Stellenbosch wine tasting: old school at Middelvlei Estate

Posted on 8 July 2014

In Stellenbosch, wine tasting is compulsory. Here’s a little place you have to visit next time you’re in the area.

There are wine tastings and then there are wine tastings. And those of us in the grape basket of the Western Cape know good wine the way Carrie Bradshaw knows good… um, you know… good grammar?

It's a tough life being a wine farm dog! Photo by Scarlet Nguni.

It’s a tough life being a wine farm dog! Photo by Scarlet Nguni.

A different kind of Stellenbosch wine tasting


Ben and the three dogs (Merlot, Papsak and Alsace) proudly showed us around the cellar, which was built in 1941. In keeping with Momberg family values, Tinnie incorporates traditional methods (open tanks) with new technology (mechanical destemmer/crusher) to ensure the high standard of Middelvlei Wine Estate is maintained. I loved the idea of practising a little pigeage (the actual stomping of grapes which open tanks allow) and hope to return next year during the harvest: I’ve always wanted to crush grapes with my feet! Ben is also an avid animal lover and conservationist: the cellar has specially designed roosts for barn owls, he’s rehabilitated numerous blue cranes and they even have wallabies in the farm mini menagerie!

“That’s all good and well,” I bet you’re thinking, “but what about their wines?”

League of incredible wines. Photo by Scarlet Nguni

League of incredible wines. Photo by Scarlet Nguni

Middelvlei Wines are, like the family, uncomplicated and classy:

2013 Chardonnay: full, spicy and smooth with refined but fruity notes of guava. Think Reese Witherspoon in Walk The Line.

2011 Pinotage/Merlot: rich 50/50 blend, powerful and well rounded. Hints of leather and tobacco balance bright plum/cherry notes. Think Audrey Hepburn meets Angelina Jolie on a UN Ambassadorial visit – a wine that insists you take its multifaceted beauty seriously.

2012 Free-Run Pinotage: Unique to South Africa, pinotage is a mix of pinot noir and cinsaut (aka hermitage) varietals. Middelvlei’s Free Run is soft smooth and voluptuous, with delightful notes of raspberry and oak. Think Scarlett Johansson addressing parliament.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon: Sharp almond on nose, robust and velvety with mature cherry and blackberry notes. A wine with high cheekbones and an athletic appetite. Think Rhona Mitra – with a smoking gun.

2010 Momberg: Created as a tribute to their winemaking father, Stiljan, who has steered the farm by two abiding values: consistency and quality. Tinnie decided to craft Middelvlei’s flagship red by focusing solely on quality – which means the composition changes from year to year to ensure only the best of the best find their way into the bottle. A deeper, more wooded wine with a rich bouquet, berry notes with leather satchel undertones impart a sense of gravitas. Think: an graceful older woman of royal birth – Caroline, princess of Monaco.

But they had me at:

2010 Shiraz: An exceptional and thoroughly unusual Shiraz. Demure yet spicy, playful and enchanting muddy earth/acetone nose which opens into a field of French violets. Think classic Coco Channel, in gumboots. My favourite!

I left having bought a case of Shiraz and a few bottles of flagship red… and that cache already in need of replenishment!


Come hungry

They also offer a fabulous Boerebraai (literally translated as farmer’s barbeque) which is a must for any international visitor. This is traditional South Africa plaas kos served with an elegant twist –  look forward to lekker favourites such as roosterkoek, braaibroodjies and moerkoffie. The atmosphere’s relaxed and conveniently child friendly, so you can make a day of it or block out a good few hours to savour superb wines, food and the outdoors. Kids (of all ages) can free to run explore the joys of farm life and there’s even a mini zoo with goats, geese, tortoise – look out for those wallabies!

If you want to stay over

There’s a very cute cottage on the farm (because it’s best to avoid driving after old school wine tastings and nothing beats waking up on a farm) which was full when we visited so we stayed at the trendy New York inspired Rustenbosch Guest House Apartments. In the sweltering summer heat of the thriving mini metropolis of Stellenbosch, these self-catering units open onto a central pool and garden area, offering a blissfully cool sanctuary. For an extra R100, choose apartments 1-3 as they are bigger and afford more space.

Rustenbosch apartments: New York style in Stellenbosch. Photo by Scarlet Nguni

Rustenbosch apartments: New York style in Stellenbosch. Photo by Scarlet Nguni

Our apartment was so quiet and comfortable that the blackout curtains worked their magic and we completely overslept the next morning – something that never happens. And for a coffee snob like me, I loved that they provided real coffee and a plunger. Although we missed breakfast having slept late, the on-the-go health muffins is the best I’ve ever had.

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