For many travelers the first introduction to superb South African wines is on the government-owned South African Airways.  The small pony bottles from various vintners are free and not just in first class, but in all classes — so the classes raised their glasses for a true Wine Flight aloft from JFK to Joburg.

It is well known that the Western Cape is the hallowed ground for premier wine estates. The first vineyard in the Cape was planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655 at the foot of Table Mountain.  Cape Town has encroached on most of these pioneer wine farms, but on the lee side (wetter side) of the mountain is Constantia, where smaller vineyards produce award winning labels.

Of course there are many other great estates a short drive away from Cape Town, but this wine saga is mostly about Constantia and Hermanus, a coastal town along a lovely scenic highway from Cape Town.  A new website was recently launched for Wines and Wineries of the Western Cape; please visit

The Big Red Bus has free
fares for kids in summer.

The safest way to visit a few of the wineries in Constantia is with the CitySightSeeing Cape Town Hop-On, Hop-Off Big Red Bus.  The open top double-decker stops at key points around Cape Town and then you take a self-guided wine tasting tour of three estates before hopping back on board for a long loop around the Cape area via Hout Bay. 

The buses arrive about every 15 minutes, and they are very popular, because after all, you don't want to drink and drive, especially on the narrow mountain roads leading into Constantia.  Even though the buses are red, you want the Blue Bus ticket for the wine tour.    Once you reach Glen Alpine you will get off the Big Red Bus and take a special Wine Bus into Constantia; this ticket is included in your overall fare. For more info on this tour visit, or ask the hotel desk to direct you to their nearest stop, or call 021 511 6000.

All prices on bottles at the estates below are cellar prices and usually include VAT taxes.

At the large Groot Constantia Landgoed Estate the wine flight was from white to red to rosé.

Groot Constantia is the largest winery in the area.

The Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2012 had a ripe summery fruit flavors like melons, guava, and grapefruit; 42% Sauvignon Blanc and 58% Semillon;  R74,

Groot means Great in Afrikaans.

The Black de Noir 2012 had a delicate salmon color that showcased its abundance of summer fruit on the nose, including strawberries, white peach, and kiwi fruit; 62% Merlot and 37% Cabernet Sauvignon;  R67.

Constantia Rood 2010 will last 15 years in your private cellar.  The tongue is tempted with strawberries and plums with hints of chocolate and spice; 38 % Merlot, 37% Cabernet Franc, 18% Shiraz (Shiraz was the first wine grape, cultivated over 10,000 years ago in Persia.), 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1 % Pinotage; 1% Malbec; my personal favorite; R84.

Gouverneurs Reserve 2010 had ripe and rich flavors on the nose, with hints of black cherry, plum. blackcurrent, chocolate, and mint; 37% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon; R262.

The barrels roll out at Groot Constantia.

The 2010 Cape Ruby was a Portuguese-style Port (Vintners can’t use the name Portugal in their labels.) dessert wine with complex aromas of marzipan, plum, blackcurrent, raspberry, and sultanas, with a hint of mint on the nose; 136R.

For more information on Groot Constantia

The Eagles’ Nest Constantia was the second stop on the Wine Bus tour, and one of the smallest wineries in the area. The wine tasting fee of 30R is waived with any 300R wine purchase. 

The Eagles' Nest Winery in Constantia.

First up was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc which had a crisp palate with an inviting acidity. The nose shows classical aromas of green melon, pineapple, and guavas, with a hint of green pepper; 75R. 

Eagles' Nest's Wine Steward,
Nills explains a new vintage.

My superb second feature was the 2012 Viognier, which exhibited aromas of fresh peach, apricot, and at the last, jasmine flower. Its rich mouth filling palate was infused with delectable spice that tantalized the taste buds; 145R. 

2008 Merlot was a combination of flavors, the result of blending only the best barrels in the cellar. Eagles Nest is a mountainous vineyard with a cool climate and it shows in this vintage’s elegance and pure cultivar expressions – a wine of poise and distinction; my personal favorite; 130R.

The last tasting was of Eagles Nest’s flagship signature wine, a
2010 Shiraz. On the nose it had prominent white pepper tones, a hallmark, complimented by wonderful aromas of violets and dark berries. Velvety tannins and tantalizing spiciness follow through on the palate delivering mouth-watering satisfaction. The 2009 vintage of this same wine won two international wine awards; 225R.

Beau Constantia

The last stop on my Big Red Bus Wine Tour can also be visited at the beginning of the bus route at Glen Alpine. From the stand point of spectacular views,
Beau Constantia was no peers in the region. The tasting room is 270 degrees of plate glass hanging over a cliffside, with vineyards below and above and beyond.

Superb vineyard views from Beau Constantia.

Tasters get a treat of five choices: 

Cecily  is a barrel fermented Viognier that is striking to the nose, a perfume of coriander spice, violets, and apricots, a classic example of this rare white wine variety. The palate is packed with flavors of white peach and orange blossoms, but retains great balance as a result of a poised acidity and integrated minerality. 

