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After a surfeit of gourmet, gimmicks, leaves and ferments, Myrna Robins is ready for simple, rustic, flavour-packed classics. Turn to bistros, she suggests, to find time-honoured  Gallic  creations, made with love, prepared with  care and offered at palate-pleasing prices.

 


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It’s that time of the year when the best of everything is awarded medals and certificates and, of course, gets welcome publicity. The recent Eat Out awards saw Western Cape restaurants take nine out of the Top Ten places, with a single Gauteng venue taking fifth place. While culinary practices of pickling, smoking, foraging and fermenting continue to be prominent on menus, the Eat Out website suggests that the hottest current trend is that of vegetarian “charcuterie”,  illustrated by colourful pictures of artfully arranged forests of leaves, strewn with edible flowers , funghi  and baby veggies.

While it’s exciting to explore the world of gourmet innovation, few can afford to dine at these exalted venues regularly. The appeal of popular alternatives – burger and pizza joints and Asian noodle bars – can also pall. Time, perhaps,  to consider finding a neighbourhood  bistro, preferably one that offers traditional French  dishes.  If the quality of ingredients and the care taken in combining them are regarded as the yardsticks by which to judge the fare, you probably have a winner. Of less importance is the plating, likely to be straightforward with nary  a wisp of foam, puddle of essence or scattering of crumbs in sight.

French bistro food celebrates generous, full-flavoured cooking, family  fare that includes robust soups, rustic salads, wine-scented stews and casseroles, bubbling gratins and granny’s desserts.  It adds up to inexpensive soul food from small eateries all over France, where pride and tradition ensure maintenance of quality: even truck drivers would not continue to frequent bistros where popular  items like sausage and potato salad, coq au vin, salade niçoise and  lemon tart were not consistently good.  Summer may see pan bagnat or pissaladière on the menu or mussels steamed in white wine, while winter warmth comes as  pot au feu  and chicken with tarragon vinegar. Creations are  usually well-balanced, combining  chicken roasted in chicken fat or butter with fresh watercress to foil the richness and  leg of lamb roasted above a gratin of potato, onion and tomato, the latter flavoured by the meat juices which drip into it.

b2ap3_thumbnail_BISTRO-Christophe.JPGWhere to find these sources of Gallic goodness? Meet one of our most popular of French chefs, known to hundreds of Cape diners: Christophe Dehosse  has lived in  South Africa for some 25 years, where he has delighted  locals and visitors with both gourmet cuisine and now bistro fare in two venues.

Paris-trained, Christophe was working in a well-known restaurant in Cognac country when he met Susan Myburgh, who grew up at the historic Joostenberg farm, near  Klapmuts. The couple relocated  to South Africa where they opened the popular La Maison de Chamonix restaurant on the Franschhoek wine estate in 1992, then  moved to the city and started the Au Jardin restaurant at the Vineyard Hotel in Newlands  two years later. Regulars were devastated when they left the suburbs to join the Myburgh family enterprises:  a farm stall and nursery at Klein Joostenberg soon blossomed into a deli and bistro, while a pork butchery, cut flowers, and a winery on the old farm occupy  other family members.

Today the deli and bistro are well established, the wines attract awards and Christophe leaves the kitchen to head chef Garth Bedford, who started as a trainee way back at Au Jardin.  A  peek at the a la carte menu reveals a delectable choice of bistro classics: starters include homemade charcuterie with terrine, rillette, cured pork and ham with a mini-bobotie quiche for local flavour. Mains offer that famous toasted sandwich Croque Monsieur, English-style pork sausage with apple sauce and mashed potato, and braised beef and mushroom ragout in red wine on homemade pasta.  Families that reserve tables for Sunday lunch can expect trays of starters to include items like brawn and pickles, hummus, a vegetarian roulade and salads with homebaked breads.  Their choice of main course could vary from tuna steak with ratatouille and sauce vierge to slow-cooked Karoo lamb or roast shoulder of pork.  The final course is a mélange of local cheeses,  classic floating islands, fresh strawberries and a blueberry cheesecake. This feast costs R205, while children can enjoy two courses for R85. The value is obvious and the culinary standards consistently high, and advance bookings are required.

When I heard that chef patron Dehosse was to open a bistro on the sophisticated Glenelly wine estate outside Stellenbosch, I wondered if the downhome bistro principles could be maintained: a recent lunch there has proved that indeed they can. He continues to be inspired by traditional French fare, sourcing ingredients from local organic growers, adding a soupcon of African  flavours to the mix. A starter of tuna tartare preceded silverfish or beef fillet in red wine sauce  and chocolate fondant with poached pear and yoghurt Chantilly completed the meal. Prices are higher here than at Joostenberg, but, says Christophe firmly, Glenelly is still a bistro where no jacket is required.

It ‘s a measure of his talent that Glenelly’s owner, 91-year-young Madame May de Lencquesaing chose a chef who specializes in rustic  fare to complement her ranges of distinctive estate wines, which offer Old World elegance and New World fruit in appealing combinations. Visitors can choose to dine at long wooden tables on the terrace, or inside where antique chairs and classic Parisian tables offer views of  verdant hills of manicured vineyards. 

 

This article first appeared in the Life section of the Cape Argus on Tuesday November 29.

 

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This inviting, unpretentious Durbanville estate scores on so many levels. That it has managed to fend off suburban creep (which had already reached its boundaries decades ago) is something to celebrate. That the clever Parkers have managed to maintain the original cellar, the ringmuur and slave bell, the ambience of a bygone era are equally important. (the farm was granted by Simon van der Stel in 1698 and named Tygerberg)

And the fact that, along with the lesser-known cultivars that the cellar has been producing (barbera, gewürztraminer) and sauvignon blanc, the winemaking trio have now added a cab to their ranges, rounding out the choices nicely.

To start with the cabernet sauvignon 2015, this is a pleasing example of modern cab-making, easy on the palate, yet with plenty of body, and a delicious freshness. Described as full-bodied, but I found it less so than many others, making it suitable for summer drinking, and as a good partner for fare other than red meat – a mushroom burger for example.

Juicy tannins, a smooth finish, and plenty of lightly spiced berry flavours add up to a well-balanced whole. The grapes came from 17-year-old bush vines, and the wine was aged in French oak for 10 months.

Priced at between R75 and R79 it’s even more appealing to stock up with a case or two as its sure to improve over the next year or two.

The 2016 vintage of sauvignon blanc was a wine I enjoyed very much – firstly because it is not searingly zesty, so no antacid tablets were required. I also loved the wide spectrum of aromas that greeted my nose whenever I unscrewed the cap – some verdant, a little green fig, and far more granadilla and other tropical fruit . These also showed on the palate, but occasional wafts of that distinctive Durbanville verdancy.

This multi-layered wine is sourced from berries from seven separate blocks of dry-land vineyards, ranging in age from 24 down to 10 years old.

This is a most companionable sauvignon, good for an aperitif or partner to summer salads, seafood and poultry. As one of the first Durbanville farms to present their award-wining sauvignon blanc in 1988 – now the region’s rallying cry – Altydgedacht’s version is an essential label on visitor itineraries. And well-priced at around R75.

 

Although gewürztraminer has grown in popularity – thanks perhaps because of its affinity with Thai and other South-east Asian cuisine – but its still fairly uncommon, and the Atltydgedacht gewurz is even more unusual as its made in the style of its European home, Alsace, that is dry rather than the off-dry vintages of other Cape cousins.

