A Pearl in the South African Winelands

It was John Keats, the 18th century English romantic poet, who remarked, “Give me books, wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody that I do not know.” These were my precise sentiments when I embarked on my first journey to the South African winelands in April. Pour me a glass of an aromatic, bold red, a fragrant rosé, or an elegant and floral white, then I’m a content traveler. No, make that, an ecstatic traveler.

Wine is said to be the sweet elixir of life and I would have to concur that life becomes instantaneously gayer, seemingly less heavy and less oppressive when paired with a glass in hand. The days that were once demanding and overwhelming suddenly appear to be long and loose. I could have easily spent my entire vacation ambling from one vineyard to the next, indulging in decadent wine tastings and engaging in light-hearted banter with well- versed sommeliers and the multitude of folks whom I had befriended along the way.

The winelands of South Africa are evocative of the winelands of France, begging the visitor to linger hours after the last band of sunlight recedes into the horizon.

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Cultivation and production of wine in South Africa date back to 1659, making it one of the powerhouse regions in the world of wine. There are myriads of sprawling estates to perch yourself in, for the weekend or for a day or two.

Most first-time visitors to South Africa, flock to the Stellenbosch region. It is renowned for its’ vast production of some of the biggest and boldest wines in the business. Yet, if you are looking for a wine experience that is decidedly more intimate, unpretentious, and tranquil, then head to Paarl, a region in the Western Cape of South Africa that is equally serene and idyllic. Paarl, which means “Pearl” in Dutch, was once the heart of the wine industry. And once you head out on the main thoroughfare (the N1) out of Capetown, you would concur that the region was aptly named after the gemstone.

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The sheer beauty of the soft mountains in the distance beneath the wispy Capetown sky gives one many moments to pause. Mighty baobab and acacia trees line the roads, creating patches of dancing sunlight along the route. Except for a few cars moseying in either direction, the road is punctuated by a handful of bike motorists, and lone vendors selling highly pigmented oranges in bulk.

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40 minutes later, you will arrive upon the pebblestone driveways of the Noble Hill wine estate, best described as a “boutique” winery- a family-run winery that caters to the personalized needs of its clients and that prides itself on delivering wines that are authentically tied to its origins. Be sure to call ahead for tastings, breakfast or lunch reservations, but more importantly if you are interested in receiving “special treatment” –i.e. a customized “inside tour” of the grounds.

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Ask for Christopher, the Maître D’, or Catherine, who both delight in crafting personal tastings and showcasing the many “noble varietals” of the vineyard. After a tour of the estate, Christopher will be quite keen on pouring generous tastings of the new release for 2015- a 2011 estate blend, a juicy red that is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38 % Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Franc.

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The on-site restaurant, Cosecha (Pronounced co-say-cha, meaning “harvest” in Spanish) takes “locavore ethic” to an elevated level. Vegetables and herbs are grown and maintained right on the Noble Hill farm, while the meat is procured from a local farmer. Cosecha serves Latin inspired dishes using locally farmed ingredients that pair exceedingly well with the wines on offer.

Commence your dining experience with the homemade ceviche- fresh chunks of avocado, tomato and red onion combined with prawns and drizzled with chipotle pepper. The ceviche pairs nicely with the 2009 rosé, a subtle and perfectly nuanced wine that never overwhelms the meal.

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The versatility of the MCC (Methode Cap Classique) also makes it, well matched for ceviche. The MCC, known as the “Blanc des Blancs” (White of Whites), is South Africa’s well-earned take on French champagne. Crisp, with mineral and citrus finishes, the MCC also pairs well with pork, chicken and vegetarian dishes.

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From the ceviche, move to one of the restaurant’s signature dishes- fish tacos, which comprises of lightly battered fish, with cabbage slaw and pineapple salsa. Paired with the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, this dish is a winner.

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If you are looking for the quintessential “wine and cheese” platter then go for the artisan cheese platter, which features aged, soft and hard cheeses from the region, with fresh fruits. This delightful spread will prove to be the perfect nibbler for those looking for something classic and simple.

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Yet, if indecision sets in, then be sure to check “the daily board” for inspired specials that rotate with the seasons. These specials will tempt and tantalize even the most ardent of dieters among us.

Finish off your meal with a hand picked selection of artisan chocolates. Each chocolate delivers a torrent of notes-from hints of fresh ginger and nutmeg to roasted hazelnuts and coffee. Each chocolate is artfully presented in delicate paper wrapping and pairs well with the 2011 Vintage Estate Blend or any deeply textured, signature red from the Noble Hill collection.

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Noble Hill is definitely a small vineyard in a field of giants, but has rightfully earned its reputation for its delivery of notable wines that offer an unforgettable experience. The ambiance and the wines are unquestionably the main draw here. Just like pearls that come to the consumer untarnished by the hands of man, so too, the Noble Hill winery remains true to its source, unblemished by mass consumerism – a true hidden gem in South Africa.

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