Wine tasting in Stellenbosch isn’t just about drinking: it’s about food, culture, and life altogether.
I arrived in South Africa’s Wine County with a massive chip on my shoulder. Then I went wine tasting in Stellenbosch, had a few extra glasses here and there, and the only massive thing left was my brand new suitcase – the one I had not planned to buy, but to which I gave in when I realized that really, all that amazing Stellenbosch wine had to come home with me.
If you have been following my blog for a while, you will know that I love wine, and I travel for it. If you haven’t, let me make a long story short: I went to Argentina a second time because I wanted to drink wine in Mendoza; I spent 8 full days in Spain last October, going through the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, to taste the local wines. And when I started planning my trip to Southern Africa, it was obvious I would visit some Stellenbosch wine farms.
After all, rumor has it that South African wine – and in fact, Stellenbosch wine – is excellent. Even my mom told me so. And I grew up always (well, sort of) believing what my mom says.
Speaking of growing up, I was born and raised in Sardinia, Italy. Why is this important? Well, you may not know it, but there’s some excellent wines here. Being an island and all, Sardinians grow up with the notion that anything Sardinian is better – the beaches, the cities, the food and quite obviously the wine. In my very Sardinian mindset, not even the top Stellenbosch wine farms would make wine as good as Sardinian wine. (That’s the chip on my shoulder explained.)
Then I went wine tasting in Stellenbosch; I never missed an opportunity for a glass; and a bunch of meals accompanied by (guess what) Stellenbosch wine later I concluded that wine estates in Stellenbosch do know what they are doing. Sure, I was mostly tipsy during my 5 days in Stellenbosch, but it’s a price I was glad to pay in order to get a (very) informed opinion.
In case it isn’t clear enough, I loved Stellenbosch; I loved the wines there; wine tasting in Stellenbosch was great; and I can’t wait to go back.
This post highlights the best places to do wine tasting in Stellenbosch, and gives plenty of tips on how to make the most of this gorgeous little town. But before I get to the juicy bits, let me tell you a bit more about the history, culture and vibe of Stellenbosch.
There’s More Than Wine Estates In Stellenbosch
Most people visit Stellenbosch to taste all the fabulous Stellenbosch wines. They have a point, for they are fantastic. But Stellenbosch has a lot more to offer. I found it to be a very pleasant place to explore and to hang around for a few days.
Stellenbosch is a university town, with the University of Stellenbosch counting a whopping 30000 students taking courses there. This sets the overall vibe. Stellenbosch is young, friendly and easygoing. Every day of the week there’ll be people out and about, enjoying a drink and a chat with friends. And at the weekend, many locals pay a visit to the nicest wine estates in Stellenbosch, either for wine tasting, for a delicious meal, a picnic or just to explore the area.
The town is located at around 50 km from Cape Town (about an hour drive, depending on traffic) on the banks of Eerste (first) River. It’s the second oldest town in South Africa after Cape Town and it was founded in 1679. It was named after its founder, Simon van der Stel, with “bosch” being Afrikaans for “bush.” The first grapes that went to produce the famous Stellenbosch wine were planted in the region in the late 17th century by Huguenots refugees. It soon became evident that Stellenbosch wine farms would thrive.
A guided walking tour of Stellenbosch is a pleasant way to learn more about its history and culture. It’s how I found out that most of the town was destroyed by a fire in 1710. The tour goes to all the most important landmarks in the city, including the Village Museum, which has 4 restored and perfectly kept houses from the 18th century; the main churches; the former seat of the magistrate; and a bunch of art galleries. Each year a different art exhibition takes place around town. This year the art pieces consist of statues that can be used as bike stands – there’s one that looks like paper clips (my favorite!), one that looks like a giant comb, etc.
These are a few great walking and bike tours of Stellenbosch:
Another thing I recommend doing while in town, and which is a good diversion from all the wine tasting in Stellenbosch, is visiting the nearby township of Kayamandi. The name means “sweet home” in the Xhosa language. Kayamandi was founded in the 1950s during Apartheid. Next to the small houses that were built at the time – all having a sleeping room, a kitchen and a fireplace and chimney – there’s also many shacks made with whatever material easily found.
I won’t lie to you: the living conditions in some parts of Kayamandi are dire, to say the least. Some huts don’t have running water and toilets, and the inhabitants have to make use of communal toilets and showers. But despite the hardship, people strive to get a better life, children play and smile, there’s a lot going on and Kayamandi really is “sweet home” and an interesting place to visit outside the wine estates in Stellenbosch.
