South Africa is one of the world’s most exciting wine destinations, cementing its name amongst the top-rated wine producing regions globally. Kenya Airways is delighted to welcome South African wines into their new menus onboard. Here we trace their origins from grape to glass and meet some of the winemakers themselves
Dutch colonial administrator Jan Van Riebeek did not arrive in the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 with the intention of establishing viticulture. The idea was born from the desire to banish scurvy on board the Dutch East India Company’s ships – it was realised that the consumption of wine could play a part in preventing this disease. Van Riebeek imported vines from France, Spain and the Rhineland and was delighted to have some success when the first wine was produced in 1659.
In 1685 a subsequent governor, Simon van der Stel, founded an estate in the area now known as the Constantia Wine Valley. The charming town of Stellenbosch, in the heart of this region, is now world-famous as a wine tasting and producing destination.
Although it has taken a long time for South Africa to gain a name for itself amongst other winemaking countries, it now ranks eighth in overall volume production of wine. Generally South Africa is known for making big and long-lasting Cabernet Sauvignons, exceptional Methode Cap Classiques, well-valued wines and, as of March 2015, the best Chardonnay in the world – which comes from Constantia.
According to 2013 statistics, South Africa has more than 564 wine farms, and wine tourism has exploded in the last few years, bringing in multitudes of overseas visitors to the Western Cape. Superlative cuisine, dynamic cellar tours, and glorious scenery make the South African wine industry simply irresistible. For lovers of fine dining, the winelands dominate the food industry’s restaurant awards, and those who want adventure and close encounters with nature and the animal kingdom can be enthralled by many wineries where conservation plays a major part. In the past ten years wineries have doubled their efforts in maintaining and developing their tourism offerings, and many have become destination wineries offering a holistic package with accommodation.
Elexium Brut non-vintage
A classic Champagne from a historical region
“Come quick, I am tasting the stars,” was the cry of French Benedictine Monk Dom Pierre Perignon when he first tasted bubbles from a bottle of Champagne in the early 1600s and though he cannot be credited with its creation, he made significant contributions to its development. Since then it has become the world’s most prestigious beverage, finding its place as a marker at weddings, celebrations, royal and political functions.
To make Champagne requires patience and dedication involving a process of second fermentation (this happens in the bottle as the bubbles start to form). Still wine goes through the process only once.
The Elexium Brut non-vintage is a brilliant demonstration of the classic blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meineir and Chardonnay – Brut denoting a bubbly that has 0-1.5% residual sugar therefore offering a drier, crisper wine for all occasions.
The Trouillard family has been part of the Champagne business in Epernay, France, since the 19th century and the Elexium is a beautiful light gold Champagne with notes of pear and pink lady apples. With a rounded, fruity palate and an elegant lingering finish it’s a perfect drink as you recline into luxury at the start of your flight.
Combining terroirs to create masterpieces
The Tokara Winery stands impressively in the Helshoogte Pass between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. Its modern, industrial design, award-winning restaurant, wines and olive oil make it an enticing location for visitors. With spectacular views of the Stellenbosch area, visitors are offered wines by winemaker Miles Mossop, one of South Africa’s leaders in the production of excellence.
Tokara believe in site-specific wines and have three main vineyard properties located in Stellenbosch, Elgin and Hermanus, enabling them to make varied wines using the best of their harvest.
Their three vineyards contribute to their distinctive Tokara Chardonnay 2012, which shows a lovely purity of fruit with notes of lime blossom, citrus rind, toasted brioche and almonds that comes from gentle aging in older French barrels. To complement this wine, choose dishes with a slightly richer texture – asparagus and melted butter or a soufflé. It would also be delightful when sipped alongside a creamy coconut curry.
Plush red fruit, five-spice, mulberries and fynbos add to the flavour profile of the Tokara Shiraz 2011, whose distinctive notes owe much to the 100% Stellenbosch grapes taken from Tokara’s vineyards on the Simonsberg slopes. Rich in colour and texture, it displays peppery notes, herbal undertones and a fresh finish. Herb-crusted lamb would be the ideal accompaniment.
Fruit-forward wines that make for perfect accompaniments to many food dishes
Graham Beck arguably produce some of South Africa’s finest Methode Cap Classiques and equal attention is given to their still wines. Elegant- bodied reds and moreish whites have been crafted by the skilled hands of winemaker Erika Obermeyer.
