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Photos and Story By Mike Walsh

The Cape of Good Hope, South Africa was first settled when Europeans of the Dutch East India Company in 1652 set up a victualing station and repair facility for their merchant ships journeying the long passage between Europe, India, and the Far East. Jan Van Riebeck, the first commander of the Cape who had previously been a ship surgeon persuaded his employers that wine was beneficial for the treatment of scurvy. The first vineyard was planted in 1655.

Every city has a thousand stories to tell. Cape Town, South Africa tells the story of Dutch and Portuguese explorers and spice traders who brought in French winemakers to plant grapes when the turmoil of the Reformation in 16th century Europe was driving the farmers to migrate out of France. The year 1688 also saw the arrival of Huguenot refugees from France. These independently minded growers moved to South Africa with the promise of land in this rich, new African country. By the early 1700's, South African wines were held in high esteem.

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Cape Town also tells the story of Sir Cecil John Rhodes who settled Rhodesia and created De Beers Diamonds. Thousands of immigrants moved to the Cape for sudden wealth. It also tells the more modern story of Nelson Mandela in prison, on a small island off the coast near Cape Town harbor. Modern Cape Town will tell the story of some excellent wines and winemakers, as well as stories of the luxurious settings of South Africa's beautiful hotels and popular restaurants.

The Bay is the size of San Francisco Bay with a better, warmer climate. The wine growing regions on the end of the African continent have cooling ocean breezes and micro-climates, which are so excellent for growing great wine grapes. Today, all these stories lead the South African wine business & winemakers into the future with a long and interesting wine making tradition. This is a tradition that is hundreds of years longer than the other New World wine areas, and it shows in the elegant old hotels and winery properties that are in some of the nicest locations in the world.

Cape Town is all these influences rolled into one bustling traditional looking city. The hotels are a rare wonder with first class service and haute cuisine derived from a farming tradition going back centuries.

The sultry and warm California-like weather leads to great produce and wonderfully fresh foods and the native game provides exotic meats and fowl as the norm.

We had embarked upon what is to become a truly unforgettable and unique adventure. Jeremy Wilkinson, President/CEO of Great Wines International (a leading importer of South African wines into the USA) personally leads two unique Behind the Scenes gourmet food & wine tours in April and September of each year. This time we are a group of wine writers, critics, wine distributors and wine enthusiasts & all virgin travelers to South Africa.

On Day One of this incredible whirlwind adventure, we land in Cape Town. We arrive at the Admiral Nelson Hotel (Nelly to her friends). The Old World elegance of breakfast with sandwiches and pastries were there to greet us as we walked in after a long flight. We were made to feel like long lost relatives as we sat outside, on the beautiful patio.

We relaxed until evening where we enjoyed High Tea on the verandah, a quintessential experience of the Cape's colonial era. Great Wines International then chauffeured us on to an adventure at Table Mountain, which frames the city of Cape Town. We rode the cable car to the very top of Table Mountain and saw the most spectacular sunset in recent memory.

You can see out across the horizon to the end of the earth. It's no wonder the Flat Earth Society exists, as we view this great expanse. The sun goes orange into the sunset and it is spectacular. Accompanied by an outstanding glass of South African champagne, being equally enjoyed by my fellow tour guests, I watch for the last seconds as the sun dips beneath the glassine seas and flashes a green strobe of light for an instant… then the sun is gone. The vision leaves me in stunned silence; stunned … too dull a word. This is a sight I’ve been told of but have witnessed for the first time. An instance of awe leaves us completely satisfied. The whole experience is beyond description without the gifts of a poet. All too quickly, we are on the cable car headed downward into the lights of Cape Town.

The view of the clouds and cliffs over Cape Town, are a stage for the performance of heaven. Harrowing, huge clouds rolling around rugged cliffs, then blowing off, and starting again. Cape Town has seen it all. At the Admiral Nelson Bar, we are served cocktails with a smile and wraparound full service comfort. Jeremy Wilkinson toasted us (many times) with ““Jabula" and we are happy and content to be in South Africa!

