Yes, there’s Constantia and Stellenbosch, and scads of places of tipple and wine worship along the Western Cape wine route, but the mother congregation is in Paarl, as I discovered. In fact, it was during a visit to KWV specifically, while standing in their Cathedral Cellar, where I heard the angels sing. It’s called the Angels’ Share and it sure smells good.
Walking into the cellar you breathe in the deep aromas of the brandies. As your lungs fill with the heady air, the Angels’ Share is explained. By law, South African potstill brandy must be aged for a minimum of three years in oak casks.
French oak is used, thanks to its great flavour potential and its ability to soften the brandy. But oak is porous and alcohol evaporates through the wood. About 3% is lost this way every year. This is known as the angels’ share – a way of thanking the heavenly beings for working their magic in the casks and ensuring South Africa is one of the top brandy producers in the world. The loss is also attributed to South Africa’s hot climate – but master distiller Pieter De Bod thinks even that counts in our favour.
“The temperature in South Africa means our brandies mature quicker. Our 20-year-old is equivalent of a 35-year-old European brandy,” he says.
One of the newer experiences at KWV headquarters is House of Fire, an incredible space that celebrates the famous brandies distilled here. It’s like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – a 360 degree exploration of how brandy is created. The space gives visitors a sense of how flavours are created in oak casts, how KWV makes their unique brandy, and also offers tastings. De Bod talked us through a chocolate and brandy pairing.
There are a few rules. Never swirl your snifter – it makes the alcohol evaporate and your first taste will be overly alcoholic. While more inexpensive, SA brandies are more alcoholic, as they are made to mix. Potstill brandies are meant to be enjoyed on their own over ice or with a spot of water. The refined flavour means a tasting session can open u p a new world.
“The difference between a wine pairing and a brandy pairing is that when you drink wine, you have the food first and then sip the wine. With brandy you have the brandy first, and then food,” says De Bod.
A chocolate and brandy pairing is a match made in heaven. The alcohol helps to coat your mouth in decadence. Or perhaps it’s the angels at work again. Then there’s a stay at one of the most beautiful luxury boutique hotels in Paarl, the Grande Roche. In the foothills of Paarl Rock, it’s a perfect blend of country escape, colonial decadence and African charm. It’s a five-star stay worth splurging on. The rooms are steeped in character. Many are part of original outbuildings were converted into thatch-roof suites.
I stayed in one of the duplex suites which has a downstairs living space with a second bathroom and an upstairs bedroom and bathroom. Grande Roche reopened last year, and it remains a place of tranquil luxury. Three decades after opening as a luxury country hotel, and three centuries since the farm was first granted to an ambitious young farmer, Grande Roche’s real selling point is its new restaurant.
Pete Goffe-Wood is responsible for all food and beverage operations across the estate, but for locals it’s Viande that’s the drawcard. Taking over the space formerly known as Bosman’s, Goffe-Wood and interior designer Francois du Plessis have reimagined the interiors, adding a sleek modern feel to the new restaurant while acknowledging the building’s heritage. Dining here is a sparkling introduction to good food and even better surroundings. But book ahead and check the menus ahead of time.
On warm mornings Viande’s doors are opened and hotel guests enjoy the breakfast buffet in a soft breeze. If you listen carefully you might even hear the angels whispering from Paarl Valley