Wine Tasting: a classy concept that seems to inspire smarter ensembles, a listening ear, a more discernible palate than one actually has. I've gone wine tasting three times in my life. The first time was in Napa Valley after Semester at Sea. I was in culture shock and missing my new friends, so I got drunk about three times per day on quality reds from the California hills. The second time was in Indiana, believe it or not, at a vineyard that has rumors of using Welch's grape juice instead of that which falls from the grapevine. This third time, in Stellenbosch outside of Cape Town, was the most successful and most enjoyable of them all.
As I've illustrated, wine tasting isn't something you can't do elsewhere. And during our planning sessions for South Africa, we almost vetoed this idea because of that fact. But that would have been a mistake, as everyone, travelers and residents, that we asked for suggestions on SA activities mentioned we needed to spend a day trying the grape products of the Western Cape. Not only is there delicious alcohol involved in the equation but beautiful landscapes, a little bit of learning, and no doubt fun people in it as well.
We were in.
We set up our tour at the hostel's travel desk, which was so incredibly handy I didn't mind the commission they probably got from each activity booked. Our guide, Merinda, picked us up in the morning along with five young, spry others that all possessed that wine sparkle in their eye. Our schedule was to hit four or five vineyards that all had something special to offer: unlimited goat cheese tasting, sparkling wines, stunning views, and the best, most varied selection of Pinotage around.
And it was here we found the one thing that made wine tasting in South Africa unique: a combination of Pinot and Hermitage (so I was told...can't remember exactly for some reason...hic!). The king of Pinotage had white, blush, and red versions of this South African speciality, and we tried every single one of them. I tried to differentiate the tastes between an oaken barrel and steel tank fermentation and decided wood trumps steel any day.
The drive back was dramatically different than the drive there. Everyone had a plastic glass sloshing recent purchases and chocolate fingers. Red teeth dressed up every photograph captured. And a massive sing-along of Aussie national songs and American classics like "American Pie" commenced that probably rocked our driver's ear drums. The day ended at 5pm, and for some of us, that was pretty much all we could handle.