Day 2 of this trip, I am up and we are moving down the coast at 7 am, along the Cape Peninsula to the dramatic Cape Point. Our first stop is at Boulder's Beach, where we visit the miniature penguin colonies. Yes, penguins! Hundreds of penguins are nesting among the beautiful South African beach neighborhoods. The almost one foot tall tuxedo clad birds are feeding and diving in and out of the water. These native residents seem to be viewing the silly humans as we walk down the boardwalks above them.

We continued to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. You can either walk or take the funicular to the Point where panoramic views of the dramatic southwestern edge of Africa are at their best. I took the funicular railway to the Cape of Good Hope and the lighthouse peak. I stood looking at the end of the African continent, with awesome views down to the beautiful sandy beaches and ocean below.

We see baboons up close. Don't let them see you are eating, we are told. On the way back to Cape Town, we go in and out of native markets and gift stands along the roads, seeing incredible sculptural art and jewelry of carved wood, jade and stone. We cross over the Cape and come back again onto a windy road next to the milky surf of the Atlantic coastline. In the surf are beautiful rocks that whistled softly in the breeze and perfect white beaches, without a footprint on them. The weather is unbelievable and we see a zebra on the horizon. Wow, I get it! I really am in Africa!

Next, we go to lunch in a restaurant that could be in the Napa Valley of California or Provence, France. At a wonderful indoor-outdoor restaurant, we eat on the patio in the shade.

Everything modern in that laid back way called the River Café in the town of Constantia. We are served a lovely salad with fresh local ingredients, California style, and it reminds me of Mustards Restaurant in Napa. They are serving African game as well as traditional fusion cuisine, mixing French and Mediterranean influences with African produce and meats. The food is beautifully presented, and of course, the 10 of us tried everything on the menu. The owners are very helpful and the wines were at once engaging, great South African wines.

After lunch, we explored Cape Town's Waterfront and took advantage of the abun-dance of magnificent shopping opportunities including an-tiques, textiles, carvings and other traditional arts and crafts.

Stellenbosch Region

Day 3 is Sunday and we start our wine tour in the true center of the Winelands, and its oldest and largest region, Stellenbosch. Home to the country's premier University and finest oenological program, Stellenbosch also has by far the highest concentration of wine estates. This intensely farmed district is considered by many to be the foremost red wine producing area of South Africa.

We drive across the Cape country through low foothills overlooking the two large bays on either side of a different ocean. We are driving through rich fields with beautiful, quaint farms on mostly two lane-paved roads with people madly careening down the wrong side of the road. Drivers notwithstanding, it reminds me of the hill country in Texas or our Yakima Valley in Washington, with small rolling hills and sharp cliffs jutting up 1,000 feet on either side. Houses are quaint and interspersed with modern abodes, as well. This is a prosperous, modern country with many small and shining new cars.

We will visit the finest South African Wineries the country has to offer on this trip, including Avontuur, Lanzerac, Vergenoegd, Landskroon, Eikendal, Jabu, Cape View, Boland Montestell, Mooiuitsig, and Van Loveren. We will dine in Relais & Chateaux properties such as Haute Cabrière, and Le Quartier Francais, paired with South African wines. We will not rest until we have tasted it all, and we will do our best to remember it completely. This article offers only a tiny glimpse, but more stories will be coming, as we cover the Palace of the Lost City in Sun City, South Africa in the next issue of Food and Beverage International



We have checked out of the Admiral Nelson and have now checked into the famous Lanzerac Manor and Winery, an elegant five star hotel and restaurant on one of the most famous estates in South Africa. The 155 hectare estate was established in 1692 under the name of Schoongezicht, which is Dutch, for beautiful outlook. It is truly beautiful to look at. It is nestled deep in the cleft of the verdant Jonkershoek Valley, and within view of the majestic Helderberg Mountains.