This 2015 vintage, produced from bush vines with an average age of 15 years, has just collected gold from the 2016 Michelangelo Awards.  Floral and spice on the nose, and the characteristic combo of rose petals and lychees, is followed by more of the same on the palate, balanced with a crispness and mineral hint that add to its charm. Some will find it an elegant aperitif that offers something more than conventional summer whites, others will pair it with spicy fare with great satisfaction. Expect to pay about R95.

 

 

 

 

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Perhaps it’s only when you have taken part in an organic certification audit that you begin to realise the lengths wine farmers and producers need to go to to obtain that international certification.

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to sit in on such an audit, and one that had particular significance for both the farmer – Patricia Werdmuller von Elgg – and one of the auditors! But let me set the scene…

If you wish to label your wines as organic, you need to have your farm and cellar certified by one of the international certification organizations. One of these is SGS, an enormous global group which certifies many manufactured as well as natural products. Because of the limited number of serious organic farmers in South Africa, SGS recently appointed a German company specialising in certifying organic agriculture to conduct the final audit and issue the certificates.

Hout Baai farm is a beautiful boutique wine farm just outside McGregor, in a high valley that looks onto the Sonderend mountains which surround it. From the owner’s terrace sweeping views over vines take the eye toward Die Galg – the saddle at the end of the “road to nowhere” - which is really a high meeting place for hikers and travellers who revel in the protea-rich fynbos which cloaks the terrain.

The picture-perfect farm has been certified as fully organic since 2005. This year Hout Baai was chosen by the certification team as an example of just how an organic farm should look and operate with a place for everything and everything in its place. The audit was particularly important as not only was the resident SGS auditor conducting the checking, but the LACON international auditor was present, overseeing the process, and both were under the eagle eye of DAkkS, the German accreditation body for that country’s Federal Republic.

The inspection date for this three-tier audit was set for mid-July, but the three arrived in Mcregor a day ahead of schedule. They settled into the office where the local representative of the certification body started her work with a long list of questions, which needed not only oral answers but proof by way of reams of paperwork. Pat Werdmuller possesses more files than I have ever seen on a farm, where delivery notes, invoices, statements, receipts and printouts provide years of proof of transactions with approved service and material providers. These were hauled out on demand, as they worked their way through how water is tested, how pipes are cleaned, what fertilizers are used. Records of purchase of guano, seaweed and donkey manure were checked then questions turned to frequency of their application and in what concentrate?

Moving to harvest time, when grape picking machines were hired, questions were asked about the possibility of their bringing in unwanted residue of non-organic matter. They are delivered the day before, replied farm manager Del Jones, “so our guys can scrub and wash them down, ready for harvesting which started at 3.30am."

If there is any doubt about dates, the diary is consulted – this set of annual volumes, dating back to when the farm started operations – is filled with daily entries of chores completed, indoors and out, accompanied by photographs as way of proof.

The second half of the audit took the form of a tour of the farm, as the visitors were shown firebreaks, and buffer trees along boundaries (to limit the chance of non-organic sprays drifting over from neighbouring farms). The approved korog, a wheat-like grass planted between the vine rows to provide a nutrient-rich mulch was starting to show green and pruning of the sauvignon blanc vines was under way , each row numbered (and named after an animal or bird that frequents the farm). Del showed the inspectors the sizeable hole dug by a friendly anteater which had these Germans looking a little bewildered. She also pointed out the camera traps which record the visits of caracals, jackals, hares and antelope, as this farm is as much of a nature reserve as it is a wine grape farm.

The compost plant and the worm farm were duly inspected, and then the stores and workshop revealed just how diligently tools are looked after and kept in their place. The farm labourers’ wendy house – cosily furnished with places for both wet and dry weather uniforms and footwear and sporting refreshment facilities – was duly admired and also noted were the required warning signs and notices detailing safety and health information both inside and outside buildings and machinery.

It came as no surprise to any of us that Hout baai farm passed inspection with flying colours and was thanked by SGS for their faultless presentation and co-operation.

Since that day I have been thinking about the number of organic wine and grape producers listed in the latest edition of the SA wine industry directory, which I received recently. In this useful compendium, published annually by WineLand media, a total of 38 organic growers and cellars are listed. According to one Western Cape producer, who shall be nameless at this stage, only three of these are certified organic. While I have not trawled through those 38 to see if they have included details of international certification in their Platter entries (if, indeed, they are all listed in Platter), it does bring up the vexed question of some producers labelling their wines as “organic” without having been certified.

“We’re all organic these days!” was a cheerful comment from one (non-organic) farmer and winemaker. Many would beg to differ.    

Those who are spending inordinate amounts of time and money to transform their farms and cellars to comply with the exacting demands of global organic auditors do so, of course, of their own free will. But it’s unsurprising they also grit their teeth in frustration at the lack of monitoring and control over those who are benefitting from the green and environmentally-conscious consumer through fraudulent labelling.

Even if farms grow grapes and produce wine organically, only those certified by an internationally accredited body – accompanied by a seal of this organisation – are entitled to label their wines as organic. However, some producers who follow organic principles in every respect choose not to be certified, because of the expensive, labour- intensive, regular, obstructive and lengthy inspections.                                                  

And to further muddy the waters, SA producers are allowed, I am told, to state on bottle labels that their wine was produced from organically grown grapes. And, what about the cellars who produce a range of organic wines alongside non-organic …

At which stage, it seems high time for a glass or two of enjoyable wine, made from organically grown and certified grapes in an organically certified cellar. Make mine a Solara sauvignon blanc. Cheers!

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A varied lineup of events as winter gives way to a green and glorious spring!

 

Benguela on Main restaurant is offering a five-course Christmas dinner on Saturday July 30 . Chef Jean Delport is including treats like smoked breast of goose on his menu, which costs R540 a head. Pair your meal with Benguela Cove wines, and Somerset West residents can enjoy a complimentary drive service to and from the restaurant. For more information or to make a reservation to avoid disappointment, visit the website, call 087 357 0637 or email onmain@benguelacove.co.za

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 Steenberg’s Cool Runnings charity trail run takes place through the Constantia vineyards on Saturday August 6. Choose from a 5 or 10km loop. All proceeds to the Mdzananda Vet Clinic in Khayelitsha, a community project that provides quality care for ill and abandoned animals. Finish with a glass of Steenberg sparkling sauvignon blanc and follow with a free wine tasting if you wish. A Mdzananda Vet Donation Box will be available prior to the race where leashes, blankets, dog or cat food and other pet items can be dropped into.The entry fee is R130 per trail runner, R50 per teen between the ages of 12-17, while children under 12 have free entry. Registration opens at 7am outside the Bistro1682 Restaurant. Walkers are welcomed. The briefing takes place 15-minutes ahead of the race at 8am. Pre-booking is essential and can be done online at www.quicket.co.za.

 

Bottelary Hills Wine Route ‘Pop Up’ Lunch

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Savour a slow-cooked Sunday pork lunch with chef Bertus Basson on August 14 at Groenland estate when he will present a three-course lunch that smokes, sears and sizzles. The fires will be lit and guests can enjoy Bottelary Hills wine ahead of their meal. Lunch costs R350 a head, including a wine tasting and glass of wine per course. Book through www.wineroute.co.za or Tel: (021) 886 8275 or marketing@wineroute.co.za

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Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction Showcase of rare, individual wines

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This popular annual event takes place in Cape Town on Thursday, 18 August at the CTICC from 6pm and in Johannesburg on Wed August 24 at the Atrium, Nedbank Sandton at 6pm. Tickets cost R250 which includes a tasting glass.

