"Live with Wine."
That's the phrase printed on the tables at Stellenbosch winery Guardian Peak's restaurant. It's also my unofficial life motto.
I used to think of wine tasting as something one does while vacationing in France or Italy or, if in the U.S., Napa and Sonoma in Northern California. I hadn't really given much thought to South Africa's wines but during my time there, I quickly realized I should have.
Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Constantia, Paarl... These are just a few of the wine regions in South Africa, and if I had my way, I would have visited them all. Alas, my family and I only had a day for wine tasting so we decided to focus our efforts on what is arguably the most popular region near Cape Town: Stellenbosch.
With the largest number of wineries in the Cape region, trying to pick which to visit is like trying to choose your top three diamonds from a sea of diamonds (hasn't everyone been in this situation before?). After some research from yours truly (I do love my research), consultation with the tour company we used and taking into account our individual preferences, we settled on three wineries: Hidden Valley, Guardian Peak and De Trafford. Here is a recap of our time at each place:
To summarize my experience at Hidden Valley, if I could live here I would. There is something about the entire winery — from the perfectly landscaped surroundings, to the view of the mountains in the distance, to the wine itself and the people who make it — that captured me immediately. Sometimes you just know when a place is special, and this was one of those times when I knew. It doesn't hurt that in addition to trying several of the Hidden Valley wines, including their award-winning 2012 Hidden Gems, we also got to sample their olive oil alongside a large fruit and cheese plate. It was what wine and cheese (and olive oil) dreams are made of. I hope to return to this beautiful place one day soon. Until then I've tracked down a few local wine stores that sell Hidden Valley so I never go too long without a glass.
Thought we did not do a proper tasting at Guardian Peak, we did have a beautiful lunch with some very good wines. To put our lunch into context, my family and I had been eating A LOT of heavy food prior to arriving in Cape Town (I'm talking lots of steak and the occasional impala). All of it was delicious, but we were excited to be in a place overflowing with amazing seafood options and we were even more excited to see so many great and unique salads on Guardian Peak's menu. I went for the prosciutto and avocado salad with an order of bone marrow on the side. I also tried Guardian Peak's 2014 rosé as well as their 2013 shiraz. Everything — salad, bone marrow, rosé and shiraz — was great and the perfect continuation of our experience at Hidden Valley. And then there was the view. We could not have asked for a more beautiful day or view at Guardian Peak. This is also on my "Hope to Return One Day" list.
Our last stop was arguably the most unique one. Let's start with the location. De Trafford is nestled within the Stellenbosch and Helderberg mountains, so instead of a view of these mountains rising in the distance, you're right smack in the middle of them. It makes for a ridiculously beautiful drive. Once you're there, you're immediately engulfed by gorgeous gardens that make you briefly forget that this is a wine estate and not someone's lovely home. Unlike Hidden Valley and Guardian Peak, which seem a little sleeker in both looks and operations, De Trafford strikes me as quaint but in a way that's refined and high quality. The barrels are old school and the tastings are simple instead of flashy but the wine is very, very solid. And to sip great wine in a beautiful garden on a sunny day in South Africa is one of those moments you know you will never forget.
I have said it before and I'll say it again: I love South Africa. The day we spent in Stellenbosch was a very big part of why this country is one of my favorites. I look forward to returning in the future and having more days like this. Until then I will make sure to always "Live with Wine."