Big Five and Fine Wines

From inspired décor and culinary experiences to great game viewing and expert guides, major players are upping the ante for luxury safaris

By Richard Holmes
Drinks landrover by Don Heyneke

There are many aspects to creating a standout luxury safari experience. Great game viewing, of course, and expert guides with an intimate connection to the wilderness. Bonus points for electric vehicles. Inspired décor is increasingly a selling point, while memorable culinary experiences are a must for attracting the global one-percenters.

And, in a crowded market, a signature wine offering is increasingly becoming a crucial way to stand out from the crowd.

“We place huge emphasis on the wine and beverage offering at all our lodges,” says Wayve Kolevsohn, sommelier and Group Beverage Manager for The Royal Portfolio, which includes Royal Malewane and Waterside in the Thornybush Game Reserve.

TRP Waterside, South Africa brand photography. Client: The Royal Portfolio, South Africa. Photographer: Mark Williams. Marketing Director: Georgie Muirhead. Stylist: Nathalie Williams.

At each lodge, The Royal Portfolio’s ‘house’ list of complimentary wines is designed to offer guests an insight into both established brands and independent producers, while also complementing the culinary experiences and Lowveld climate. But it’s just the beginning of the vinous adventure.

“For guests who want to dive deeper into the wine experience, our Cellar Collection wine lists are made up of premium and rare South African wines, that we purchase and age in large temperature-controlled cellars in Cape Town,” adds Kolevsohn. “This list is made up of the absolute very best that South African wine has to offer.”

Royal Malawane Safari Lodge. Client: The Royal Portfolio. Marketing director: Ross Bowers. Stylist: Nathalie Williams.

Not far from Waterside, in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, Cheetah Plains ups the ante for luxury safaris, with exclusive-use villas each boasting its own dedicated wine cellar and dining room.

Each cellar stocks more than 200 individual wines, with a comprehensive wine menu compiled by respected wine judge Roland Peens. But rather than perusing the list, let sommelier Xolisa Caga take care of you. From bespoke tastings to individual pairings with fine-dining dinners, Caga curates an array of wine experiences to showcase the diversity of South African producers.

“Cheetah Plains prides itself on offering exclusively South African wines and being at the forefront of promoting South African wines to the world,” says Caga. “Each wine-making region has its own uniqueness so it’s important to tap into all of them to ensure each is well represented.”

Within the Greater Kruger region, Singita offers perhaps the most remarkable exploration of South African wine. From Singita Boulders, in the Sabi Sand, to Singita Lebombo set on a private concession within the national park, each lodge offers an individual cellar stocked with more than 200 individual wines. It’s a remarkable collection, with wines drawn from Singita’s vast maturation warehouse in the Stellenbosch Winelands. Here Wine Director Francois Rautenbach curates an expansive programme of buying, cellaring and distribution to Singita’s 15 lodges across four African countries.

Singita Marble bar at Sweni Lodge

“Singita’s engaging selection and wine tastings with an on-site sommelier are extensions of our guest experience,” explains Dean Myburgh, sommelier for Singita East Africa. “We offer guests wine tastings, selecting from nearly 230 different wines that fit our guests’ profile, discovering the best of African wine. Wine tastings are hosted at the lodge, or wine cellar, or for the more adventurous, a sundowner wine-tasting in the bush is a marvellous way to continue your safari experience, with the safety of the sommelier’s corkscrew of course.”

The wine experience in-lodge dovetails with the unique Singita Premier Wine Direct offering, which allows guests to purchase the wines they enjoyed on safari – many of which are sold out, or rare and collectable – for delivery to their home.

At Tswalu Kalahari the focus is less on an expansive cellar and more on curating a wine fit for the experience. With around 50 premium wines on offer, split between iconic names and hidden gems, “we need to ensure that the wine fits the mood and the setting,” says Nigel Pace, Head of Hospitality at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve. “The selected wines on a given evening would look different each time, to cater for a fireside boma, a sunset dinner on the dunes or a more elaborate a la carte meal around the pool.”

At Tswalu guests are also encouraged not to look at the wine list, available on request, but to rather wander the cellar to select a suitable bottle.

Drinks landrover by Don Heyneke

“An exciting development is that we are building a small list of wines from just off our doorstep in the Northern Cape,” adds Pace. “Not many people realise that this province can produce some superb wines.”

While wine is at the heart of the safari drinks experience, lodges are equally bringing creativity and dynamism to the cocktail bar. At Tswalu the focus is on celebrating local spirits, from the Lion Heart Margarita, made with South Africa’s Leonista Blanco Agave Spirit, to the gin with a Kalahari twist.

“Nothing pairs better with the bush than an ice-cold gin and tonic,” agrees Kolevsohn. “Our bar team love to present local South African gin tastings to cool you off after a game drive.”

Each of the Singita lodges offers a signature cocktail – “created to fit the scenery and atmosphere of the lodge,” says Myburgh – with the clever addition of an in-suite cocktail station including bespoke spirits and prepared garnishes.


“Our cocktail offering is versatile,” says Caga from Cheetah Plains. “Guests tell us what they want and there’s a sense of freedom for the sommelier and the team to improvise. But we make an exceptional Negroni.”

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