Wine enthusiasts cantaste these unique collectors’ wines crafted exclusively in small volumes for the 2016 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction by the Guild’s 47 members.Members of the Guild will also be presenting some of their acclaimed offerings sold under their own labels. Guests can also bid on rare signed bottles from previous Guild auctions during the Silent Auction. Founded in 1999, the Development Trust seeks to transform the wine industry by educating, training and empowering young talent through initiatives such as the Protégé Programme, a highly acclaimed mentorship scheme for upcoming winemakers and viticulturists.Tickets can be purchased via www.webtickets.co.za

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“WE LOVE WINE” FEST RETURNS TO CAPEGATE 

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If Calling northern suburbs winelovers! Just ahead of spring, head to Capegate Shopping Centre for a great weekend wine fest, taking place from 5 - 9pm on Friday August 26 and from 12 noon to 6pm on Saturday 27th.

 

 

Festival visitors can taste and buy more than 100 wines directly from the wineries, which include large producers with well-known brands and smaller boutique and family-owned wineries, giving a taste of the best of South Africa’s winelands in one venue.

 

The Cape Wine Academy is presenting a wine theatre (Three sessions on Friday and four sessions on Saturday) with fun tastings and pairings on the programme at set times.

 

Participating wineries include: Alexanderfontein/Ormonde, Arendskloof/Eagle’s Cliff, Beyerskloof Wines, Biocape Wines, Bonnievale Cellar, Diemersfontein Wines, Dieu Donnè Vineyards, Deux Frères Wines, Du Toitskloof Wines, Edgebaston, Eerstehoop Wines, Fledge & Co, Groenland, Imbuko Wines, La Couronne Wine Estate, MWS, Orange River Cellars, Overhex Wines International, Perdeberg Winery, Peter Bayly Wines, Stellenbosch Hills, Villiera Wines, Villiersdorp Cellar, Yonder Hill Wines.

 

The Pebbles Project, which looks after disadvantaged children, especially those impacted by alcohol, is the charity beneficiary of the festival and will be present to spread their message and raise funds and awareness.

 

Tickets from the door or through www.quicket.co.za  cost R70 pp (Includes a branded tasting glass) Bookings for the CWA theatre sessions can be made at the ticket office.

 

For up to date information, visit www.capegatecentre.co.za

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Bot River hosts blooming nice Spring Weekend

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Enjoy a relaxed weekend in the Overberg from September 2 – 4 during the annual fest hosted by the winemaking community. The region features 11 wine farms, each of which will offer attractions ranging from farm fare, olive oils, fine wines and local talent. Attractions include sausage-making course at Luddite, oysters and bubbles from Genevieve MCC, fynbos hikes at Paardenkloof, lunch at Wildekrans and at Gabrielskloof. Plenty to amuse the small fry as well. Farms will be open from 10am to 4pm. Tickets (weekend pass) cost R100 and obtainable from www.quicket.co.za .For more information on the Bot River Spring Weekend 2016 contact Melissa Nelsen at Cell: 083 302 6562 or email Melissa@genevievemcc.co.za.

 

MIKI CIMAN OF LA MASSERIA INTRODUCES SMALLER CHEESE MAKERS

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Be it gorgonzola, pecorino, fontina, mozzarella, provolone, brie, chèvre, blue or cheddar, the Say Cheese! Artisan Cheese Fair will celebrate all things cheese on 24 and 25 September 2016 at the Italian Club, Milnerton. THE event will bring together artisan cheesemakers, cheese lovers, bakers, brewers and visitors. Says Ciman, “The Fair will allow guests to appreciate every step of the farm-to-table process of cheese making, while highlighting the extraordinary local talent we have in this field. Chefs will take part and wine will be on sale. Tickets will be on sale at the door, at R80 for adults and R30 for children from 11 – 18. Children under 10 go in free.For further information, please email Kiki at saycheesefair@gmail.com or phone Elize Nel on 072 795 4214.

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A CULINARY JOURNEY OF SOUTH AFRICAN INDIGENOUS FOODS [compiled] by Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga and Ursula Moroane-Kgomo. Published by Indiza Co-operative and Modjaji Books. 2015.

 

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Myrna Robins enjoyed the gastronomic trip through our provinces, but questions the fare included in one of the chapters.

Those following western diets may gulp at thought of a snack of salted stinkbugs fried in butter, while others – who spend as little time as possible in the kitchen – may appreciate the Swati dish Indakala,or boiled,salted peanuts. Both can be found in the second edition of a compilation of our indigenous dishes, following on the original, published in 2000 through the CSIR.

The new and intriguing collection of heritage recipes from 11 ethnic groups across South Africa, reveals that much of the fare is also contemporary, as current generations of rural cooks continue to use local ingredients and traditional recipes to feed their families.

IndiZA Foods is a Pretoria-based company headed by MD Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga and Operations Director Ursula Moroane-Kgomo, both high-powered businesswomen with degrees in food science, business management and considerable experience in the food industry. Both are also passionate about the preservation of indigenous culinary cultures, women empowerment and rural development. Their joint enthusiasm resulted in the publication of this worthy addition to our traditional culinary literature.

Women in the rural communities were invited to submit recipes for the food they cook daily: These reveal simple fare using local ingredients, occasionally enlivened by stock cubes, seasonings, and items like margarine. Several high schools were also involved in the project.

The compilers started in North West, with Tswana dishes and went on to Mpumalanga where Ndebele and Swati specialities were hunted down. The Free State yielded Sotho staple fare and the northern province of Limpopo saw recipes collected from Tsonga, Pedi and Venda cuisines. In the Eastern Cape the Xhosa gastronomic heritage was celebrated and Kwa –Zulu Natal presented Zulu menus. From the Western Cape comes a listing described as Khoisan recipes and the final grouping is Afrikaans marked, somewhat strangely, as centred in Gauteng.

The dishes are, as one would expect, simple, largely straightforward renderings of grains, legumes and leaves, gourds and tubers, sparked by indigenous fruits and enlivened by worms and insects. Beef and chicken feature occasionally. There is not a single seafood recipe in this collection.

Perhaps because of their (comparatively) exotic nature, I enjoyed browsing through the cuisines of the northern groups in particular: Among the Pedi recipes is one labelled baobab-fruit yoghurt, a good start to the day, while Venda cooks lift their protein intake with Mashonzha (mopani worms and peanuts) and Thongolifha (stinkbugs fried in butter ). Several species of Morogo, or wild leaves are used, including Pigweed or Amarinth, Blackjack, Spider plant, pumpkin, and wild jute. Breads are uncommon, but the Tswana make Diphaphata, a flatbread using wheat flour, Ndebele cooks use brown bread flour for their steamed bread, while others are based on mealie meal. Desserts are almost non-existent although there’s a Sotho recipe for bottling peaches in sugar syrup.

I contacted the compilers to ask why Gauteng was used as a source for Afrikaans recipes and was told that they invited several groups in the Western and Northern Cape to take part, without success, so eventually resorted to finding them from Gauteng-based Afrikaners. The recipes are authentic Cape cuisine, dishes that have become South African classics.

