Chalk and Cheese (and Wine) (and Whine)

With some tourists in tow, it seemed that the most obvious thing to do was to continue the great tradition of Cape Town tourism and head out down the Constantia Wine Route – once described as “one of the most underrated attractions in Cape Town”.

And some of it is.

Klein Constantia is always a pleasure to visit. Their easy-drinking “KC” Cab Sauv/Merlot wasn’t on offer today, but they had a ludicrously good red blend from 2008 with plenty of Petit Verdot and plenty of Cabernet Franc. The hostess was friendly and informative: no question was too big or small and we lingered longer because of it. The tasting was free and although we didn’t buy there, we went away knowing that we would looking for their stuff in the supermarkets and – in my parent’s case – at the local UK importer.

Compare and contrast this experience with “The Wine Shop” at Constantia Uitsig. Their tasting comes in at R25 a head and there was a distinct lack of engagement with the customers. We were given a tasting sheet and the wine was brought out, poured and taken away again. It was all a bit unfriendly, but having paid, we weren’t about to leave without at least trying the wines. That took time though, because the hostess was more interested in chatting to her friends behind the high desk. Thus, we found ourselves sitting and chatting about anything but wine while waiting for glasses to be refilled. I don’t think that’s going to help their sales much.
The final wine we tasted there was their dessert wine: Muscat d’Alexandrie. When it was poured, the hostess told us that it should never be served too cold as it ruined the taste, but that their bottle had been sitting next to the freezer and so was… er… too cold. Much like the rest of their selection – and the service there – it was very average and a big disappointment to the tourists in our party.

By this time, mildly delayed by the poor service, we were getting hungry, so we headed next door the The River Cafe. Things started well with some decent coffees, but it really degenerated into an absolute farce by the end. The waitress took the order, but didn’t put it into the system and so we watched as others arrived after us and tucked into their lunch. When we enquired about our food, we were told by manager that it would be about 5 minutes. Most of it eventually arrived about 10 minutes later with no apology. It was mostly pretty good, although the muffins were rock hard – like “unable to get through the crust with a knife” rock hard. For a one course meal to take 1½ hours is ridiculous and annoying. (To be charged for the bent knife was extremely irritating as well.)

Day seemingly ruined, we decided to brave Steenberg anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and looking on the bright side, it couldn’t be much worse, could it?
Well no – actually it was much better and restored our faith in our new shorter version of the Constantia Wine Route, which now bypasses Uitsig completely, save for raising a middle finger as you drive past it. At Steenberg, we got a free and informative cellar tour from Graham and then the charming and hugely enthusiastic Zelda took us through their selection. You could see that there was a pride and a passion in their work and it really mended our broken day. The wines were pretty good as well – even the whites and I don’t really like whites. But it was their 2008 Shiraz that finished off my day completely.
Wow – I got pepper, I got spice, I got flavour. I got quite, quite pissed. Is nice.

So –  here’s another 6000 Recommends… tip: if you’re going to do the Constantia Wine Route, don’t do Constantia Uitsig. But do do Klein Constantia and Steenberg.
And then go back and do them again.

Simple as that.

9 thoughts on “Chalk and Cheese (and Wine) (and Whine)

  1. Steenberg’s service is always good and the historical anecdotes are fantastic, especially those about Catherina and her husbands who were killed by a series of most unfortunate events.

    My favourite wine from there is the Nebbiolo, though they do boast an array of top options.

  2. I totally agree about Constantia Uitsig – the wine tasting and the restaurant has gone down badly and seems to be “trading on its reputation”. Be glad you didn’t venture into Groot Constantia – you would’ve been too embarrassed to face your friends again.

    Steenberg is always a winner – they actually won the Great Wine Capitals International competition for wine tourism last year with Zelda being sent to California to see how things are done there. Next time eat at Bistro 1682 (will knock your socks off).

    Other bearable (aka quite nice) Constantia farms to visit are Constantia Glen (the view!) and Engle’s Nest (the wine).

  3. Steenberg can always be relied upon to give a good experience. I’ve been there many times, and have never once had even the smallest thing to complain about. Are you aware that Steenberg was awarded the global prize for wine tourism with the Great Wine Capitals initiative? Through that Zelda was nominated to go to Napa to go learn about how they approach tourism. This self same Zelda started out at Steenberg as a cleaner, and has worked herself up to these heights.

    Stories like that makes me go a big rubbery one.

  4. Same here. Over from USA and did the constantia wine route last week. aewsome experiences at Steenberg and KC. Also awesome at Eagle’s Nest (agree with Maggie – great wine).
    Uitsig was a huge disappointment – almost as if we were being difficult by even being there. It should be a pleasure to serve tourists/visitors your wine, not a chore.

  5. Hey there.

    I did the Constantia Wine Route in December as my cousin was out from JHB, he enjoyed every tasting I took him too, and still commented that he was impressed with the service from every farm.

    Ive visited The River Cafe twice and had lunch there both times, never once did I have a problem. Also did a tasting, not a problem then too. So I do not agree with your statement about Constantia Uitsig. I also love their Chardonnay

    I agree about Steenberg, it is great there and also a good experience. We visited other farms too, of which we enjoyed Eagles Nest the best.

    Perhaps you just had a bad day? I would say its a little harsh to say, ‘…which now bypasses Uitsig completely, save for raising a middle finger as you drive past it.’

  6. Richard Kilfoil > Thanks for the comment.
    Perhaps we did just have a bad day. Although others (comments here and chats with friends) also seem to have had bad days.
    Too many bad days is too much of a bad coincidence.

    As for my ‘…which now bypasses Uitsig completely, save for raising a middle finger as you drive past it.’ quote.
    Harsh, perhaps – but absolutely accurate. 🙂

  7. Maggie, i am presuming you mean Eagles Nest? I must say that it was the best wine farm we visited in the Constantia Valley when i had a group of family members down from England. However Uitsig was a close second, GREAT service as well as gorgeous wines. I found i could not get enough of their Semilion, the bubbly and Sav Blanc went down like a dream too.

    But if you are looking for a great Shiraz – Eagles Nest is the place to go. On last visit they said their next vintage will be out in mid May if I am not mistaken, but it is a MUST TRY!

    Give Uitisig another try, I guarantee you, you will be pleasantly surprised, even if it is just a quick stop at the tasting room.

    Thats my 10 cents 🙂

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