It’s location is situated right in the middle of the famous South African wine producing areas of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschoek and Somerset West, and within close distance of world renowned golf courses and pristine beaches of the Strand, Gordon's Bay and Cape Town. Close to town, yet nestled into the craggy mountains and rolling valleys of seclusion, the backdrop for the next South African hospitality experience awaits us.

Once again, the service was impeccable. The rooms are the size of a New York apartment and sitting in the lobby, in an old stuffed leather chair, you can imagine Sir Winston Churchill sitting down next to you. This wonderfully restored and impeccably kept up property is a throw back to another century. The very act of being offered a fine glass of wine as you are checking in settles you into another place and puts you completely at ease.

Today, the winery is cultivated by owner Christo Wiese, along with winemaker Wynand Hamman.

Wynand conducts our tasting and steers us into a direction which helps us to appreciate that great winemaking does not begin in the cellar, it begins in the vineyard. As Wynand weaves us through the story of ancient vines in the vineyard and advanced science and technology in the cellar, we begin to understand the complexity of the Lanzerac wine.

We first taste the Lanzerac Chardonnay, an excellent combination of ripe citrus, hint of clove, ginger and an infusion of butterscotch and vanilla. Continuing with the whites, we then move to a Lanzerac Sauvignon Blanc, which was harvested at an altitude of 450m. This ripe, fruity wine with its characteristic green fig flavor, gently caresses the palate with its smooth and full bodied feel.

As we move into the reds, we all marvel at the deep dark and velvety feel of the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, however the crowning touch came when we tasted the Pinotage. We are just getting to know the Pinotage grape, as it is a South African treasure, and we linger a bit longer on it. The Lanzerac Pinotage is a deep, luxurious velvety smooth plummy red, with a whisp of chocolate and caramel flavors. It's full body feel is complete with a fruit and wood balance. We taste this wine again with dinner that evening, paired perfectly with a Malay curry.

The reds are rated by the Who's Who in the Wine Industry as among the very finest and will compete with premium wines in the $100 price range, yet are sold in the USA for under $28, fair dinkum” as they say in Australia. They all rate gold medals and are a favorite choice of fine eating establishments in the USA such as Smith & Wollensky, BICE, Ruth Chris Steak House, Morton's, Lawry's, PF Changs and many more.

However, I found the Lanzerac Chardonnay to be the home run of the entire trip. It's complexity of flavors are excellent with smoked salmon, lobster, white fish, creamy pasta and white meats. It is being featured in first class for United Airlines on international flights and is the premier choice for some of the world's finest hotels. This is the first Chardonnay I would choose to serve to my most important client or best friend.


Cape View

Near Lanzerac is Cape View, based in the Bottelary Hills of Stellenbosch. It is our next stop and will remain forever a part of my South African wine tasting experience. This is a small farm of 380 acres founded in 1712, with a boutique style winery. With excellent soil types and micro- climates for grapes and facilities just the size for personalized production, it produces some of the very best wines.

Winemaker Danie Steytler has won the top award for the best Pinotage in South Africa (the prestigious ABSA award trophy for 2000). This is the first great Pinotage I've ever tasted. Pinotage is South Africa's national grape and is its own varietal. It has best been described as a 1920’s cross between pinot noir and cinsault (“hermitage").

Danie won the Best Red wine in the Southern Hemisphere in Atlanta Georgia's International Wine Competition 2002 for his Pinotage and many more awards. Danie and his lovely wife put on a real traditional South Afrikaans barbecue (a braai) over a wood fire while seated on their patio. Here, we also got to sample South Africa's versions of beef jerky. This tasty snack food is called biltong. It is made of beef, ostrich or game (Kudu, Wildebeest & Reebok), animals I have only seen on TV. While enjoying the unique experience of biltong, we drink Danie s big bold reds. Danie does elegant wines balanced well between fruit and wood. Excellent value wines of the highest quality are already carried at many top restaurants across the USA.

