For new arrivals in Cape Town, the informal, pre-dinner wine tasting with wine aficionado,  Martin Drotsky is a fast, fun way to plug into the local wine culture that forms a significant part of any gourmet experience.  In fact even if you are already quite familiar with South African wine, the complimentary tasting, offered daily at 6pm in Signal’s bar, will whet your appetite to learn even more or make a bolder, more informed choice when faced with the extensive wine list at dinner. Of course, Martin is also on hand to suggest pairings or steer guests towards a cultivar based on individual preferences.

In keeping with Cape Grace’s exclusive, boutique character, Martin leans towards showcasing boutique labels or small-production wines that are not readily available in wine shops. Passionate about promoting the lesser-known gems and unsung wine regions of South Africa, he points out that the best examples of a particular varietal or style of wine are not necessarily always the most expensive ones either. Vintage is also a key factor, with quality varying from year to year. It’s soon apparent that a wine tasting with Martin is like a crash course in the Cape’s unique offerings, namely Méthode Cap Classique, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. Méthode Cap Classique, or MCC as it’s known, undergoes a natural, secondary fermentation in the bottle much like Champagne.

For first-timers to the Cape, MCC was coined by the SA wine industry when the use of the word ‘Champagne’ outside of France was banned. Kicking off with a celebratory taste of bubbles is surely the warmest welcome for travel-weary guests. It may be Silverthorn The Green Man 2010- a Chardonnay MCC produced in Robertson where the rocky, lime-rich, shale soils are similar to the famous Champagne soils in France. Next up may be Raats Chenin Original Unwooded 2013, a beautifully balanced example of a food-friendly white wine with concentrated fruit flavours that taste like summer in a glass – South Africans can be justifiably proud of this homegrown varietal. Most foreigners are curious to try Pinotage, a red varietal not grown anywhere else in the world. Again, Martin enjoys opening a bottle that blows preconceived notions of what to expect on the palate. If it happens to be Springfontein Jonathan’s Ridge Pinotage 2010 from Stanford near Hermanus, you are in luck – a cool-climate, unfiltered wine that is smooth and polished.

Martin was recently promoted from restaurant manager to ‘director of wine’ and his enthusiasm for his subject is contagious. He prefers to keep the tastings small, but will take up to eight guests at a time. It is the perfect start not only to dinner in Signal but to a Cape wine journey.

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