The Five Best Estates To Do Wine Tasting In Stellenbosch
There’s so many amazing wine estates in Stellenbosch that deciding which one to visit may be a daunting task. Personally, I’d visit them all – but I am the worst lightweight of all (though I have improved a lot, courtesy of all the wine tasting in Stellenbosch) so I had to make a selection.
I kept it to one wine tasting in Stellenbosch per day, so I took it extremely easy. That’s the way to go, I think. I just took my time in the morning, made my way to one of the nicest wine estates in Stellenbosch, explored the surroundings, the vineyard, the interiors, tasted all the wines and ate lunch before making my way back to town to chill for the rest of the day (and, ahem, drink more wine).
One thing I immediately noticed while exploring wine estates in Stellenbosch is that they have taken wine tourism to the next (and best) level, at least compared to most of the ones I have visited in other countries.
Where most vineyards around the world offer a basic visit to the grounds and the winery, with a very detailed and (let’s admit it) sometimes terribly boring explanation on how the wine is made, and finish off with wine tasting; Stellenbosch vineyards offer an incredible range of experiences. They have boutique hotels; restaurants and delis; animal sanctuaries; art galleries and other fun activities. They are fabulous places to visit not only for wine connoisseurs, but also for families with children.
While I recommend factoring in a few days in Stellenbosch on a South Africa itinerary, I appreciate that not everyone may have enough time. The following are good one-day wine tours in Stellenbosch that all leave from Cape Town:
- From Cape Town: Full-Day Winelands Tour with Tasting
- South African Winelands Half Day Tour and Tasting
- Cape Town: Full Day Wine Tasting Tour
- Private Full-Day Wine Tour and Tasting from Cape Town
- Full-Day Private Cape Winelands Tour from Cape Town
- Cape Winelands Full-Day Tour from Cape Town
- Full-Day Winelands Tour and Tastings from Cape Town
- Taste Stellenbosch Winelands Small Group Tour from Cape Town
For those who, on the other hand, decide to take it easy and stay in Stellenbosch, here’s a selection of the nicest wine estates to do wine tasting in Stellenbosch – all tried and approved by yours truly. An all inclusive list of Stellenbosch wine farms can be found on Stellenbosch Wine Routes.
Lanzerac Wine Estate
Why I love Lanzerac: Lanzerac takes wine tasting in Stellenbosch to a whole new level, making feel wine amateurs as if they are proper conosseurs.
This is one of the nicest wine estates in Stellenbosch, located in a beautiful setting, a few minutes drive from the center of town and from where there are gorgeous views of the mountains and the valley. The estate was founded in 1692 and is where the first Pinotage (a South African blend) was ever bottled. In 1914 a certain Mrs English set her eyes on Stellenbosch wine farms and bought this one for £18000, giving it its current name.
The estate includes a fantastic deli, where I enjoyed a delicious breakfast, a restaurant and (like many other Stellenbosch wine farms) a hotel and spa. At the end of May 2017 a fire tragically occurred in the hotel, but a great effort to rebuild was made and the brand new, stylish hotel was inaugurated on 1 July, 2018.
Lanzerac is the perfect place to go wine tasting in Stellenbosch. The staff at the estates does an excellent job in teaching how to appreciate wine. I must admit that most of the time, when I hear or read that a wine has a scent of berries, a touch of cinnamon, or whatever else flavors in it, I laugh thinking that whoever wrote the description has a lot of fantasy. After my first wine tour in Stellenbosch at Lanzerac, such descriptions finally made sense.
Gwen, who assisted me in the wine tasting, worked her magic to make me fully appreciate the flavors of Lanzerac wines. I did the wine and chocolate tasting, pairing the best of Stellenbosch wine with some excellent dark chocolate. I observed the wine, I smelled the fragrance and slowly tasted it. It was simply heavenly.
Interestingly, despite the fact that I much prefer red wine to white, I fell in love with Mrs English, Lanzerac Chardonnay which is a tribute to the former owner. I even bought two bottles to take home with me – so that even my family and friends can try some of the wines I had during my wine tasting in Stellenbosch.
Why I love Middelvlei: when I say that wine tasting in Stellenbosch is different, I think of Middelvlei. I had a great time learning the secrets to blend the perfect wine.
Middelvlei is one of the most beautiful wine estates in Stellenbosch, a mere 10 minutes drive from the town center. Here, the Momberg family has been crafting its own wines for almost 100 years.
The estate offers a fantastic range of activities, and wine tasting is only one of them. I did say that wine tasting in Stellenbosch, or – better – wine tourism has been taken to the next level, remember? Middelvlei is one of the places where this next level is to be found.