I gazed, somewhat incredulously, at the pictures and recipes in the Khoisan section, pages where I expected to find items like shellfish, venison, ghaap, sour figs, veldkool, waterblommetjies, and perhaps drinks based on milk. Instead, there’s a Greek-style salad with feta and olives, a caramel pud and a standard white bread recipe. Liver and onions and a mutton potjie (with red wine and packet soup powder) could just pass muster but there is virtually nothing that says “Khoisan” or “Khoi-khoin” in this mini-collection. The recipes were sourced from a group of cooks in Vredendal, and I contacted one of the contributors to ask her how these came to be regarded as Khoisan. Freda Wicomb is the housekeeper at a local boarding school, and is a popular and capable cook, but she had no answer, saying this was how she cooked.

Khoisan, referring to two distinct groups of early South African inhabitants, is a term that should not be applied to their cuisines, as they were very different. The Bushmen, or San were hunter-gatherers while the Khoi were herders. The latter group’s culinary and cultural heritage has been well researched, by fundis such as Dr Renata Coetzee whose brilliant book Kukumakranka presents an exhaustive discussion on the subject. Ingredients used in the past can still be found today, and cooks of both Griqua and Nama descent use veldkos in their potjies, and make askoek, potbrood and vetkoek, as did their forbears.

I suggested that the compilers also contact Chef Shaun Schoeman of Solms Delta’s Fyndraai restaurant, whose Heritage menu includes Khoe-Khoen breads, waterblommetjie soup and desserts starring herbs like buchu, for their next edition.

Kgaladi Thema-Sethoga assures me this section will be more authentic and will also include Cape Malay cuisine. Sadly we will have to wait until 2024 for the new edition.

Meanwhile, this title, illustrated with photographs of many of the recipes, is well-indexed and includes information on many of the ingredients unknown to western cooking. The book is endorsed by the SA Chefs Association and supported by the Department of Arts and Culture.

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Victorian wine cellar at Mont Rochelle

 

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Great to see winemaker Dustin Osborne back in the mountainside cellar of Mont Rochelle. Pretty sure I recognised one or two of the staff at the Country Kitchen as well; if they were there seven years ago, then I am probably right in thinking I met them when gathering information on this unique farm for my Franschhoek Food cookbook.

Champagne was its first name, given to this picturesque stretch by Abraham de Villiers in 1694. It changed to an equally positive Goedehoop more than a century later, finally was christened Mont Rochelle by a 20th century descendant, Graham de Villiers when he acquired it. Earlier this century then owners of hotel and vineyards, Erwin Schnitzler and Miko Rwayitare merged the two to create Mont Rochelle hotel and Mountain vineyards, and newly appointed winemaker Dustin Osborne started producing some memorable reds, one of which is the farm’s flagship red blend today.

Although Franschhoek is a sophisticated village growing increasingly used to foreigners buying bits and pieces, the acquisition of the estate by Virgin Limited Edition collection, and Richard Branson in particular, caused a buzz, which died down while renovations were undertaken at the hotel and gourmet restaurant, and at the rustic Country Kitchen and picturesque cellar.

The latter two venues have not changed much – the 150 year-old-cellar, a former fruit packshed, is as appealing as ever, although Dustin is happier with new flooring and updated machinery. The restaurant, open to terrace and lawns lining a big dam, is still relaxed, serving deli-type fare inside and out, along with picnics.

During a recent visit, a handful of wine writers started their tasting in the cellar, with a charming sauvignon blanc 2015, grapes from the farm’s 22 -year-old vineyards, the fresh wine with subtle fruit lent complexity by 10% semillon and 2and half % viognier. Well-balanced and a great buy at R85.

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Osborne has long been a champion chardonnay maker, and his latest, Mont Rochelle’s 2015 chardonnay is as good as any I remember. It’s elegant, fresh, with tangible minerality, full-bodied, with a long finish. Limited edition from vines planted in ’94, just over half barrel-matured, this is equally delicious as an aperitif or complementing voguish salads and well-bred poultry. We paired

[Caption: Dustin Osborne, Enrico Jacobs and Jenny Prinsloo in picnic mode] Photograph: Shantelle Visser

it with an inspired cauliflower and vanilla risotto – memorable. The wine is also reasonably priced at R100 from farm.

More good news is the launch of an easy-drinking red, Little Rock Rouge 2014, a cab-based blend with merlot and splashes of mourvèdre and petit verdot adding aroma and flavour to a vibrant, enjoyable wine with smooth tannins. Along with its 2015 white counterpart, not yet released, these cost R72 each.

During Dustin’s first stint at the farm he created a fine syrah-based blend named Miko in honour of former owner the late Miko Rwayitare. This flaghip 2009 vintage wine, intense, complex, and well-balanced with dark fruit, spice and savoury undertones, is showing well and is an impressive introduction to the potential of the farm’s terroir.

Our little group had moved through cellar to lawns to tasting cellar to terrace, where we teamed this vinous star with tender venison on sweet potato. Dustin then produced a number of aged cabs which had been discovered under a floor in the adjoining manor house during renovations and an informal vertical tasting commenced, starting off with the ’96 vintage… A few of these may be added to the cellar stock for those seeking museum class reds.

 

We did not see the hotel or more formal Miko restaurant during our visit but heard that the hotel is just about full until Easter, with bookings for weddings increasing nicely. What impressed me at the winery and Country Kitchen was the informality, the friendly yet efficient service, and an atmosphere that is far from stiff or grand. One gets the impression that Branson, having appointed good staff, is content to leave his estate in capable hands. Global visitors can now move from his private game reserve, Ulusaba, in the north of South Africa to our incomparable winelands, for a holiday that can compete with the best on the planet.

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We all knew that Kleine Zalze's new cellarmaster had big boots to fill, as he took over from Johan Joubert. Alastair Rimmer's maiden chenin blanc and chardonnay are both ample, enjoyable proof that he will be carrying on the cellar's impressive reputation for over-delivery on quality and pure enjoyment with a range of wines that have attracted strings of awards both here and internationally.

The farm's Vineyard Selection chenin blanc 2015 follows in the tradition of a beautifully balanced meld of fruit with structure lent from subtle oak. Enough acidity to keep everything fresh, ideal late summer wine for both aperitifs and al fresco fare, but can safely be kept for a few years as well. A very good buy at R77.

In similar style, the Vineyard Selection chardonnay 2015, selling for R80 from cellar door is a fine example of Rimmer's talent: both Stellenbosch and Robertson grapes were sourced for this wine, which spent seven months in oak before blending and bottling. The citrus, pear and stone fruit, with apple providing a floral note, fulfil chardonnay fans' expectations, there's a mineral core, and overall elegance which combines to make this a classic with complexity that should develop further if cellared.

In best Kleine Zalze tradition, these constitute another pair of winners.

 

 

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The focus has been on rosé recently,as these wines are promoted for Valentines day – or weekend as it is this year. I’ve been sampling enjoyable examples while putting together a story for the national lifestyle pages of the Independent group. And, doing it during a heatwave made me appreciate the charms of a well -chilled pink, particularly those with some backbone along with berry flavours.

I am sure that the first Rickety Bridge rosé fest on Saturday the 13th is going to be a sellout – the attractions are wide-ranging and the heatwave should be past its worst, according to predictions. It’s been a while since I tasted examples of their winemaker, Wynand Grobler’s craft, but I have long regarded him as one of the valley’s most talented – and his Foundation Stone rosé (shiraz/Grenache/mourvèdre) and his scintillating NV Cap Classique brut rosé confirm my opinion.