The Cape View Pinotage was a bright, pinky red color and was superb. It gave sweet aromas of raspberry and banana fruit with soft nutmeg and clove spiciness. With fruit aplenty and a hint of coffee, the Pinotage is a perfect companion for beef, lamb and roasts. The Cape View Merlot was a dark magenta red with a nose that bursts with ripe plums, wild cherry and strong spice, conjuring up visions of duck with cherries or roast lamb!
I paid particular attention to the Cape View Shiraz. Imagine a deep ruby color with milled black pepper and earthy, leathery aromas enveloped by all spice oakiness. Fruit spiced with clove and liquorices are also on the palate. Paired with barbecued farmer’s sausage straight from the braii, this is a serious wine that pairs well with meats and spicy foods.



On Day Four we left Stellenbosch and headed for the Paarl District, which has a tradition of being both prolific in production but also extremely diverse, thanks to its varied micro-climates and ideal soil conditions. We arrived at Landskroon whose wine making tradition dates back to the late 17th Century when the French Huguenot settlers came to the Cape. Landskroon has 1,440 acres of which some 700 acres are under vine. This flagship label stands out among the fine wine estates in Paarl, South Africa. The town is dominated by the Paarl Mountain to the east, and the monolithic rock appears as a black pearl after a shower of rain.

Paul and Hugo de Villiers gave us an excellent tour of the cellars, followed by a wine tasting as we gazed across picturesque vineyards to the ocean, clearly visible in the distance. More than 75% of the vineyards are red vines although a full selection of white and red varietals showed extremely well. They are quality wines at affordable prices. An excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Pinotage, Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Pinotage, all are retailing at $13 to $16 in the U.S.A. Then came the desert wines.

Paul de Villiers is the ninth generation of winemakers in his family and has received the most prestigious Diners Club Award as the best winemaker in South Africa in 2000 for what is without a doubt, one of, if not the best Port in South Africa. The Port has developed a huge following across America, including such notables as Robin Leach (of the Rich and Famous, who reviewed it as the best Port he has ever tasted at under $22 US retail). The 1998 Landskroon Vintage Port has power and refinement. Ripe plums, blackberries are in the bouquet, a smooth and lively palate with an attractive dry finish. It is an excellent companion to chocolates, raspberries and cherries and a traditional accompaniment to blue cheese and walnuts.

This remarkable portfolio also includes my favorite; a remarkable Jerepico (fortified) Morio Muscat which last year won the grand trophy for the best fortified wine in the entire Southern Hemisphere at the Atlanta Georgia International Wine Competition. Mild gold straw color with swirling jasmine, honeysuckle, with Muscat perfumes. Well integrated with delicious grapey flavors and simply spectacular served chilled! Think liquid crème brulee.



It is Day 5? Only day 5…I can hardly believe it!
With tears in various eyes, we leave Lanzerac and head for Franschoek, the valley of the French Huguenot's. But not before visiting Eikendal in Stellenbosch. This Swiss owned Estate has over the many years gathered a significant word of mouth following in Europe as a provider of elegant high quality estate wines.

Eikendal is set in a picture postcard setting where hot dry summers with cooling afternoon ocean breezes assist the acclaimed South African female winemaker Lizelle Gerber, craft such wonderful wines. Total annual production is only 25,000 cases. Eikendal is well known for their 4 star plus rated Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lizelle guided us through yet another top notch tasting. The quality across the board was first class. What stood out was “Classique,” a superb Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet (75%), Merlot (35%) and Cabernet Franc (8%). The Classique had deep ruby hues, redolent with cassis, liquorices, spicy cedar and coffee on to an equally complex palate. Classic elegance is balanced with a rich fruit profile and a long bright spicy, mocha finish. Eikendal is certainly poised to be considered one of the very best estates in South Africa.

Considered one of the Cape's best kept secrets, look for more to unfold with this creative winemaker. The chardonnay and Classique are quite well known, and will be marketed as Eikendal's flagship wines.


After lunch we travel to meet up with Gyles Webb, the winemaker from the famous Thelema Vineyard in Stellenbosch. Gyles has personally crafted and launched a new brand called Jabu with highly visual African motif labels. Jabu in Zulu means happy and content.

