Rearing up to tremendous heights above Somerset West is the Helderberg Mountain Range, a rocky bastion belonging to the Hottentots Holland range that borders the Cape flats. And it’s on the ocean-facing foothills of this escarpment that the vineyards of the Helderberg region thrive, and have thrived for centuries.
The wine farms in the Helderberg region are testament to the calibre and versatility of the Cape wine industry, ranging in size from boutique to commercial giants, and in age from a decade or less to several centuries old. Here, you can indulge in a wine tasting and meal in a 300-year old Cape Dutch manor house, or in an ultra-modern winery designed according to state-of-the-art energy saving principles.
Taste the Helderberg is about bringing this region’s incredible variety of wine farms together for an evening during which wine makers and wine lovers can mingle, learn, network, and, most of all, enjoy the fruits of the Helderberg. This past Friday (8th June 2018) marked the return of this prestigious annual event that celebrates one of the Cape’s (and one of our) favourite wine routes. And, as they put it, we most definitely got our gourmet and grape groove on!
Wine Tasting and Food Theatre
This year’s Taste of the Helderberg was hosted by the NH The Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West. A ticket gets you a wine glass, a wine and chocolate pairing (more on that in a moment), and unlimited wine tastings. With so much on offer, guests would do well to decide upon a tasting/eating strategy or else you risk having your senses and palate overwhelmed, not to mention the inevitable consequences of drinking too much wine on an empty stomach!
Within the sprawling conference facilities of the stately NH The Lord Charles Hotel, wine estates from around the Helderberg region had set up tables where guests could come for a chat about the estate and a tasting of their latest and greatest vintages. Some of the wine farms were instantly recognizable for their long-standing reputation and contributions to the Cape wine industry (Vergelegen, Idiom, Lourensford, Eikendal, and Flagstone being a small sample). Many others I’d never heard of before (Grangehurst, Croydon, Post House, and more), which either comes down to my ignorance or their boutique status (or both). Nevertheless, they too offered up a repertoire of wines that was powerful and impressive.
Some wine estates, whose reputation is balanced in equal measure by their culinary prowess, had also staged gourmet pop-up food stands, where guests could purchase delicious meals from beef bourguignon and Parmesan mashed potato to crisp, crunchy, and colourful tacos. The combined aromas of all these delicious offerings had my stomach growling like a two-stroke engine.
Around the corner from the main tasting room was a food theatre of sorts: tables groaning with hot, cold, and sweet food options, my favourite being the kaleidoscopic array of cakes and cupcakes by Love Cake. I had the unforgivably decadent banana and pecan cupcake with a thick and luscious cap of cream cheese icing.
Chocolate buffet station
The chocolate buffet station was a new installation at this year’s Taste the Helderberg event and consisted of a large table decked out with bite-sized chocolates of every description. In other words, it was the literal manifestation of a chocolate-lover’s dreamscape.
To me, what was most charming about the concept was that they had crafted chocolates to match certain cultivars of wine, such as Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Merlot, and so on. As a part of one’s ticket, as I mentioned earlier, guests could choose three different chocolates (or purchase more if desired) and take these into the adjacent wine room to pair with a wine tasting, thereby creating a fabulous extra dimension to the whole taste experience.
Avontuur Wine Estate also had its own chocolate experience, albeit one that made our eyes water: a shot of their 10-year-old potstilled brandy served in a white, milk, or dark chocolate cup.
A treat for wine lovers
Taste the Helderberg is a real treat for wine (and food) lovers. There is enough variety to keep you well entertained and well tippled for an evening without being overwhelmed. The food was absolutely delicious, the wine makers and reps educated and engaging, and the atmosphere vibrant yet sophisticated. And with conversation fuelled by great wine, new friends were made with ease.
It may be another year until the next instalment of Taste the Helderberg, but the small samples we had of the wines that evening have convinced us to take several hearty bites out of the Helderberg well before then!