Lucca is a classic Bordeaux-style blend made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc, aged in French oak barrels for 18 months. Blackcurrents and Morello cherries fill the first impression. The flavor concentration carries onto the palate and the polished tannins lend texture to the wine. 

Vineyards in the Beau Constantia area.

Aidan is an ultra-premium red blend made in a modern approach from Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in French oak barrels too, for 18 months.  It was a luscious red fruit and violet scent on the nose. The red berry perfume is concentrated on the palate, showing the contemporary nuances. 

The Pas de Nom range of wines are a tribute to Japie Bronn, the farm manager at Beau Constantia, who has dedicated his life to vineyards and wine production. Pas de Nom White is a Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon and Viognier. The Pas de Nom Red is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.

For more info visit Beau Constantia also has a spa.

The 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa

Like most folk, I prefer wine with an evening gourmet meal, and there many excellent restaurant choices in Cape Town, but for me the most outstanding pick was the Red Carnation Collection's Azure Restaurant located at the far south end of Cape Town near trendy Camps Bay. 

The 12 Apostles' elegant Azure Restaurant.

If you are in town or staying at 12A on a Tuesday, the hotel has a wine tasting event from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with one of its three sommeliers.

The 12A has won many awards from the media and the travel trade for their cuisine, and their latest accolade was for outstanding service.  Ryan, my sommelier, held court with a Pinotage tasting one Tuesday evening, and he was the epitome of wine erudition.

Ryan is one of three sommeliers at 12A

The Red Carnation Collection also has its own wine farm in Hermanus, called Buchard Finlayson.  Bouchard’s wines will only show up in the restaurants of Red Carnation's three South Africa Hotels: Bushmans Kloof, three hours north of  Cape Town, a perennial winner as best restaurant in ALL of Africa, the Oyster Box Hotel in Durban, with outstanding grilled bream, and the 12 Apostles’ Azure. 

The Azure overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, but before settling in to dinner, I joined a gregarious sundowner wine flight at the Leopard Bar, where even locals hang out because of the outstanding views.

Gather for a sundowner at the Leopard Lounge.

After my indoctrination in Pinotages, I was happy to see Ryan show up at my table at Azure so I could recount what I had learned from him. He suggested the two part meal — not two entrées, but two meals from the menu.

Part one was artfully designed by Mrs. Tollman, owner of the Red Carnation Collection. She even has her own cookbook, and the lovely matron’s healthy eating panache blends unusual gustos, like the nutty cake with snook fish paté; then it was the 12 Apostles' salad with guacamole and green sauce.  Wait, I had to stop to test my taste testing knowledge with a sip or Pinotage.

The award winning 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa.

The Azure chefs source their fresh veggies from local organic farms, keeping with Mrs. Tollman's philosophy — nothing is frozen or quick flashed; steamed or grilled, never boiled. I am still on part one of my two part dining extravaganza when the Peeled Prawn Risotto arrived, backed by Prawn Stroganoff, with handmade noodles.

I am not sure I can partake of part two, but after a palate cleanser of sorbet the table novelty arrived: hot water was poured over a cake of dry ice creating a symbolic mist of fog rolling down Table Mountain. Then Chef Dave served me part two of my dining escapade, an entrée of grilled, golden Dorado wrapped with fresh veggies, that made me forget I was indulging. Dessert? Who can deny Teramasu?

The next day I didn't cringe when Raini, my Indian masseuse at 12A, worked me over in the outdoor gazebo spa, because I think I was gourmand comatose.

A massage hut below the 12 Apostles at 12A.

Bouchard Finlayson Winery

Established in 1989, the Red Carnation Collection’s Bouchard Finlayson is a boutique winery dedicated to the productin of Pinot noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc wines.  The winery is located near the southernmost point of Africa in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (Heaven and Earth) framed by mountains and within sight of the ocean, with frost free weather and perfect clay shale vineyard soils. The beautiful estate is within the wine ward of Walker Bay, near Cape Town.

Red Carnation Hotel's Bouchard Finlayson Wine Farm.

The 125-hectare property currently has 22 hectares under vines.  Bouchard Finlayson’s flagship wine is the Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, which has won many awards.

You don't have to be a guest at The 12 Apostles to experience Azure's fine dining.

Watch the video of The 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa and Wineland Tours.Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world where you can go from the beach to the mountains in a matter of minutes.  Cape Town is a metropolis of culture —viticulture. (Click the video graphic for the Jetsetters.TV video featuring The 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa, and wineland tours.)

Read the Jetsetters Magazine features about Bushmans Kloof in the Cedarberg Mountains, The Oyster Box Hotel and Spa in Durban, and The 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa.

— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine; photo courtesy of Bouchard Finlayson Wine Farm and The 12 Apostles photo of Azure restaurant.