Meanwhile, up the Franschhoek pass to La Petite Ferme, that perennially popular destination for thousands of repeat visitors, now under new Swiss ownership. There’s a new winemaker too, but the 2015 rosé, a largely merlot affair with a dash of sauvignon blanc, is still a product of the Dendy-Youngs. This salmon-tinted summer charmer presents an aroma of rose petal, with berry and cinnamon flavours, with a little sauvignon zest. It finished dry on the palate.

Staying in the Franschhoek valley, Vrede en Lust's enjoyable dry rose, named  Jess, has become a firm favourite in the Vrede en Lust range. Named after the owner's eldest daughter, this crisp wine with its berry and melon notes is a blend of mostly pinotage, with some shiraz and a dash of grenache.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Glenrose-3rd-attempt.jpgThe L’Avenir team from Stellenbosch is not content to produce admirable conventional pinotage, but has added a fine pinotage rosé to the range, its patrician status emphasized by an unique bottle featuring a protea-shaped punt. Glenrosé is made in the Provencal style, its nose of rose petals and strawberry and citrus ahead of a crisp, dry but fruity flavours on the palate, along with a mineral presence. This top of the range example sells for R200. b2ap3_thumbnail_Glenrose-3rd-attempt.jpg

 

 

Turning to my adopted wine region, there are two rosés that I strongly recommend to visitors heading Robertson  way soon: Tanagra’s superb example produced from cab franc has just one fault, and that is there isn’t enough of it. The other is the 2015 rosé from Quando, Fanus Bruwer’s boutique cellar near Bonnievale. He use mourvèdre for this charmer.

I also enjoyed Saronsbergs all-shiraz rosé from their Provenance range. Cellarmaster Dewaldt Heyns specializes in shiraz, among other reds, and this offers a light-hearted aside, complete with sculptor Angus Taylor’s Earth Mother on the label. Tulbagh has acquired a major red wine player with the establishment of this art-filled estate.

One would hardly know where to start when contemplating pinks from the vast Stellenbosch region, but for good value for consistent quality, the dry, fruity and flavour-packed rosé in Ken Forrester’s Petit range is ready to complement many a late summer al fresco meal.

When it comes to rosé Cap Classique bruts, I always enjoy Allee Bleue’s, the NV from Graham Beck and have heard great reports about Webersburg’s NV pinot noir/pinotage brut. Finally, its been a long time since I tasted it, but if memory serves me well, the patrician Lady Alice all-pinot, MCC from Muratie, which comes complete with tales of memorable early 20th century parties, is a bubbly to consider.

A word of thanks to those marketing colleagues who obtained rosé samples for me at such short notice – Posy, Nicolette, Melissa, hugely appreciated.

Whatever fare you’re planning for the coming weekend it’s likely that a crisp pink will pair well. Picnics, salads, sushi, shellfish, salmon, berry finales, you name it, rosé will enhance it.

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Sited in the supremely beautiful Devon Valley, and named after the friendly Zulu greeting that can be translated as “Hi, how are you?” Kunjani wines start any encounter with the twin advantages of an enviable location and a companionable  name.

Comparatively new on the block, this multicultural enterprise is owned by German entrepreneur Paul Barth and South African businesswoman Pia Watermeyer, while the wines are made by well-known, well-travelled  winemaker Carmen Stevens. Their website reveals that they also operate a restaurant and cottages for travellers to hire.

Their trio of warming reds arrived , each in a dark bottle, with cork closures, adorned with black labels bearing gold lettering. The back labels offer brief notes on the nose, palate, and expected life of the contents.

 

 

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Kunjani Shiraz 2015 sports a gold from Michelangelo 2018, produced from homegrown grapes, which underwent malolactic fermentation in barrel. The wine matured in French oak for 12 months in a combo of new, second- and third fill French oak. The characteristic white pepper is there, spicing up the juicy flavours of red and black berries, balanced by some acidity for freshness. Alcohol levels of 15% are on the hefty side. The website lists the price at R220.

 

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Grapes for the Kunjani merlot 2017 were also sourced on the farm. They  were destemmed and cold -soaked for a few days before pressing. Secondary fermentation took place in barrel and the wine matured for 14 months in French oak. Moderate alcohol levels are in keeping with this medium-bodied merlot that presents tobacco and spices along with fruit on the palate, with no trace of greenness. It is priced at R190 and will pair happily with a wide range of winter fare, both casual and formal.

 

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As with the other two, homegrown grapes were harvested for the Kunjani cabernet sauvignon 2017 , then sorted into two lots to provide blending components. Yeast was added to one after four days but the second lot was left to ferment spontaneously for some time. The blend was matured for 14 months in French oak. Characteristic hints of chocolate, mint, blackcurrant and dried herbs are there, along with a hint of vanilla. This Stellenbosch cab has good ageing potential and costs R220.

Visitors can head to the tasting centre on any day of the week. For more info, visit www.kujaniwines.co.za.

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Delheim recently released new vintages of two of the estate’s three pinotages, being the 2017 pinotage and 2019 pinotage rosé. Both these are venerable classics, as the farm was among the first in the Cape to produce pinotage during the 1960’s and the first to present a rosé in 1976.

Today they are both well-established classics, the pinotage being medium-bodied, with red fruit on the nose, followed by more on the palate, backed by a little wood from time in French oak. The rosé is a light-hearted wine, with low alcohol levels, its salmon hues offering the promise of fresh and floral notes, ideal sipping on a sunny day. The previous vintage contained a soupcon of muscat, and perhaps this one does too, the label does not say. The rosé labels lists the wine as vegan-friendly as well.

Both wines are undemanding, but , like all Delheim wines, made with care. Their recommended retail prices hover in the region of R80 for the pink and R150 for the red. For more info, visit www.delheim.com.

If you would like to try  a quick Thai soup that will, says Delheim, be enhanced by pairing with the pinotage rose, here's the recipe:

Thai Coconut Milk Noodle Soup (khao soi)

Khao Soi is from Northern Thailand - a noodle soup with an amazing combination of flavours and texture. This soup only takes 15 minutes to make and best of all – it pairs so well with the Delheim Pinotage Rosé.

200g Roka Pad Thai Noodles

2 T coconut oil or olive oil

1 onion finely chopped

A thumb size piece of ginger, peeled and grated

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 red pepper, cored and diced

1-3 T Thai red curry paste

1 can coconut milk

500ml chicken stock

1 t turmeric

4 T Thai soy sauce

3 T brown sugar

300g chicken fillets, grilled and cubed

Fresh coriander or basil leaves

Bean sprouts

Lime or lemon juice to taste

Prepare noodles by following the instructions on the packet.

In a medium pot, heat oil,. add the onion, red pepper, garlic, ginger, red Thai curry paste and turmeric. Sauté until fragrant and golden, about 5 minutes.

Add the stock, sugar, soy sauce and coconut milk bring to a simmer and add the diced chicken. Simmer for 5 minutes then taste for flavour and tenderness.

Add the noodles and finish with fresh herbs, bean sprouts and squeeze over lime or lemon juice and serve hot.

 

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LUCKY PACKET by Trevor Sacks published by Kwela Books, Cape Town, 2019.

