The advice I’ve read (Hello, Wine by Melanie Wagner) includes steering clear of house wine or asking the sommelier. If there is no one to ask, choose the versatile pinot noir. 

I look for the cheapest white or red on the list, cross my fingers and hope it won’t burn a hole in my gut. (My husband routinely chooses the second-cheapest and thinks I haven’t noticed. What he doesn’t know is that this is supposed to be one of the most popular approaches to ordering wine in the world.) I’ve survived both approaches so far. And along the way I’ve learnt a thing or two.

In Cape Town last week, driving through deserted streets looking for somewhere to eat, my cousin and I found the Wijnhuis Wine Bar and Grill in Newlands, open and still serving dinner at 9pm. More staff were working than there were patrons sitting at the tables.

(Lesson number one: To avoid disappointment, know where you’re going and what you want in Cape Town. It’s a sleepy sort of place.)

We chose food frugally and asked to taste the cheapest glass of wine. Light-bodied and pale lemon-coloured, the perfectly chilled wine was crisp. It was dry with a delicious fruity finish retaining the lovely aroma of honey-flavoured hanepoot grapes. Known elsewhere as Muscat d’Alexandrie, hanepoot is usually associated with sweet dessert wines.

The wine, I learnt, is made by Emiliano Sandri, the Italian proprietor of the two branches of Wijnhuis — the other is in Stellenbosch — and of La Perla in Sea Point.

I fell all over the wine. It is demure and unassuming, the label giving away very little except: “Della Rovere Dry Hanepoot ’13” and the name “Sandri” appears.

(Lesson number two: Never judge a wine by its label.)

A tasting glass cost R4 and a full glass R20, which is half the price of an average wine served per glass in most decent restaurants. Imagine my excitement.

(Lesson number three: Never assume cheap, or second-cheapest, is bad.)

The wine, I learnt, is made by Emiliano Sandri, the Italian proprietor of the two branches of Wijnhuis — the other is in Stellenbosch — and of La Perla in Sea Point.

Leaving the running of his restaurants to family members, Sandri now lives on a farm in Wellington. His vines on the farm, some very old, are lovingly cared for and the grapes are used to make three wines: a cabernet sauvignon merlot, a grappino and this hanepoot. None of them is available for retail, only in his restaurants.

Emiliano, his son Paolo told me, grew up on a farm in Italy where his family (and now his brother) made wine from muscat grapes.

And if any of you have wondered about the great local art in that lovely 53-year-old Sea Point establishment La Perla, the Sandris own the SMAC art galleries too. A good life, if you can get it.

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