The winery is situated in Robertson, a warm climate wine region known for its red wines and fruitier white styles, which shows in their The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and The Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2013, the former offering rich, opulent red berry and blackberry fruit flavours, a touch of cedar and tobacco spice – the quintessential partner to beef dishes slathered in a rich jus. The Chenin Blanc, with its tropical fruit flavours, notes of grapefruit and melon, and rounded, full finish will make Cape Malay and lemon-based dishes stand out in a flavour explosion.
Graham Beck are committed to the conser-vation of Robertson wildlife, which is why their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc feature a Cape Leopard and a Riverine Rabbit on their respective labels – both highly endangered animals.
Rietvallei Wine Estate
Plush wines for everyday enjoyment
Since 1864 Rietvallei wine estate in Robertson has been making terroir-driven wines and passing this knowledge down through the generations. Kobus Burger is a seventh-generation wine maker and the current CEO and cellar master. He is very proud of the fruit-forward flavours of his wines, particularly the citrus blossom and green apple notes that can be found in the Rietvallei Classic Chardonnay 2014. The gentle richness and complexity of this wine, deriving from its time spent on the lease, means that it can stand up to creamier dishes such as creamy mustard and tarragon chicken, yet the balanced acidity means you have an ideal partner to Waldorf salad.
Kobus’s late father John Burger is the inspiration behind the John B Shiraz 2014. Kobus says: “It’s an easy-drinking red made for everyday enjoyment. The Shiraz grapes are ripened in the sunny Robertson wine valley, allowing me to make a red wine brimming with berry flavour and a light, spicy taste.” Enjoy this wine with pasta, pizza or a juicy hamburger – a pleasing and comforting wine for all occasions.
Rupert & Rothschild
French and South African methods combine to produce elegant and refined wines
Critically-acclaimed wine estate Rupert & Rothschild was founded in 1997 by the late Dr Anton Rupert of South Africa and the late Baron Edmond de Rothschild of France. The estate is based in Franschhoek and it is here you can find their newly renovated tasting room that offers elegant French and South African wine tastings. Their wine philosophy is centred on working with and for the environment, and all grapes are picked and sorted by hand. Head winemaker Yvonne Lester tries to keep the winemaking process as natural as possible.
Two Rupert & Rothschild wines will now be served on Kenya Airways – the Baron Edmond 2011 and the Classique 2012. The Baron Edmond is a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc offering elegant pure black cherry, strawberry and dark chocolate notes which lends itself to roast lamb and beef bourguignon. The Classique is made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot: raspberry, chocolate notes and Damson plum can be smelt on the nose and tasted on the palate. It pairs beautifully with roast chicken dishes that feature onions and sage.
The art of Champagne
Champagne in France is the only place in the world that can use the term Champagne – here in South Africa we call it Méthode Cap Classique. Traditionally Champagne is made of three grape varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier which become
the base wine, or Cuvée. Once this is selected, sugar, yeast, and yeast nutrients are added and the wine is placed in bottles to slowly ferment. Following fermentation, the dead yeast cells are removed and a special mixture of brandy, sugar and white wine (or Dosage) is added to the wine – the amount is kept strictly secret and varies between Champagne houses. The entire process is very labour-intensive and often remains a family trade passed down through the generations.
Top tips for tasting
1. Don’t taste after a pungent or spicy meal as your taste buds will be compromised.
2. Don’t wear a heavy perfume because you’ll only be able to smell that.
3. Make notes – it’s important to write about what you like and what you have found in your wine exploration.
4. Have fun – and remember that there are no right or wrong answers.
The winemaking process – 4 steps from vine to wine
1 Grapes are picked, de-stemmed, sorted and then crushed
2 Yeast is added to the vats of grapes for fermentation to take place
3 Wines are aged in either oak barrels or steel tanks
4 Wines are bottled when the winemaker is satisfied with the end result
Grape varieties – beginners’ guide
The world of wine currently consists of 1368 grape varieties (cultivars) and South Africa is known to be the largest planter of Chenin Blanc on the planet. With so many cultivars it’s easy to become overwhelmed, so it can be helpful to remember the Noble grape varieties – those popular cultivars that you will find planted throughout the major wine producing regions. There are 18 wines in the Noble category. Here are the top ten:
Red grapes (lightest/fruitiest to darkest/richest)
White grapes (lightest/fruitiest to darkest/richest)
In South Africa, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are the biggest sellers and the more popular versions have a fruitier, easy-drinking structure. For a bold red wine, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon deliver, while a Pinot Noir will tend to be more fruit-forward, lighter and more subtle to taste. Tempranillo is a rare find in South Africa: expect soft tannins, higher acidity and juicy plum and tomato flavours. For a lush creamy white wine look to a wooded Chardonnay, and, for something sweeter, try an off-dry Riesling which has floral notes, or a Moscato. A wooded white wine will tend to be more expensive than an unwooded one.
