CAPE TOWN, Dec 11 — Weekends are meant for wining and dining, especially if you find yourself (as we do) in South Africa, home to award-winning vintages and some of the world’s top chefs. Constantia Valley in Cape Town, within the verdant Table Mountain National Park, is considered wine country and perfect for such a weekend.
There are many vineyards, or “wine farms” as they’re known in Cape Town, but we are advised by locals to visit Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in South Africa. (“Groot” in Afrikaans means “great” though, yes, it’s also the name of an adorable plant-based Marvel space-hero.)
Located at the end of the scenic Constantia Valley wine route (which includes other wineries such as Klein Constantia and Constantia Uitsig), Groot Constantia has been producing stellar wines for over 300 years, in particular high-quality red wines such as their Shiraz, Merlot and blended red Gouverneurs Reserve.
The grounds of the estate were granted by the Dutch East India Company to Simon van der Stel, the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, in 1685. Van der Stel built the Cape Dutch-style manor house and planted the vineyards; these were extensively added to throughout the centuries.
Today the wine production team is headed by head winemaker Boela Gerber and viticulturist Floricius Beukes. In 2003, they started producing a heritage dessert wine called the Groot Constantia Grand Constance. Considered South Africa’s oldest wine, Grand Constance had not been made since the 1880s and is in the style of the celebrated “Constantia Wyn” – drunk by the old European emperors and recommended as a cure for broken hearts in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
We taste the 2013 Grand Constance, selected as one of the Top 100 South African Wines this year. Redolent of dried apricots and rose petals, it is quite delicious. We sample this along with other Groot Constantia wines in the estate’s tasting room. Their Shiraz 2015 is another of our favourites: blackcurrant and plum flavours surprisingly spiced with pepper and clove.
For a more amusing wine tasting, we try their chocolate and wine pairing where five of Groot Constantia’s award-wining wines are matched with chocolates — white and milk chocolates with white wines; dark chocolates with red wines. We are invited to discover matching notes and flavours (or get happily tipsy in the attempt). Educational, tasty...and fun!
To walk off the effects of the alcohol (we are, unfortunately, lightweights), we explore other parts of the wine farm as well, from the vineyards that seems to stretch into the horizon to the restored manor house that is now part of the South African Cultural History Museum. The former provides a picturesque backdrop for selfies while the latter is a decidedly more sombre affair, with its exhibition on the life of slaves during the colonial period.
Leaving Groot Constantia, we drive north-west along the Constantia Main Road until we reach the Silvermist Wine Estate, set loftily on top of the Constantiaberg mountains. The winding road climbs and climbs, offering breathtaking views of the sprawling wine valley below. Nestled here, in the 120-acre estate, is the award-wining restaurant La Colombe.
Led by Scot Kirton, its Chef Proprietor and Eat Out San Pellegrino Chef of the Year 2015, and James Gaag, the German-born Head Chef, La Colombe offers a curated multi-course menu highlighting South African produce as well as influences from the chefs’ recent trip to the US.
Lunch is a perfect time to dine at La Colombe as the window seats offer lovely views of the Silvermist vineyards on the slopes below the restaurant. Natural sunlight whets one’s appetite, or so we tell ourselves.
We begin with a starter of warm sourdough bread that we spread with a rich bone marrow and pickled fish butter. The next dish, the La Colombe Garden, is a visual spectacle: a contrast of textures and flavours offered by the pairing of crispy filo pastry wafers filled with chicken parfait and shaved chestnuts, aged beef tartare, salsa verde, porcini mushrooms and sherry gel. Colourful, creative, utterly delightful.
La Colombe’s signature dish of “tuna in a can” follows, a quirky opportunity to play with our food. We peel back the lid to uncover pan-seared tuna balanced with ponzu, citrus, ginger and shiitake. The oceanic theme is continued with freshly shucked West Coast oysters garnished with decadent caviar and calamansi granita, in an apple and soy dressing.
Lovers of offal will enjoy the lamb tongue and sweetbreads, served with smoked garlic velouté and Jerusalem artichoke. I’m not usually one for organ meats, but this is exceptional. Momofuku devotees will smile at our next course: Asian steamed pork mantou bun with kimchi and charred pineapple. Fluffy, crunchy and sticky-sweet: David Chang would be proud.
We enjoy the bounty of the sea and land: cured Norwegian salmon, king crab, blood orange, melon and wood sorrel; followed by miso-seared scallop, quail, parsnip, braai-ed corn, bok choy and teriyaki sauce. (Braai is the South African take on barbecue, always a communal affair.)
Losing count of the courses? We sure have. Good thing it’s time for a palate cleanser before the heavier dishes arrive. Our waiter presents a pair of Granny Smith apple lollipops on a bed of liquid nitrogen. Dramatic, yes, but more importantly, absolutely refreshing.
Which would we rather have — perfectly cooked linefish, squid and mussels with homemade chorizo and a creamy soubise onion sauce; or local Chalmar beef paired with langoustine, oxtail, peas and mustard? There are two of us so why choose? Let’s have both!
For a sweet ending, the “three ages” of boerenkaas is far from a typical dessert. The rustic farmer’s cheese (boer means “farmer” and kaas means “cheese” in Dutch), aged for different periods, transcends the spectrum from sharp to mellow, subtly spiced with onion, rhubarb, walnut and cumin. To finish our impressive meal, the Petit Fours Yirgacheffe showcases bite-sized confectionery accompanied by a floral cup of the Ethiopian coffee.
With a full belly and a wine-red blush on our cheeks, we salute Constantia Valley, truly deserving its title as Cape Town’s wine country!
Groot Constantia Road, Constantia, Cape Town, South Africa
Open daily 9am-5:30pm
Tel: +27-21-794 5128
Silvermist Wine Estate, Constantia Main Road, Constantia, Cape Town, South Africa
Open daily 12pm-1:45pm & 7pm-8:30pm
Tel: +27-21-795 0125