Terroir in town: The coolest wine bars in the Cape

Terroir In Town

You need not travel too far to get your hands on a glass of fine vino. These wine bars may be quaint, but they stock a bounty of the best bottles. Cape Etc’s Leandri de Kock went sipping.

Walk On The Wine Side

Publik. Picture: Peet Mocke / Cape Etc

Publik Wine Bar remains a gem, but it’s no longer a hidden one. Situated in the heart of Tamboerskloof and recently (somewhat) bought by Dominic Bodenstein, this unassuming street-side bar sits cosily on Kloofnek Road, opposite the Cloud 9 Hotel. 

Walk inside (because you can’t make a reservation, even if you wanted to) and you’re greeted by modest racks of wine bottles featuring ‘come in for a closer look’ labels. The actual wines are equally fascinating, sourced from artisan makers across South Africa. Many of the offerings celebrate sustainable winemaking practices and producers that are, for the most part, under the radar.

You won’t find any mass-produced or commercial names here. But that’s exactly the goal, so order something unfamiliar or sample away. Vino in hand, you’re sure to enjoy the groovy music playing as you notice a stream of people coming and going, standing outside or trying to find a spot at either the inside or outside bar.

The wine list changes often, depending on how many bottles have left the building, and how many new ones have been sourced. As the wines are limited, they are sold by the glass alongside small bites to nibble on, which is the perfect option if you want to try something you haven’t heard of before or find a new favourite. Albeit on the expensive side, it’s a small price to pay when you consider that you’re supporting our local winemakers. What’s more, if you ask anyone on the team about any wine, you will be met with an informed answer from someone who’s not just passionate about people, but who knows their stuff when it comes to wine. 

Publik also regularly hosts winemaker evenings as well as lively pop-up dinners where guest chefs from around the city come to feed you even more magic (check out @publikwine on Instagram for the latest). It’s safe to say you won’t just be settling on one wine to taste, so don’t bother looking for parking or nominating yourself as the night’s designated driver. Taxi! 

  • Times: Monday to Friday 4pm to 11pm; Saturday 3pm to 8pm
  • Location: 11D Kloofnek Road, Tamboerskloof, Cape Town
  • Contact: publik.co.za 

Inner-City Flair

Bouchon. Picture: Peet Mocke / Cape Etc

Dorrance Wines is a in-the-middle-of-the-city winery and cellar that is home to Bouchon Bistro – a merging of winemaker Christophe Durand and restauranteur Faisal Khakoo from Engruna Eatery and La Boheme Bistro (who works in partnership with Bouchon). The wine list is packed with both local and international variations that you can enjoy by the glass, as well as those from Dorrance, which includes a rosé, chenin-viognier blend and a 100% Cinsault, all from the Swartland region.

Bouchon Bistro hits the sweet spot between fancy and fun, marrying delicious food and impressive wines together in a trendy match made in heaven. If you thought that was a mouthful, you should dig into some of their food offerings. The seasonal tapas are something to write home about – like the artichoke risotto, the wild mushroom gnocchi and the generous portion of burrata – all beautifully plated and beaming with colour.  The menu changes according to seasonal availability and is designed to be shared and paired. 

What makes this bar especially distinctive is its intimate, old-meets-new setting, and to be honest, its smell. Surrounded by barrels you’d be forgiven for forgetting that you’re in a wine cellar in the middle of the city, which you actually are. 

Bouchon Bistro exudes simple sophistication and is most certainly a place that lends itself to Cape Town’s knack for bringing worldly charms and cultures to our doorstep. This is a place where you’re encouraged to try new wines and discover international options that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to, without breaking the bank. 

Tables are intimate and usually only seat two, but they do accommodate bigger groups. Lined with brown paper sheets on simple white tablecloths and minimalist table decor, it overlooks the open kitchen and brick-detailed bar, with the entrance to the private cellar table peeking out from the back. It’s best to go at night when the room is softly lit up, highlighting the textures of the wooden barrels and creating a jazzy, upmarket feel. Because it only seats around 40 people in total, it’s essential to book, but if you pop in earlier, you might just get lucky and find an available seat.

Go there for after-work drinks, a romantic date night, or book the table in the cellar for a truly special celebration. You won’t leave hungry… or thirsty.

  • Times: Monday to Saturday, 6pm to 11pm
  • Location: 95 Hout Street, Cape Town
  • Contact: 021 422 0695; [email protected]; bouchon.co.za

Take Flight

The Wine Glass. Picture: Peet Mocke / Cape Etc

On any given night, Stellenbosch’s streets are buzzing, which means people watching with a glass in hand – reminiscent of street side dining in Europe. For those seeking a vibrant wine and dining experience without the need to venture far to the vineyards or hop on a flight, The Wine Glass provides an excellent local option.

