Wine writer Greg Landman has been gallivanting around the Helderberg for the latest installment of our Wine Town of the Month series.
As you drive towards Somerset West, the Helderberg becomes apparent as THE dominant mountain even though the backdrop is inevitably the great range called the Hottentots Holland. These mountains form the barrier that leads, via Sir Lowry’s Pass, into the Elgin Valley, but that is another story.
Somerset West and this area called the Helderberg has some of the most historic farms and wine estates outside of Stellenbosch, which is actually a neighbor. The ones here have a certain cachet, an air all their own. They don’t seem restricted by rules and the wines have a definite appeal quintessentially Helderberg. Here are some you should visit when you have time to use on something really fun.
If you missed our Wine Town of the Month for May, read about it here.
Here’s where to go
Morgenster Wine and Olive Estate
The setting alone is breathtaking as the estate overlooks a lake with the mountains in the distance – hard to argue with such a beautiful backdrop for a tasting. The wines are superb and many of them have an Italian style which comes from the late owner Giulio Bertrand. Try the Italian Collection Tosca 2011, a delicious Sangiovese that’s smooth and elegant. Be sure to sample the Italian Collection Nabucco 2011, a complex Nebbiolo that’s classically floral, or move it up a notch to the famous Lourens River Valley, a fabulous red blend dominated by Cabernet and Merlot. Do not leave without trying the white blend of Sauvignon and Semillon, proving they can do just about anything here. There are charcuterie and cheese platters with some gorgeous Italian breads available to assuage the hunger that arises whenever one starts wine tasting. While we are only here for the wine, Morgenster is also the home of some of the very best olive products in the country, all of which can be bought right there. You also might like to know that more than two thirds of the daily power use comes from solar energy – not even Eskom can hinder your wine tasting efforts.
+27 (0) 21 852 1738
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With False Bay views to die for all the way across to Table Mountain in the distance, the ooh and aah factor is very much in present at Avontuur Estate. Horses graze peacefully in the fields as one drives up, a nod to the owners’ other interests and enhancing further the surrounding vista. To cap it all, it is also the home of an excellent and popular restaurant, and just between you and me, the terrace is the place to be provided the weather is playing ball. They are well known for their reds, like the delicious Estate Collection Cabernet Sauvignon with discreet oak and great long finish, while the Estate Collection Cabernet Franc is elegant and juicy, and the blend of Cabernet and Merlot is full savoury flavours with a meaty heft to it. The bubbly is well worth a taste as is the 10-year old Pot-stilled brandy, made from Chenin Blanc; it’s silky smooth and just the thing for those cold Cape evenings around a fire. The Above Royalty Natural Sweet Viognier is tangy and juicy, and should be well-chilled and accompanied by some Gorgonzola.
The tasting room is open Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 5pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 8:30am to 4pm.
+27 (0) 21 855 3450
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Ken Forrester Vineyards
The domain of one of Cape wine’s legendary figures, the Ken Forrester Vineyards’ cosy tasting room has recently undergone a makeover, making it even more homely. Ken’s beloved dogs can often be seen scampering around adding to the ambience immeasurably. Outside, the views are of vineyards that seem to go on forever while the Helderberg range stretches out behind you. Ken is very much a Chenin man and a master of the style, so one should not miss these. There are various tasting options ranging in price from R60 for the Petit collection to R150 for the vinyards’ top end product. The fee is deductible for purchases over R400. One of the finest Chenins that’s talked about the world over – especially at Grand Central Station in New York – is the FMC Premiere Selection Moelleux 2010; it’s a mélange of intense flavours supported by just the right amount of oaking and one that is not to be missed. The Petit range has charms all its own, with well-priced, no nonsense quaffers like the Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc 2018 that’s refreshing and full of summer flavours, and the Ken Forrester Petit Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 which is, uncomplicated with plenty of cassis nuances. If you’re looking for something light and bright, then the Ken Forrester Petit Chardonnay is right up your alley and goes great with fish and chips. If you didn’t fill up at the wine tasting, then pop into Ken’s restaurant, 96 Winery Road, for a real treat.
The tasting room is open Monday to Sunday from 9am to 4:30pm.
+27 (0) 21 855 2374
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Lourensford Wine Estate
Lourensford has a long history in the industry that dates back to 1709 and it shows in the exceptional wines that are on offer. The wine tasting and cellar are as modern as can be and the vast range of tipple from master winemaker Hannes Nel are some of the very best in the country. The expert staff will talk you through it all so fear not. There are various options including a chocolate pairing and a blind tasting where the prize for identifying all the wines correctly is to have your fee waived – great fun. At the top end is the Chrysalis range, which includes the spectacular red a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and the white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a splash of Viognier, making for a crisp and elegant wine that’s packed with fabulous fruit flavours. Try the vibrant and silky Dome Pinot Noir and the oaked Dome Chardonnay, which fans of this delicious kind of wine will find very appealing. The River Garden Flower Collection is well-priced with down-to-earth wines that include a Chardonnay, Rosé, a red blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot – just the things to take home. If you want to linger a little longer then stop into the Millhouse Kitchen for a bite to eat or grab a cuppa at the Coffee Roastery before leaving.
The tasting room is open Monday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm.
+27 (0) 21 847 2300
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Vergelegen is steeped in tradition with a history that goes back to the 1700s and has since seen the likes of Queen Elizabeth II lunching with Nelson Mandela in 1995. This was not her first visit to the wine estate; she had girlhood memories of when she and her family visited Vergelegen in 1947, and I would love to have heard her attempt at the pronunciation of the estate’s name. The estate is vast but very little of it is planted with vines. Nevertheless the wines are superb and are known all over the world for uncompromising quality. Award winners with more medals than any war hero could wear, they will reward you with some glorious tastes. They are divided into three ranges with the top one, Flagship, having some serious drinking examples like the simply named V. It’s a 100% Cabernet knockout, which could set you back about R1 000 depending where you buy it. The Reserve range has nine wines including a delicious 100% Chardonnay MCC called MMV Brut, a Shiraz packed with deep dark fruit and some typical spice on the nose, and an intense Semillon Straw Wine that’s gorgeous. The premium range has two red and two whites that are great and much more affordable, though we are not talking bargain basement stuff here – oh no. There are two restaurants on the estate, one very fine dining, the other more casual. Take your pick from the 17 magnificent gardens for a ramble or picnic in the historical camphor forest at a table with cutlery and chairs – no picnic blanket required. If this isn’t letting your hair down in Somerset West, I don’t know what is.
+27 (0) 21 847 2100
Words Greg Landman, Magic Grape Tours