First thing the book does for someone like me who has been to South Africa before is it transports you instantly to the beautiful Cape Winelands region where small mountains adore as the backdrop for most of the vineyards and make them look picture perfect.
For a first time visitor, the book is an excellent companion and a complete guide to help understand the South African wines. It includes the history, the grape varietals grown, the environmental issues involved. It helps you understand the labels, wine styles and all the regions, Districts and Wards.
It also gives useful advice on the cellars where one can taste wines, tips on wining and dining and various wineland activities to help you make the trip well rounded. It does not purport to be exhaustive but is extremely practical for a first time tourist or even repeat visitors. For someone who is not much into wine, it might even convert them into wine lovers and value-add to their trip. It is truly a practical 101 type or course book on South Africa as a wine destinations.
Although the information on accommodation is too abridged, it does highlight specific wineries to visit due to their significance-historic or otherwise as also several places for stay because of their special charm. It does list the basics for a tourist though.
The Guide has been organized to help you traverse the various wine routes and not according to the regions. It starts with taking you through the Coastal routes-starting naturally with Constantia, Darling, Durbanville, Franschhoek, Paarl, Somerset West, Stellenbosch, Swartland, Tulbagh and Wellington. The accompanying maps are very clear and give specific location of the wineries in these Districts and Wards.
From there it takes you to the inland wine routes starting with Breederkloof, Klein Karoo, Northern Cape, Olifants River, Robertson and the capital of co-operative wineries- Worcester. Mountain Routes include trips to Aguilhas & Elim, Elgin & Bot River and walker Bay.
The book is in full colour and art paper with lots of pictures that make a very conducive reading. Perhaps for financial reasons, it is full of sponsored winery ads. Before it takes you to various wine cellars where tasting is possible, it helps a first time taster learn the basics of tasting sitting on your armchair in the privacy of your home.
An interesting feature of the handbook is a chapter entitled ‘Easy Wine Guide’. Spread over the last 22 pages of the book, it helps you select wines from all the regions at 3 price points-under R50, R50-100 and R100+ (1US $=8 Rands), listing about 100 wines in the three categories.
The handbook is available from Kalahari.net at R99 ($12), and perhaps at some discounts in all good bookstores and select wineries. It is so useful, that an organisation like the Wines of South Africa should consider gifting it to importers and journalists in the target countries and keep it at the High Commissions or their commercial offices to sell it to the tourists planning to visit South Africa. It will entice many non-wine drinkers to add winery visits to their itinerary.
If you are planning to visit South Africa next year to watch the football World Cup, you might want to wait for the 2010 edition that will be brought out by the publishers, The World’s Favourite Publications in December-end. Besides have more exhaustive maps-like the big area Stellenbosch showing maps for the sub-routes within, it will have greater emphasis on the eating experience, South Africa has become so well-known in India for. The guide will also be available at major hotels as you land- though it would be nicer if you can lay your hands on it and give it a read before you cross the immigration line in Cape Town or JoBurg. Click or call the publishers at (021) 510-3316 for more info.