Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar, Cape Town’s legendary specialist wine shop, has relocated after more than two decades from landmark premises in the CBD to new beginnings in Sea Point.
Known internationally as the Cape Town purveyor of fine wines to the cognoscenti, Caroline Rillema has earned her stripes as a true South African wine legend.
Her eponymous store in Strand Street has long been the place to go for that something really special. Many of Caroline’s well-travelled clients know what wines they like, but countless regulars prefer to rely on her fine taste and knowledge when it comes to choosing the right wines for them.
Caroline’s flawless palate was honed by years spent at a large retailer in Bedfordview and the iconic Three Ships Restaurant at the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg, and perfected by many trips to the most famous wine regions of Europe. None of this happens without passion, which she has in spades.
Caroline stocks the largest range of European wines in retail in the country, with a spread of niche wines and mainstays from the top regions of France, Italy, Spain, Austria and Portugal. This includes Spanish Sherries and Portuguese Ports. There is also a range of Single Malt Whisky, Gin, Rum, Tequila and Vodka, with the minerals that go with them.
Among the 1 500 wines on offer, there are some superb finds such as the Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial Venta 2019 at R7 990. The mere fact that such a brilliant Spanish wine can be found in faraway Cape Town makes it even more amazing. Always mindful of finding good value, Caroline also keeps wonderful Italian wines like Castel’in Villa Chianti Classico 2016 at R375, just the thing to knock back with some rich lasagne. She also imports affordable wines from Petits Chateaux in Bordeaux making it possible for every wine lover to experience them.
Local wines are also tirelessly tasted and carefully sourced, with bargains the likes of the fabulous Klein Jakkals Syrah at R129 and the classic Boland Chenin Blanc 2020 at just R75. Most other famous Cape wines are all to be found here as well. If Caroline’s doesn’t have it, it is probably still hanging on the vine. Hours spent in the Aladdin’s Cave that is Caroline’s is like a magic trip into the really special world of wine where you can lose complete track of time.
The original Caroline’s in Matador Centre in the CBD has been there for 24 years but times change and, keeping in step as the fine judge she is, Caroline has moved to Sea Point – not quite on the beach but close to it. The new shop is perfectly placed for people in the area and adjacent Bantry Bay, Fresnaye and Camps Bay. The whole Atlantic Seaboard is now able to get to the finest wines in the world right on their doorstep.
The new shop is located at The Regent, 33 Regent Road (opposite Mojo Market) where wine lovers can experience the same legendary service and wine selection they have been accustomed to over more than two decades. Parking is plentiful and the wines are waiting for just the right moment for you to discover them.
Q&A with CAROLINE RILLEMA
Do you have a favourite grape variety? If so what is it and why?
I love Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in South Africa, where it achieves good ripeness in our warm conditions. I enjoy the deep blackcurrant characters laced with crushed herbs and the way it seems to absorb the oak flavour from the maturation barrels. The substantial tannins give it good structure and it ages very well in bottle.
What drew you to wine and does it still do so?
I was drawn to wine while working as a wine waiter at The Three Ships Restaurant at the Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg. It was a silver service restaurant, and everything was of the highest level in terms of food and service.
The environment was a whole new world to me, and I just loved it. We got to taste the best wines in the world, right there and my European colleagues taught me a lot as we worked together.
How often did you go to Europe on wine business pre-Covid?
I used to go to Vinitaly Wine Fair in Verona every two years on buying trips. I always took a train to a wine region I had not seen, afterwards and have visited at least ten of the major wine regions. I also go to France every three years to experience the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire, et al.
Is this necessary?
To really understand wine, one must know wines from all over the world. Many of our customers are well-travelled, and it’s important to be able to talk wine on an international level.
Is wine education necessary or should people drink whatever they please?
I assume that 80% of our customers drink what they please, and don’t want to be bothered with the intrinsics. However, they do not want to waste time and money on indifferent wines that cost too much. So we always make sure that we taste and do the sorting on their behalf. Our greatest compliment is: “You have never disappointed me.“
What do you think about wine and food pairing?
I think it is essential to get the pairing right. One can ruin the flavour of a dry red wine with a fruit coulis on your venison, for example. A great wooded Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc goes perfectly with a creamy white wine sauce…