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This is a book that drew me in, quicker and deeper as I turned the pages. I seldom review novels, but Lucky Packet is different, it’s more like an autobiography, that is not only well-written, but clever: As Ben tells his story, as a 12-year-old, he brings in everything from family history to small town prejudices along with a broad sweep of South African politics in the 1980’s. Apartheid practices and their effects on locals, the reaction of those who tried to ameliorate these, are all dealt with in a way that is verycredible, as Sacks’ writing as a young Jewish teenager is so convincing.

What he presents is a picture of a Jewish family living in a conservative Northern Transvaal town during the State of Emergency in the 1980s. Ben Aronbach, the writer, feels as if he doesn’t fit in anywhere, as his schoolmates are Afrikaans-speaking Christians and - as his family is not religious - they don’t fit in with the Jewish community either. Ben also missed out on having a father to look up to as he died when Ben was just six years old.

While life, and school, and school tours and meeting girls go on, and Ben experiences the embarrassments and anguish that teenagers are subjected to, the family business is failing and the local bank manager is not being co-operative about loans. With the entry of one Leo Fein onto the scene Ben’s life got more complicated, more so after it was revealed that this “uncle’ who had chatted up his mother, and befriended Ben, was escorted from Ben’s bar mitzvah by two government men (who “lifted Leo Fein up under his armpits...”) Whatever else he had done, it turned out he had also stolen a large part of the Aronbach fortune.

Guilt consumes Ben as he feels that a job he did for Fein contributed to the family loss, and only years later, as South Africa prepared for the 1992 Referendum, could he confront the charlatan . Meanwhile, to try and make large sums of money to help the family, Ben undertook jobs for Leo Fein after his return to the town, which included a trip to Moria to meet the bishop of the Zion Christian church and an encounter with the AWB.

Ben spent much time with his mother before her death, during which they shared thoughts with each other that helped him, to an extent, deal with his guilt.

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While a visit to Calitzdorp and its hospitable inhabitants is always enjoyable, and there’s much to see and do in every season, winter offers both peace and particular beauty in this Klein Karoo dorp: against a backdrop of the Outeniqua, Swartberg and Rooiberg mountains, probably snow-dusted, wandering around the old part of the village makes a great start to the day, working up an appetite to do justice to robust country fare washed down with a glass or two of the region’s fine wines and world-class ports.

Which brings us, of course to De Krans, on the village fringe, sprawled along the upper reaches of the Gamka river valley. The farm was founded in 1890 by MD Boets Nel’s great-grandfather although many decades passed before the first grapes were planted, mostly for sweet wine and raisin production. Fast forward to 1964 when the existing cellar was built and De Krans soon became known for its fine ports and dessert wines. Dry table wines were to follow.

Today visitors can taste the various ranges every day of the week, relish al fresco lunches at the bistro and contemplate the walking trail to work off the kilojoules. Friendly, enthusiastic staff add to the enjoyment while generosity is another ever-present characteristic.

In reviewing fine wines from three of the four De Krans ranges, we start by going back, way back to 1947 when De Krans planted a vineyard of Palomino (also known as Malvasia Rei) in Gamka river soils for brandy production. Some 70 years on they have survived, now bearing small, intensely flavoured berries: these are blended with verdelho (37%) into an unusual, fascinating golden wine that presents old vine legacy with Klein Karoo flavour. De Krans Tritonia 2017  wafts aromas of citrus and honey, while the palate offers exotic flavours, traces of a spicy Christmas pud balanced by acidity for freshness. I can imagine it enhancing a Cape Malay curry, and certain Portuguese classics, perhaps Arroz de Pato de Braga, that flavourful combo of roast duck with chorizo on ham-flavoured rice from the north. It sells for R150.

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Its red counterpart De Krans Tritonia Calitzdorp Blend 2016 is better known, having already won for itself an impressive list of awards – among these, Platter gives it 4 and half stars, NWC a double gold, the Six Nations Wine Challenge rated  it gold and the Old Mutual Trophy Wine show a trophy. Composed of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barocca it’s hardly surprising that its dark, tannic, and flavour-packed with berry and plums, but also smooth on the palate , a fine winter wine to pair with venison and beef. It costs  around R185 and also offers great ageing potential.

Then there’s De Krans Basket Press Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 which proves quite a contrast to the above: For R65 winelovers can enjoy an accessible cabernet that not only offers great value, but is an authentic  expression of the grape – the typical aromas of cedar and tobacco are there, as are the flavours of black cherry and plum. This is a comparatively light-bodied cab, with alcohol levels of 13,5% and ready to pair with pizza and pasta, the weekend braai and provide companionable fireside sipping.

When it comes to port, to use the traditional term, Calitzdorp is the local king, and De Krans – through a lucky mistake – was the first to plant the Portuguese varietal of Tinta Barocca, which flourished nicely in the valley. Today, the region is famed for its production of fine port wines, which – after negotiating with the EU in 2011 – are no longer named “port” but are labelled according to the style of port in the bottle, hence “Cape Ruby” or Cape Tawny”. De Krans marketing is also keen to get consumers to replace those teeny liqueur glasses that used to be used for port with decent wine glasses, something we did a while ago. (Most of these ports are just under 20% alcohol strength, so you are not sipping the equivalent of spirits at over 40% )

Their Ruby port can be classed as the entry level port, perhaps, less complex than its cousins, also more affordable, but nonetheless quality wine and a good way for newcomers to this fortified wine to begin their port journey...

The De Krans Cape Tawny Limited Release, a much awarded port wine, and my all-time favourite, is quite delicious, perfect with meatless and poultry dishes, complementing French onion soup and a superb partner to aged cheeses like mature cheddar, gruyere, and parmesan. Its glorious golden hue is the result, I was told, of small oak vats being used which influences the wine along with a greater degree of oxidation, but obviously there is far more to this process. 

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The flagship De Krans Cape Vintage Reserve - 2016 is the current vintage – is  deservedly five-star, rated 96 points in the Tim Atkin 2018 report, was judged SA Fortified Wine of the Year, sports Veritas Gold, Michelangelo platninum, and the brag  list goes on... It's comprised of 74% Touriga Nacional, 18% Tinta Barocca and finished with Tinta Roriz, yielding a  big, dark wine, offering aromas of berries, nuts and chocolate. It's complex and bold and deserves to be a fine finale to a special meal, perhaps with a cheese platter. While this is a Cape port that one could safely store unopened for three decades or more, once opened, do bring it out on chilly evenings and savour every delicious, complex sip. You are sampling the results of long and meticulous craftmanship practised by some dedicated and talented winemakers.

          

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Winter treats for winelovers and gourmets that are sure to brighten up July and point to early signs of spring in August.

 

Unearth Black Gold at Anthonij Rupert Estate

Gourmets need not head to Europe to find fresh truffles, only to Franschhoek where Anthonij Rupert Wyne inivtes them to sample black gold at their series of four-course Truffle Lunches being presented every . Only 10 diners will be accommodated at a sitting and each course with be paired with Cape oF Good Hope wines . A sampling of estate-raised Black Angus beef will also be included in this gourmands dream meal which costs R950 a head.

Anthonij Rupert estate is the first in South Africa to cultivate black Perigord truffles, grown at their Altima estate near Villiersdrop and hunted by truffle hunter Hanene van Dyk with her specially trained Lagotto Romagnolo dogs.