Just a year ago I read a post on The Crowded Planet that talked about a wine blending experience in Stellenbosch. I had no idea what this would imply (and remember, I arrived in Stellenbosch with that famous chip on my shoulder), but as I am always keen to do new things I thought I’d give it a try. So instead of going for the traditional wine tasting in Stellenbosch, I opted to do the blending experience.
As soon as I arrived I was taken to a table in a cozy dining room, in front of a massive fireplace, and I was given 3 bottles of wine – a Pinotage and a Shiraz, which are two fabulous South African varieties; and a Merlot. I’d be using these to create my own blend, but in order to blend the wine I had to first taste it (like on a proper wine tour in Stellenbosch).
Along with the bottles of wine, I was given a basket with what looked like the perfect set for the young chemist. The host instructed me on how to get my perfect blend and handed me pen and paper to mark down the percentages of the various wines in it. I had 5 different glasses to try the various blends. Now, this wine tasting in Stellenbosch was getting interesting indeed.
After experimenting a bit, I settled for a blend of 40% Shiraz, 30% Pinotage and 30% Merlot, which I then poured into a bottle, corked and labelled. I named my wine Tavani Riserva Speciale (Special Reserve) because I felt special from the moment I sat at the table to do the blend, and because I knew I’d want to take the bottle home so that my family could have a taste of a great Stellenbosch wine that I contributed in blending.
Most wine tours in Stellenbosch include a meal. Middelvlei actually included a South African Braai – the local version of a barbecue. South Africans take a lot of pride in their Braai, which has to be done on proper wood coal (gas is for amateurs). They grill just about anything – lamb, chicken, beef, pork, sausages, tomato and cheese sandwich: you name it.
Spier Wine Farm
Why I love Spier: of all wine estates in Stellenbosch, Spier goes above and beyond to give back to the environment and the local community. It’s 100% responsible and sustainable.
Established in 1692, Spier is one of the oldest vineyards in South Africa. But it’s not just its stellar wines that make it a fabulous place for wine tasting in Stellenbosch. Indeed, the minute I arrived at Spier Wine Farm I noticed something that makes it stand out.
Some of you may not know it, but the Cape region has been going through a sever drought. It’s so bad that taps in public toilets have been closed and everywhere people are encouraged to use hand sanitizer instead of water. Imagine how great the concern can be for wine estates in Stellenbosch, with all the water they consume daily.
Spier makes a great effort to reduce the use of water and it recycles 100% of its wastewater, which once cleaned is used to irrigate the gardens and grounds. 98% of the waste produced at the farm, the hotel and the restaurant on the ground is also recycled.
But there’s more. Not only Spier gives back to the environment: the same effort is done towards the local community, which not only is employed at the wine farm (as it’s done on all Stellenbosch wine farms) but also has the possibility of attending the art studio. It’s a fantastic investment in culture, whereby local artists are encouraged to produce, showcase and sell their art. The singing rocks exhibit in the gardens is simply fantastic.
Spier is a fantastic place to spend a few days, not only for the traditional wine tasting in Stellenbosch, but also to pamper oneself with a delicious meal in one of the onsite restaurants (I ate a delicious pork chop with seasonal winter vegetables at Eight); have a picnic selecting the best products at the deli; sleep in a cozy room in the hotel and have a spa treatment. There’s even the “Eagle Encounters” – a bird of pray sanctuary where rescuded birds are taken care of before being reintroduced in their natural environment.
I recommend stopping at Spier during a wine tour in Stellenbosch, and if possible to spend a few days there, on their on site accommodation. To discover the best deals of Spier’s hotel, click here. Read the reviews here.
Why I love Muratie Estate: all wine estates in Stellenbosch are stylish in their modern design. Muratie is a vintage estate, with old decors in the restaurants and wine tasting rooms, and dreary yet charming spider webs that give it an eerie look.
Muratie Estate is tucked in the Knorhoerk Valley north of Stellenbosch. The farm was founded in 1685, and is one of the oldest in the country. Everything here is vintage, and scattered around the property there’s old machinery that was once used the process of wine making. Visiting is like walking back in time, and this makes Muratie unique among Stellenbosch wine farms.
As it was pouring when I visited, I went straight to the tasting room, where I had one of the nicest wine tasting in Stellenbosch. The old couches, the vintage forniture, the spider webs that must have been there for decades, and (obviously) the delicious wines made it a fantastic experience. I tried 5 wines before moving to the restaurant, where I had a superb meal (and more wine).
Morgenster Wine and Olive Estate
Why I love Morgenster Wine and Olive Estate: the owner of Morgenster, the late Giulio Bertrand, is Italian. That’s enough for me to love this wine estate. Aside from the great wine, Morgenster also makes excellent quality olive oil, something which not many wine estates in Stellenbosch do.
