Shortly after our arrival at Singita, after meeting the chefs who inquired about any special requests, we also met the hotel’s sommelier, Welma (pronounced “Velma”), who inquired about any special requests with respect to wine or liquor. She invited us to a wine tasting that evening, after our afternoon drive and before dinner, and we joined her inside the small but impressive cellar at Singita Ebony (I gather the cellar at nearby Singita Boulders is also a beautiful room with natural boulders left untouched). While I am obsessed with food, and have, over the years had quite a bit of wine, I wouldn’t say I was much of an expert with respect to wine. I think it’s safe to say I can just tell what I like and don’t like after sipping it… But in previous tastings we have participated in, Mrs. MM’s and my palate seem reasonably adept and have been able to pick out great wines, without the amazing ability of some folks to isolate specific flavors and fragrances that makes the whole wine tasting process so much more enjoyable I think.
Welma was young but a master — passionate, articulate and engaging. The tasting was brilliantly conducted. It didn’t feel snooty in the least, and the four or five wines we tasted that evening accentuated the different characteristics to look out for in wines, and highlighted that we all have a bit of bias towards the types of wines we prefer. She had this amazing ability to involve the audience, to make you taste the wonderful flavors she was describing, as though our tongues could be coaxed with the suggestion of fields of gooseberries, visions of a freshly cut pineapple, the aromas of heated chocolate. We tried all South African wines, and even the most “controversial” of the lot, a local blend called pinotage, that well, probably takes some getting used to. We started with a Delaire-Graff (yes, as is diamonds Graff) Semillon/Savignon Blanc 2010 that was light and crisp. The next bottle was a Hartenberg Estate Chardonnay 2007. The L’Avenir Laroche Pinotage 2005 was described as “a plumy note fleshed out by black cherries and chocolate…” Finally, a De Toren Fusion V 2006, one of the highest rated red wines in South Africa that we then continued to enjoy with our dinner of game meat a few minutes later…
On our last evening at Singita, at dinner in a magical private setting by the pool with dozens of gas lamps glowing, Welma sent over a Anthonij Rupert’s Optima 2008, a “Bordeaux Blend” — meaning in the style of Bordeaux wines. This had a more familiar taste given most of the red wine we had in the past was heavily skewed to French vineyards. In notes given to us just before we departed, our sommelier described this as follows, and I quote:
“Hand harvested grape bunches pre-cooled, hand-selected and sorted… prior to hand de-stemming… The grapes were fermented naturally in one of the most contemporary cellars in the world… followed by maceration in new French oak barrels for 24 months maturation. Boldly concentrated… plum fruit with blackberry and chocolate notes and firm backbone — this (special) vintage not released in South Africa.”
It paired beautifully with my main course of beef fillet.
We also had a bottle of Cederberg Cellars ‘ “Five Generations” Chenin Blanc 2007 at that last dinner. It was light, floral and citrusy. By now, our daughter had figured out that one of the notes was that of pineapple, and her education in wine has now begun…
At other meals we enjoyed a Sauvignon Blanc – Semillon 2009 from Rijk’s Private Cellar, that was delicious. Finally, an unusual Rustenberg “Red Wine Trial” or experiment I gather from 2005.
Overall, we were so impressed with the variety, taste and value of South African wines, and it was nice that Singita’s cellars consciously chose to feature that which was grown and bottled in their own country. We will be looking out for more South African wines in future and will savor the box of wine we checked in as baggage on our way home from Cape Town! Our hats off to Welma, our sommelier, who made the whole dining and drinking experience a truly special and memorable one.
Anyone with a really strong interest in wine would have a field day at Singita, with all local wine (and as much of it as you want) included in your tab, you could try as many bottles as you desired, whenever you desired. Of course, you wanted to be sober to enjoy the animals in the wild as well. We had sparkling wine for breakfast, glasses of white wine with lunch, cocktails before dinner, wine with dinner, a beer tasting session at the bar after dinner, after-dinner drinks in our villa… you would think we had a drinking problem or something. :)