Done and dusted: The Land Rover Experience Trail at Simonsig

By , 11 July 2011

Going were wine writers don't normally go.

From the June issue of GQ: Apparently only 4% of people who own a Land Rover Discovery ever go off-road, so when I was invited to drive one on the Land Rover Experience Trail at Simonsig wine estate in Stellenbosch, I accepted without demur. There has to more to these babies than being yummy-mummy runabouts, and I was about to find out.

Mainly I felt amped at being able to put the Discovery 4 S (selling price: R625 000) through its paces on the rutted tracks, steep hills and deep water passage-ways of the estate’s specially designated 4×4 trail.  But there was also just the tiniest bit of anxiety as I wondered just how demanding all-terrain driving would be. I didn’t want to write off one of Land Rover’s state-of-the-art vehicles and I fundamentally didn’t want to come to any harm myself.

In the end, I have to report that the Discovery is so consummately proficient as an off-road vehicle that the experience was a bit of an anti-climax. Not quite ‘ho-hum’ but nowhere near ‘yee-ha’.

A stretch of corrugated dirt-road which would be unpleasant to traverse in a normal sedan is hardly noticeable in the Discovery. Off road you simply engage the electronic operating system and the vehicle goes up hill and down dale with the greatest of ease. You are in the hands of accredited, qualified trainers at all times so it’s just about impossible to raise the heart rate let alone get into trouble. (My test-drive was an abbreviated one lasting about an hour, while  the  full courses open to the public last between two to five hours with an option of a trip to the famous Atlantis Dunes so perhaps more adrenalin to be had than I experienced.)

Being more of a wino than a petrol-head, I was happy to park my Discovery under the oaks and head for lunch at Simonsig’s on-site restaurant Cuvée. Never mind the somewhat eccentric décor, this establishment features a menu one notch up from comfort food, the quality is good and the prices fair. Wines are estate-own and are all available by the glass. Service is welcoming and more than proficient.

I ate panfried Kingklip with nectarine butter and almond crust, which I matched with the Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2010. Both the 2007 and 2008 vintages were Superquaffer of the Year in Platter’s and the 2010 doesn’t disappoint . Aromas of apple and spice on the nose while the palate shows good fruit intensity balanced by fresh acidity. It’s a mere R36 a bottle from the tasting room, so you’d be wise to pick up a few cases from the tasting room on your way home.

For dessert, dark chocolate fondant with white chocolate praline ice-cream matched with Simonsig Vin de Liza 2009. This is a Noble Late Harvest and what gives such wines their hallmark complexity is “noble rot” (the fungal growth known as Botrytis cinerea) which concentrates acid and sugar in the grapes while also increasing the viscosity and altering the aromas and flavours of the finished wine.  The Vin de Liza is a blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 355 Semillon and was matured in French oak barrels for 12 months in the manner of the famous sweet wines of Sauternes. Together with flavours of dried fruit and honey, it showd a subtle mushroom note, which I always consider the defining character of good Noble Late Harvest. Price per 375ml bottle: R110.


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