Currently available in the United States is a Chardonnay Chenin Blanc blend (with tastes of strong green fig and crisp tropical fruit while ending with the buttery finish of Chardonnay), and a Shiraz (dark red in color, with an edge of purple haze portraying sweet cherry, peppercorns with mocha chocolate, plum pudding and a seamless finish).

We travel to the charming French Huguenot Village of Franschoek, set in a valley with magnificent mountains towering above. We discover our new lodgings at the Relais and Chateaux property of Le Quartier Français. Words escaped the group on arrival, as we meandered through this exclusive retreat nestled amongst blooming flower gardens. I am booked in the Honeymoon suite, a romantic setting with a private patio and 50 feet from a 4 star restaurant.



Day 6 arrives and we embark for the famous Boland Montestell Vineyard in Paarl. Montestell crafts the special cuvée reserve wines for Boland Kelder in Paarl. With 4,500 plus acres providing quality grapes, Montestell has a reputation for consistent quality at affordable prices. Indeed, Cellar Master Altus le Roux is without any doubt an internationally acclaimed winemaker in South Africa. He was awarded the Robert Mondavi Award as the best winemaker in the world for 2001, at Vin Expo Bordeaux, also winning trophies for the best Shiraz and the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the world and best South African vineyard. In 2003, Altus again won the Winemaker's Grand Trophy for best Shiraz in the world at the 2003 Competition Vin Expo Bordeaux 2003 –an unprecedented second time in 3 years.

In the private tasting room, we learn about the viticultural expertise and efforts that produce such good grapes, essential for the making of great wine. We taste a great Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinotage and Merlot, all excellent quality and value, retailing at $10 to $14 in the USA. Elegant wines with plenty of fruit and very good balance. The Shiraz, a serious wine with full on plum and soft spice influence wins my heart, along with the Cabernet Sauvignon, succulent berry enhanced by soft oak flavors. Both are worthy of the acclaim they are receiving.


Van Loveren

Onwards after lunch to Van Loveren wine cellar. Situated right in the valley of wine and roses, this is a must visit experience. Bordered by brilliant hedges of cannas lilies, leading to the most unique garden (where every tree has a history), this family owned South African gem constantly wins awards as the best value vineyard providing every day drinking quality wines at exceptional value (Selling at between $8 to $15 retail in the USA). Owners Nico and Wynand Retief along with son Philip Retief took us through a tour of the cellars followed by an extensive tasting in the gardens.

I found the Papillion Sparkling Wine (dry and firm without peer in its price range) judged to be one of the 12 best champagnes in the world. It has an especially good value at under $14 retail in the USA. My assessment has recently been supported by the renowned Atlanta Vino Challenge awarding the Papillon the Grand Trophy for the Best Sparkling Wine in the Southern Hemisphere in October 2003.

Next was an excellent Sauvignon Blanc described by the London Times as, “Chock a block with flavor with bright, floral gooseberry fruit like New Zealand and the guts and Tropical fruit charge of a top Australian finish!”Their River Red wine, a very rich elegant blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet, captures the velvety Merlot characteristics perfectly, along with the layers of the Shiraz which give the wine nice complexity and elegance. Both were chosen by United Airlines for International Business Class in the year 2003. We also tasted a dry unwooded Chardonnay wine of exceptional quality, a pleasure to discover the true characteristics of Chardonnay without oak. This Chardonnay has just been selected by United Airlines for International Business Class for the years 2004.

South Africa is too large to sum up in one trip, even a trip as incredible as this one. Look to our next issue of Food and Beverage International as we take you to the Palace of the Lost City, and other places we didn't get to tell you about in this article.

For complete information on any of the vineyards or wines featured in this article, please visit the website link at or the travel section at HYPERLINK ""

To travel with the September Food&Beverage International Tour Group to South Africa, email me at HYPERLINK ""


Other Great Links

South African Wine Tour Ads
Boland Montestell
South African Restaurants
The Africa Café
Van Loveren
South Africa's Gold Medal Wines

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