Next time you’re exploring the winelands, don’t miss the wonderful brandy tasting experiences on offer. Respected wine judge and certified Cape Wine Master Winnie Bowman recommends distilleries with the best visitor experiences outside of Cape Town.
The Van Ryn’s distillery outside the winelands town of Stellenbosch has a beautiful brandy tour that you can do indoors: they take you through the whole process and past the pot stills. Afterwards you can taste all of their brandies including their blended brandies, which are best for cocktails. They also have a marvelous chocolate and brandy pairing.
Then, at KWV outside Paarl there is the remarkable Sensorium, where you can see brandy development through the years. Most of their distilling takes place in the town of Worcester, but at the Sensorium there’s an unbelievable collection of South African art that you can admire as you taste your way through the wines and brandies. They also do a chocolate and brandy pairing and you can taste their Cruxland gin.
The Blaauwklippen estate outside Stellenbosch also makes two brandies: an 8- and a 10-year-old. They also have a showroom where they sell brandies from other producers, so it’s a good one-stop shop.
Travellers to Cape Town love exploring the wine routes that spread inland from the city, but a new route linking the ‘Brandy Homes’ of the winelands is also well worth a drive.
The vineyards that fan out from Cape Town are justifiably famous for producing world-class wines, but amidst the vines you’ll also find distilleries turning out award-winning brandies.
To help travellers discover the charming distilleries of the Western Cape, the SA Brandy Foundation has linked together the “Brandy Homes” of the winelands into a road trip that will introduce you to the finest brandy—or brandewyn (“burnt wine”) as it is known in Afrikaans—South Africa can produce. Don’t forget though, drinking and driving is both illegal and irresponsible so ensure there is a sober designated driver at all times.
In and around the towns of Stellenbosch and Paarl there are plenty of wonderful distilleries to visit, including the likes of Upland and Tokara. However, if there’s one you shouldn’t miss out on it’s the Van Ryn’s Distillery, where well-informed guides walk you through the process from grape to glass.
If you have a little more time on your hands, take the N1 highway out of Cape Town and turn right onto Route 62. This world-famous wine route stretches for hundreds of kilometres, but within an easy day’s drive from Cape Town you’ll discover superb brandy distilleries.
There’s Kingna, set on a working apricot, peach and grape farm a short drive from Montagu; and on the outskirts of the quirky Klein Karoo town of Barrydale the Barrydale Cellar’s Joseph Barry range of brandies offer excellent value.
Closer to Cape Town, the Klipdrift distillery in Robertson offers a superb brandy experience: an exhibition reveals the long history of this iconic South African brand, followed by a tour through the distillery and a tasting of the four unique “Klippies” brandies.
With Cape Town’s well-deserved reputation for wining and dining, a digestif after a three-course feast is always a good idea. Say hello, then, to homegrown grappa.
Grappa? Well, don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of it.
The Germans call it Tresterbrand, the French know it as Marc, and in Spain it’s Aguardiente. But here in South Africa it’s the Italian name of grappa that’s used for this fiery pomace brandy.
Distilled from the grape pulp, seeds and skins left behind from the winemaking process, grappa is really a convenient way to make the most of the leftovers. Happily, it tastes delicious and is a great after-dinner digestif to boot.
Although you can find local grappa in good restaurants across the city, most of the local grapperias are situated in the wine-growing region a short drive from Cape Town.
One of the finest is the family-owned Dalla Cia grapperia near Stellenbosch, which uses Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes to produce a range of aged grappas.
There’s more excellent grappa at the Wilderer distiller between the winelands towns of Franschhoek and Paarl, where Master Distiller Helmut Wilderer has been making grappa for the past 30 years. His barrel-aged Barrique Reserve is particularly good.
If you’re in the Breede River Valley for the day, it’s worth seeking out the farm Tanagra on the outskirts of McGregor, where pomace from their estate Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc is distilled into their delicious TanaGrappa.
Forget cognac…brandy is the tipple of choice for wintry nights in Cape Town. Respected wine judge and certified Cape Wine Master Winnie Bowman offers her suggestions of the best brandies to sip when visiting Cape Town.
The first two distilleries you simply must look at are Van Ryn’s and KWV.
There are two big international competitions for wine and spirits: the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC) and the International Spirits Challenge (ISC).
In 2015 the Van Ryn’s 12-year-old won the award for the world’s best brandy at the IWSC and the year before that their 15-year-old brandy won the same award. KWV won Distiller of the Year at the ISC in 2015 – the first time it had ever been awarded to anything other than a cognac. Their 10-year-old brandy is also wonderful.
Van Ryn’s also make the Oude Meester Demant, a five-year-old brandy that is absolutely lovely. It’s a lighter, fruitier brandy that goes well with fish and citrus dishes, while their 12-, 15- and 20-year-old brandies lean more towards dried fruit and toasted nuts and caramel. They’re best for enjoying with chocolate, dessert, or an end-of-evening cigar.
The winelands beyond Cape Town are fast growing a reputation for producing world-class brandies. But to get the most out of the local brandewyn (“burnt wine”), as it is known in Afrikaans, it’s best you brush up on your brandy knowledge.
Most visitors to Cape Town arrive unfamiliar with local brandy, a spirit that is making its mark worldwide.
South African brandy, unlike its French counterpart cognac, is typically made using Colombard and Chenin Blanc grapes. The grapes are harvested and crafted into a specific base wine: a wine with low acidity, little colour and with no added sulphur.
The base wine is then is distilled twice: first to create “low wines”, and then to concentrate the liquid into the fiery spirit that will mature into brandy. After the second distillation the brandy is matured in oak barrels for a minimum of three years, but often much longer. Some of South Africa’s finest brandies have spent over 30 years in barrel, maturing quietly in winelands storehouses.
“In South African brandies we aim for complexity; a subtle integration between the wood and the fruit,” explains Brink Liebenberg, Master Distiller for wine and brandy company Distell.
But before you point at any old bottle behind the bar, make sure you know what you’re ordering.
A blended brandy comes at the bottom of the pile, with a mix of pot still and column still spirits. These are your best bet if you’re mixing it with soft drinks. Vintage brandies are a step up, but it’s the pot still brandies that are your best choice. Made in copper pot stills and matured in wood before blending, they are South Africa’s answer to cognac.
That said… don’t tell the French, but local pot still brandies regularly beat French cognac in global competitions! Cheers to that.