Morgenster was first founded in 1711. After thriving for over a century, much of the property, as many other Stellenbosch vineyards, was destroyed by Phylloxera in the mid 1880s. In 1958 the farm was sold to Mrs. Hawkins and in 1992 the Italian Giulio Bertrand acquired Morgenster, where he planted some Italian grapes, including the famous Sardianian Vermentino.
Under the supervision of Giulio Bertrand, the vineyard thrived again. Bertrand also planted olive trees, so Morgenster not only makes some of the best Stellenbosch wine, but also great olive oil (which I have obviously tasted!).
As for the wine tasting, I opted to try the Italian collection, with wines produced using Italian grapes such as Vermentino, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and that are named after opera and famous opera singers such as Enrico Caruso – sure enough an interesting twist for a wine tour in Stellenbosch. My favorite was the Nabucco, made with Nebbiolo.
Where To Stay In Stellenbosch
Whoever wants to do wine tasting in Stellenbosch will have an incredible array of accommodation options to pick from. Here’s some of the best places to stay in Stellenbosch:
- De Haas Luxury Living offers fantastic, stylish serviced apartments in the center of Stellenbosch. The bed is extra comfortable, the kitchen fully equipped, the living very cozy and the bathroom is simply state of the art. Click here for the latest rates, and check reviews here.
- Twice Central Guest House is perhaps the coziest guest house in Stellenbosch. Located on a side street yet a minute walk from all the main attractions, bars, restaurants and shopping streets in town, Twice Central has large, cozy and spotless rooms and stylish common areas. It offers a scrumptious breakfast too. Click here for the latest rates, and check reviews here.
- Lanzerac Hotel and Spa is located on Lanzerac Wine Estate. All rooms are incredibly large, they are all different, and they all have beautiful views of the estate. Click here for the latest rates, and check reviews here.
- Spier Hotel is located in the Spier Wine Farm, and offers gorgeous rooms in an enchanting setting. Click here for the latest rates, and check reviews here.
Where To Eat And Drink In Stellenbosch
To me, the best way to enjoy a good Stellenbosch wine is with a meal. This lovely town is packed with excellent restaurants. Here’s a selection of those I have tried:
De Warenmarkt – incredibly cozy yet sophisticated; the staff is very friendly. The food is excellent: I went with a friend and we had a selection of tapas which included the rare roast cajun beef style and the cauliflower tempura. The wine and cocktail list on the menu is very good, but for a real treat ask to see the special wines list (all of them are Stellenbosch wines). They are pricey, but worth every cent. We had a glass of MCC brut (South African version of champagne) and a bottle of Somerbosch Kylix 2010. I wanted to buy one, but apparently we had the very last in the region (I even went to the wine estate to look for it!).
The Hussar Grill is where locals go when they want a fabulous steak. I tried the sirloin with a few side dishes, and accompanied them with a glass of Shiraz. The friendly service made it all the better.
Hudsons is a good place to have a burger or a steak. The atmophere is very easy going, as lots of students go to eat there. Burgers are very good and prices fair.
Basic Bistro is on the main street of Stellenbosch and makes some delicious salads. It’s the perfect place to have lunch, but chill – life in Stellenbosch is relaxed so take a good glass of Stellenbosch wine too.
Fabio’s is a great small coffee shop that does very good breakfasts and good espresso.
When To Visit Stellenbosch
I visited Stellenbosch at the end of June, so right at the beginning of South African winter. Despite the rain and chilly weather, I enjoyed every moment of my visit and in fact think it was perfect timing to do some wine tasting in Stellenbosch (is there anything better than a glass of red wine in the winter?). Stellenbosch is also quieter in the winter months, so all the better for me.
Needless to say, the spring months, when everything is in bloom, and the late summer / early fall, during the harvest, are perfect to do wine tours in Stellebosch. In other words, I think any time is good to visit!
How To Get To And Around Stellenbosch
The fastest and easiest way to get to Stellenbosch from either Cape Town or Cape Town airport is via Uber. Having said that, it’s probably easier to rent a car to move around the various wine estates in Stellenbosch. Here’s a great company for car rentals. The town is really peaceful and safe, so walking is the best thing to do to explore the center.
Have you ever been to Stellenbosch? Which wine tours in Stellenbosch did you do and which did you enjoy the most?
Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of Stellenbosch Wine Routes for the #MakeADateWithStellies and #visitStellenbosch campaign, and I wish to thank them for the wonderful time. Needless to say, the views expressed in this post are my own.
Pin it For Later!