Since it’s winter and sipping under the stars will likely be a bitterly cold and wet experience, find a seat inside as close to the fireplace as possible. If you lose the battle for the best (or warmest) spot in the house, you have plenty of options at this spacious haunt, which also happens to be situated in a heritage building. Your experience will be anything but old fashioned, though. The decor is contemporary and you will likely be accompanied by happy students on a quest for a more upmarket jol (sporting their most Instagrammable outfits, mind you). Temptation Garden is a firm favourite during warmer months. 

If you prefer a more mature ambiance, the Grape Expectations Room offers an intimate experience with wine that reflects the vibe. Enjoy the regional flights on offer – from Chardonnay and Cap Classique to Bordeaux Blends and Pinot Noir. All wines are available for tasting, yes, all 130-odd of them, but you’re most likely to buy a bottle and settle in for the evening.

The Wine Glass has masterfully curated a space suitable for serious wine drinkers and wine newbies alike. Roping everything together is a divine food menu that explores different flavours, cultures and fresh, local seafood all in one sitting. The oysters are incredible, as are the rosemary zucchini fries. Hungry diners can tuck into a hearty butter chicken curry, fillet mignon with green pepper sauce or a winter fruit pavlova (as a main or to finish). For non-wine drinkers, beers, spirits and cocktails aren’t in short supply. 

Whether you’re a tourist eager to explore local wine varieties, a local seeking a wine farm feel closer to home, or a student in the mood for a joyful celebration, The Wine Glass is the perfect destination. No matter your reason for visiting, you’ll be greeted by tables adorned with numerous glasses of wine and new orders being placed, a true testament to the experience that awaits.

  • Times: Sunday to Friday 11am to 10:30pm; Saturday 8am to 10:30pm
  • Location: 13 Ryneveld Street, Stellenbosch
  • Contact: 082 555 2332; [email protected]; www.thewineglass.guru

More Places To Wine:

Dressed For Success

If you’ve ever sipped wine at Quoin Rock Wine Farm, or better yet, experienced their exquisite fine dining restaurant, Gåte,
you’ll find Qbar to be just as delicious — just a tad more hip. Located in the beautiful De Wet Centre’s courtyard, you will receive a menu that explores Knorhoek’s terroirs alongside sophisticated cocktails and tapas made to share (and photograph).

  • QBar by Quoin Rock; Shop 6, De Wet Centre; Stellenbosch Central; Monday to Sunday, 12pm to 12am; 021 888 4740; quoinrock.co.za

Semillon Strong 

Bertha Wine Bar, meaning ‘to be bright and bold’, is a quaint street-side wine bar, situated next to – and working hand in hand with – Meraki, another Stellenbosch gem. The wine choices are limited and intended to be enjoyed with food, which is expertly prepared with the idea of nibbling in mind. Their Semillon is a favourite, and the perfect bold white wine for cooler nights.

Spoiled For Choice

If live music and wine in a cosy setting is your thing, pop by the big orange building on Bree Street for a glass at Culture Wine Bar. Browse their list of events (available on the website) or become a member of their wine library. Either way, you’ll soon become a connoisseur.

Of Art And Wine

Leo’s Wine Bar offers a truly distinctive experience that goes beyond the fact that their wine is served from a bagel shop. Add art and their retro aesthetic to the equation and you’re in for a seriously unique night out. The selection of natural (albeit very selective) wines is anything but boring, yet the place doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Sipping Stellies

Plaisir de Merle’s newest offspring, the in-town-based wine and gin lounge, is where you can get a taste of their legendary wines while seated kerb-side in Stellenbosch. Try their killer Chardonnay or opt for a bespoke Tempest gin cocktail. The weather will decide if you sip outside on the patio or get comfortable in the lounge. 

Vino And Views 

Judd’s Local Eatery & Wine Bar sets itself apart by serving wine and juicy burgers with a side order of Table Mountain views. Takeaways just got cooler, too. At Judd’s, you can purchase a bottle from their boutique wine shop to take home. They also host special events featuring local winemakers. 

  • Judd’s Local Eatery & Wine Bar, 141 Kloof Street, Gardens, Cape Town; Monday 4pm to 11:30pm, Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 11:30pm; 064 527 1272; [email protected]; juddslocal.co.za

Also read:

SU programme educates young women about careers in the wine industry

Picture: Habari Media / Peet Mocke

Best of the Cape – CapeTown ETC