For more information and bookings, email tasting@rupertwines.com or all 021 874 9041.

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Dress to impress at the Franschhoek Bastille Festival

 

 

As before, the popular Bastille Festival takes place at Franschhoeks Hugueot Monument area over the weekend of July 13 and 14. Adding to the wine, food and fun, visitors can arrive in a red white and blue French-style outfit to be in line to win the Best Dressed title. Along with the valleys fine wines, there will be gourmet fare from the town's top restaurants while events such as the barrel -rolling competition add to the attractions. Tickets to the Food and Wine marquee cost R395 per person, and include tasting glass, wine tasting coupons and a R20 voucher. Pre-booking via www.webtickets.co.za is recommended. Children under 18 enter free. For more info, visit www.franschhoekbastille.co.za.

 

 

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Brian Berkmans next Pringle Bay Banting Pop-Up lunch

 

 

takes place on July 20. New and regular  items on the low-carb, sugar-free fest include courgette and broccoli soup, chicken liver pate, aubergine baked in a cheese and tomato sauce, hake bobotie and his popular spiced beef brisket, smoked and slow-cooked. Lemon cheesecake makes the dessert and tea or coffee is included in the price of R350.

 

Seewww.BrianBerkman.comfor links to Quicket to book.

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A FOOD AND WINE AFFAIR PRESENTED BY BUSHMANS KLOOF AND

 

BOUCHARD FINLAYSON

 

Gourmands are invited to savour the union of distinguished wines and gourmet cuisine with a weekend of culinary excellence in a magnificent wilderness setting.

 

 

Bouchard Finlayson has teamed up with sister property Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat to present a gourmet food and wine weekend to be held from 26 – 28 July 2019 at the luxury lodge in the Cederberg. Guests will be taken on a connoisseur’s journey hosted by winemaker Chris Albrecht and Executive Chef Charles Hayward. Highlights comprise of abespoke wine tasting and an inspired food and wine pairing dinner on the Saturday. A variety of exhilarating lodge activities are included, such as nature drives, guided rock art excursions, botanical walks, canoeing, archery, fly fishing and hiking. The 2-night event costs from R3795 per person sharing per night and includes all meals, selected wines and lodge activities.During the extravagant five-course food and wine pairing dinnerdishes will be matched with Bouchard Finlayson vintages that will include flagship wines Missionvale Chardonnay (2016) and Galpin Peak Pinot Noir (2017), as well as the sleek and complex Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (2017) and the 2016 vintage of the unique red blend, Hannibal.

Bookings: Telephone: +27 (0)21 437 9278; Email: info@bushmanskloof.co.za

 

 

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What’s in a name? A lot, it seems, when it comes to wine as captivating titles pique the attention of consumers browsing the wine boutique shelves.

And a better example than those of Journey’s End Vineyards would be hard to find. Even the estate’s name attracts: if I was on a Helderberg wine tour, I would want to finish my journey at this mountainside farm with its panoramic views over False Bay. Hugging the Schapenberg slopes above Sir Lowry’s Pass village, the farm was founded by the Gabb family - a Shropshire import- - in 1995, and bottled their first harvest early in the new century.

Second generation Rollo Gabb has been at the helm since 2007, and has increased the vineyard plantings and built an ultra-modern cellar and a tasting centre, its glass walls leading to a terrace that presents a viewing site of note. Mount Rozier, which I remember visiting way back when three partners were intent on establishing a fine range from their small farm, has been taken over by Journey’s End. The viticultural team of cellarmaster Leon Esterhuizen and winemaker Mike Dawson practise the Gabb-approved philosophy of minimal intervention as Journey’s End launch the rebranding of their products.

Three ranges, or series, are now planned, with the first, Tales Series, already available and comprising four wines with expressive, allusive names.

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All housed in dark bottles with white labels and prominent lettering, under screwcap, the 2018 sauvignon blanc is called Weather Station after the Stellenbosch clone known as the Weerstasiekloon. Agreeably fresh and made for immediate enjoyment, with moderate alcohol levels and medium-bodied, the nose is typically sauvignon, the palate offers friskiness allied to winter stone fruit flavours of apple and pear. Well-balanced and makes both an aperitif and a mate for white meat and seafood.

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Haystack chardonnay 2018 alludes to the venerable practice of planting wheat between the vine rows to encourage pests to focus on that rather than the vines and the label sports an eagle owl which is one of a pair on the farm that helps with pest control. Characteristic citrus flavours are offset by backbone lent from a little oak and the alcohol levels are held at 13,5%. I enjoyed this chardonnay and found that it tasted even better the following day.

 

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To the reds: Two red blends, the first The Huntsman, a 2017 vintage that melds shiraz, mourvèdre and viognier in unknown proportions, but with shiraz dominant. Its name refers to the original buildings on the site used by the Cape Hunt, founded nearly 200 years ago. Susbstantial alcohol levels of 14,5% add to the richness of this full-bodied wine, which matured in 500 litre French oak barrels, the viognier separately in tank, then blended in to produce a dark, luscious, ready- to- enjoy wine.

 

 

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As is the Pastor’s Blend 2018, named after the local pastor who offers communion under the pines just below Journey’s End vineyards. He is also the connection between the farm and the local village, which enjoys support from the estate in terms of education and upliftment of living standards. Moderate alcohol levels characterise a classic blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cab franc fermented separately and matured in third-fill oak for 14 months. The result is juicy with berry flavours dusted with dried herbs, ready to take on all types of red meat dishes with panache.

The wines sells for between R89 and R99, adding affordability to their attractions. The next two ranges will take the quality to a higher level with prices to match.

The estate embraces sustainable and occasional biodynamic practices, but is not certified for the latter. Trendy winemaking such as the use of (once ancient) amphorae and concrete eggs add to the versatility while drones are employed to survey vineyard blocks, providing high-tech info for micro-management.

Appointments are required for visits and tastings, which can also include snacks while hikes, MTB and horse-riding are also on the menu. For more info see www.journeysend.co.za or call 021 858 1929.

 

                                

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The press release for the latest vintage of this perennially popular white blend is particularly well written, making it difficult to improve on, so i am going to quote the final sentence as is:: “fresh and vibrant with a convincing strength and quality finish.”

The 2018 vintage of this four-star blend offers its usual admirable consistency - both in quality, and its main component which has been riesling for several years.This enables Bouchard Finlayson's Blanc de Mer to  differ from  its unwooded white blend competitors. The riesling – 65% here – sets the foundation for a  wine both patrician and characterful, while the viognier and chardonnay, (sharing similar proportions), add floral elements and a medley of fruit to a fragrant nose and flavorful palate. Alcohol levels of 13% are in keeping, and its priced at R110.

Looking at back issues of Platter, it's interesting to see how cultivars have varied over the last 18 years: Blanc de Mer greeted the new century as an unwooded blend of kerner with gewürztraminer, riesling, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay...

In  2003 gewurztraminer partnered the riesling, two years later  sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc and chard were the chosen companions while by 2006 viognier rather than riesling led the combo.  In 2007 chenin made an appearance but, since then, whatever the variations, quality climbed even as the wine was geared to being a crowd pleaser.

Unsurprisingly a large number of regulars regard Blanc de Mer as an essential companion to seafood whether grilled, fried, baked or raw. I don’t think its fanciful to find whiffs of maritime aromas that emphasise its affinity with the waters of Walker Bay. A summer wine, yes certainly, but with this appealing balance of freshness and depth, it’s also the right choice to celebrate wonderful sunny winter days found in every province of our country.

