Raising The Bars

The Stellenbosch urban wine route collects all the area’s offerings in convenient proximity


Dan Nicholl is the founder and host of Dan Really Likes Wine. Dan is a former PICA Magazine Columnist of the Year, and has worked on television and radio, and in print and online journalism.

I was asked a fiendishly difficult question at Cape Wine, the celebration of the South African industry that Wines Of South Africa put together in a blaze of noise, colour and marvellous wine. Where would I go in Stellenbosch for the most beautiful spot to enjoy a glass? Where indeed? The terrace at Delaire Graff, surrounded by fine art and sculpture, and a sprawling view down the Banhoek Valley? The dam at Jordan, an idyllic oasis where breakfast chardonnay is happily served to early visitors? Ernie Els, where the postcard vista of the Helderberg is accompanied by a small tee box and green, and the cabernet sauvignon-fuelled belief that you have the swing of Ernie himself? The tiny island tasting room at Stark Condé, set within the striking Joostenberg valley? Bartinney, gazing out upon mountains, vineyards and entrepreneur Michael Jordaan having his morning swim? Any one of those would light up your Instagram feed. In the end, though, I settled on the small wooden deck atop Taaibosch, the estate older wine drinkers might remember as Cordoba. Down to the left: Strand, and the coast streaking around False Bay to Cape Point. To the right, the shimmering haze of the Swartland on the horizon. Before that, the rise and fall of local vineyards. Directly ahead, Cape Town and Table Mountain, sparkling at night, and framed gloriously at sunset. And below, the vineyards that come together to create Crescendo, the red blend that sums up the rich, lush majesty of Stellenbosch. It’s a mesmerising spot to taste wine; afterwards, you’ll find 100 near-identical pictures on your phone, with none of them quite doing justice to the experience. Had you opted for one of the other suggestions, you’d have been similarly swept away – and that leads to another question about Stellenbosch. If you have a day set aside for a wine route, how on earth do you decide which estates to visit? How about all of them, on the world’s greatest urban wine route?

A day on the town

I spent a day in the town of Stellenbosch, rather than its surrounding estates, with Mike Ratcliffe as my tour guide. Mike is somewhat overqualified for the job, as Chair of both Stellenbosch Tourism and Stellenbosch Wine Routes, but he insisted on taking me around to show off a key attraction: the seemingly endless string of wine bars. Not a month goes by without a new one springing up, and what’s on offer is exceptional. The Wine Glass is the headline act, offering over 130 wines by the glass, with every single one from Stellenbosch. Flights of different varietals help to whittle down the selection process, but it’s still an almighty task. You could settle in for a week – except The Wine Glass is but one of the myriad stops on this route. Simon’s, across the road, isn’t far behind in its comprehensive offering by the glass, while heavyweight chef Bertus Basson’s Spek & Bone is a temple to the rare and unusual. And there are the own brand establishments, charming outposts of local estates. Brampton Wine Studio was the town’s first wine bar and is still flourishing. Local legend Jean Engelbrecht recently opened Stellenbosch Wine Bar (how he came up with that name…), home to his iconic Rust en Vrede reds. Bartinney and Plaisir offer cosy bohemian corners of indulgence. There is Le Chant (from the team behind Taaibosch), Quoin Rock’s Q Bar, Beyerskloof, Le Grand Domaine Enoteca – and by the time you read this, almost certainly one or two more. And therein lies the happy dilemma of wine in Stellenbosch: a wondrous and unending array of attractions in one of the great wine regions of the world.

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