabernet Sauvignon. The queen (of England) apparently approved of the Sauvignon Blanc.
Simonsberg, Stellenbosch. Pioneer in and top producer of Méthode Cap Classique (sparkling wine made in the Champagne style); delivers outstanding, award-winning reds and whites. Was also a pioneer of the country’s first wine route.
Ida’s Valley, Stellenbosch. Another of South Africa’s older wineries (established in 1682). Look out for superb examples of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Cederberg mountains, Clanwilliam. Until a few decades ago wine made here was strictly for on-site consumption – until current winemaker Dawid Nieuwoudt took control; this early 18th century property has been in the same family since its inception. At 1,000 meters above sea level, it has the highest vineyards in the Cape and produces consistently award-winning wines. Worth visiting if only for the trip through the wild Western Cape mountains north of Cape Town.