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A dark heavy bottle, made unique with its imprint of a bird perched on a tobacco pipe next to a flowerhead, the design is repeated on the minimalist white label which informs that it's Nebukadnesar 2017 and this is no. 12 285 of 21 940!. Not a limited edition then!

Babylonstoren often does things differently, and always beautifully, honouring both the farm’s  330- year old history, its venerable buildings and spectacular setting. As its name suggests this is a place of amazing gardens, now 12 years old with more than 300 varieties of culinary and medicinal plants,, offering a garden tour to delight and amaze.

The extensive vineyards which stretch from 170 metres above sea level to 600 metres – incorporating poor sand, deep shale and rich loam - have yielded pampered berries, allowing the range of wines flowing from the cellars  to increase.. This vintage of the flagship blend has attracted more awards than any previously, particularly from the National Wine Challenge: it brought home Double Platinum, Grand Cru for best in category, and was also crowned Best Wine from among the 600 entries.

Components of this blend (49% cabernet sauvignon, 25% merlot, 16% cabernet franc, 5% petit verdot and 5% malbec), were separately pressed and matured for 23 months in new French oak . The new blend was left in tank for a month before bottling took place, then given five months maturation before being released.

Its a big, bold, full-bodied wine, impressive already, but deserves to be cellared so that the prominent tannins can soften and meld with the flavours of dried herbs, black berries and tobacco, for maximum enjoyment. The palate will then offer sophisticated integration that should go on improving for up to a decade .

 

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The cellar team at Babylonstoren comprises Charl Coetzee, Klaas Stoffberg and Marina Loubser who are making magic with the wide variety of farm cultivars available, including a highly-rated chenin-based white blend with three additional components that I hope to sample soon.

Those who are happy to pay nearly R500 a bottle or R3 000.00 a case for a fine Cape Bordeaux-style blend, will surely be prepared to cellar their purchase, (or at least most of it), to enable the wine to mature further, to reach its (very considerable) peak in, perhaps, five years time.

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Elgin Ridge 282 Pinot Noir 2016 

 

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Certified organic wines are thin on the ground in this country and those which go a step further – to be fully registered as biodynamic – are even more rare.

Having been involved (as a keen spectator) with an organic wine farm, seeing what has to be undertaken to reach this status, sitting through an international inspection by a tough team from Europe and South Africa as they toured vineyards and farm buildings, examining everything from implements to employees work apparel, then probing records and asking the most detailed questions, I greatly admire those who undertake the arduous and expensive process to get certified.

Brian and Marion Smith of Elgin Ridge state on their website that their vineyards have been free of chemical sprays for more than 10 years, while Maddox their gentle percheron ploughs between the vineyard rows to remove weeds and pest control is handled with enthusiasm by resident ducks. Currently on the website are photos of an appealing pair of lambs who, we are told, will soon join the rest of the little flock to help with cover crop management.

The 2016 vintage of their Elgin Ridge 282 pinot noir was recently released. Grapes were sourced from four vineyards between10 and 11 years old and were vinified separately. Natural malolactic fermentation took place in second- and third- fill oak for 10 months before blending and bottling took place.

This is a cultivar that benefits from organic viticulture partly because of its inherent earthiness. Elgin minerality complements, but these characteristics are balanced by the berry fruit on the nose, and a a juicy freshness. Tannins are integrated, and the whole offers medium-bodied well-balanced enjoyment, along with that purity that is usually discernible in organic wines.

Another plus is that fact organic wines contain little, if any, sulphur, a chemical which affects a number of winelovers – particularly senior consumers - adversely.

This pinot noir will make a fine companion to a variety of winter warmers,

including, of course any mushroom dish where the earthiness of both will complement nicely.

It sells for R250 from cellar door and some wine outlets.

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Stellenbosch Hills has long been known for value-for-money wines, and no range proves this better than the Polkadraai - which notches up a decade of success this year. The anniversary is marked with a young rosé, vintage 2019, produced from shiraz grapes that grow in the Polkadraai district of Stellenbosch.This is where the winery’s 16 member farms are situated, in that scenic region where the terroir offers a wide spectrum of soil and climate.

 

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The new addition to the range is crisp and fresh, offering a bouquet of fruit that is followed on the palate by very accessible fruit and medium alcohol levels of 13%.

As with all labels in this light-hearted range, a percentage of money from sales of the new label go to the Polka kids Community Project through which Stellenbosch Hills contribute to education at the Vlottenburg Primary school. This is where most of the younger children of the vineyards and winery’s employees attend school.

There are not that many well-made wines retailing for less than R50 these days, but this is one of them – priced at R48 from cellar door.

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Cultivar association Shiraz SA awarded the winners in this year's Challenge earlier this month at Ashanti wine estate. In alphabetical order the one dozen champions  are:

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Babylonstoren shiraz 2017, Bellingham The Bernard series syrah 2016, Driehoek shiraz 2017 and their 2016 vintage, Flagstone Dark Horse 2015, KWV Cathedral Cellar 2016, Neethlingshof shiraz 2015, Quoin Rock shiraz 2015, Rhebokskloof Black Marble Hill 2016, Kruger Family Reserve 2016 (Stellenview), Strandveld first Sighting 2017 and La Cave 2017 from Wellington Wines.

There were three winning shiraz blends: Alvi’s Drift Albertus Viljoen Bismarck 2017, Babylonstoren Babel 2017 and Eikendal Charisma 2017.

 

A total of 207 wines were entered in to the competition, of which 36 were blends. The judging panel comprised of Shiraz SA chair Edmund Terblanche of La Motte, De Grendel cellarmaster Charles Hopkins, Samarie Smith of Benguela Cove, CWM Elsie Pells and wine consultant Jeanne-Marie de Villiers.

While I was sorry to have missed out on tasting these winners, I not only congratulate the victors but also like the Association’s pithy and effective marketing slogan:

‘I say Syrah, you say Shiraz’ – we’ll raise a glass of our stylish winter reds to that!

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Turning to that other wintertime favourite, delicious warming muscadel, the SA Muskadel Awards 2019 were announced last week and I find it unsurprising that the valleys and mountainside regions that surround my home walked off with all but two medals in this year contest, sponsored as before, by Enartis SA.

Attracting three top awards is Badsberg Cellar from the Breedekloof, with a platinum and two golds, for the 2017 red muscadel  with the 2008 and 2009 vintages following just behind. The only other platinum was garnered by Mont Blois wine estate on the Langeberg slopes behind Robertson, for their limited edition Pump house White Muscadel 2016. The Robertson Wine Valley was home to three gold winners, Bon Courage for their red and white muscadels, both 2008 vintage while Montagu Wine & Spirits’s white muscadel made the third.

Cellars from the Breedekloof valley collected five golds: these were Du Toitskloof for red muscadel and henepoot jerepigo 2014, Slanghoek for two red muscadels and their 2017 hanepoot jerepigo. De Wet cellar from the Worcester wine and olive route was awarded gold for their white muscadel 2017. Looking north, Orange River Cellars attracted gold for their white muscadel 2017 and hanepoot 2017.

The wines were tasted blind by the judges who also went on to assess the uniqueness of the packaging for final points.

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Mont Blois and Badsberg were the  only winners of platinum for their muscadels.

 

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