How to taste wine – a guide to wine tasting etiquette and tips
The main rule is to practise, practise, practise! If you’re new to wine, here are 3 simple ways to develop your love & appreciation:
What is the colour of the wine? Is it a deep, dark shade or a bright, light shade? Does the wine, when you gently swirl the glass, cling to the sides or do the droplets run quickly back into the glass? This is known as ‘legs’ and will tell you a lot about the body of the wine before you’ve even tasted it – a big, rich wine will stay on the sides of the glass.
Try and pick out fruit flavours or perhaps herbaceous and vegetative notes, and if your wine is wooded, you might be able to pick out the oak. Keep going back to the wine and swirling the glass to get more aromas.
Let it linger in your mouth a little before swallowing and try and note the first initial flavours, the middle flavours when you let it sit, and the finish – which comes after you have swallowed. Ask yourself, is the wine fruity? Does it make your mouth water? Do the flavours linger or disappear?
Wine regions of South Africa
The eight new wines available onboard KQ have been crafted in five distinct wine growing regions in the Western Cape
Valley of roses and vines, Robertson is a beautiful landscape that lends itself to winemaking and stud farms. It’s rare to see a winery without rows of white or red roses growing alongside the vines. The Breede River is the life-saver during the dry, hot summer months when rainfall is at its lowest.
Graham Beck stands as the gatekeeper into the Robertson Wine Valley and should definitely be your first stop for a visit. Top class Méthode Cap Classiques await, as well as a stellar still wine collection with tastings happening daily (www.grahambeckwines.com).
Passing through the town of Robertson brings you to the rustic charms of Rietvallei (www.rietvallei.co.za) where you can sample 100-year-old red Muscadel.
Known as the culinary capital of the Cape, Franschhoek lies enclosed by towering mountains. The shape of the valley has helped form a secluded and picturesque community and the terroir has produced quality wines and fruit orchards. The growing conditions have resulted in highly praised restaurants opening in the valley as chefs have adopted a farm-to-table style of cooking. The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, run by Margot Jansen, is one of South Africa’s number one eateries. For the ultimate indulgence, book a night at the Le Quartier Français and live like Royalty (www.lqf.co.za).
The Rupert & Rothschild tasting room is a splendid choice for wine tasting as its newly refurbished and remodelling tasting facility is of the highest calibre (www.rupert-rothschildvignerons.com).
Cross Sir Lowry’s Pass to enter the green and lush valley of Elgin, one of South Africa’s newest winemaking regions and previously known for its apples. Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc grow abundantly here.
Though Tokara does not have a tasting room in Elgin, stopping by for Chardonnay at Paul Cluver is a delight (www.cluver.com), and great food can be found at Oak Valley (www.oakvalleywines.com). After visiting these excellent wineries, check-in at South Hill estate where they offer self-catering accom-modation (www.southhill.co.za).
Dutch Architecture and oak-lined streets make the historic town of Stellenbosch a must-see. In 1971 Stellenbosch became the first wine region in South Africa to establish a wine route. It currently includes 148 wineries, each offering a unique experience for visitors.
For luxury accommodation and to take in one of 2014’s top wine producers, head to Jordan Wine Estate and revel in their new guest houses (www.jordanwines.com).
The ultimate in cool-climate wine-growing, Hermanus is also known for producing magnificent Pinot Noirs as well as complex Chardonnays.
It’s a popular destination for whale watching and draws in large crowds during peak season (September to November), so accommodation should always be booked in advance.
The Hermanus wine route winds through the surrounding mountains giving visitors spectacular views from every winery. Newton Johnson, in particular, stands poised above the rest, surveying both land and sea, and it is here that you can sample outstanding Pinot Noirs (www.newtonjohnson.com).
Losing your heart to the Hermanus region is expected, so make use of the guest houses and hotels around, try Spookfontein luxury farm cottages (www.capestay.co.za/spookfontein/).