Friday, October 5, 2012

South African Wine Dinner at the Cullinan Hotel

(Sept. 22) – The evening I arrived in Capetown we were invited to a wine tasting hosted by the Cape Wine Masters. Conveniently it was held in the Cullinan Hotel, so our group of around twenty MW’s just had to take the elevator to the mezzanine level where the tasting of 62 wines from across South Africa was set up. The regions included: Paarl, Elim, Klein Karoo, Robertson, Hemel & Aarde, Durbanville, and Swartland. My favorite wines of the evening included:

- South African sparkling wines, especially the Monroe 2007 Cap Classique and Simonsig 2007 Blanc de Blanc
- All of the pinot noirs from Hemel & Aarde (which means Heaven and Earth and is part of the Walker Bay Area). My favorite was the Hamilton Russel 2010 Pinot Noir
- Most of the Chenin blancs – especially the bone dry ones. A favorite was 2011 Boland Kelder Reserve No. 1 Chenin Blanc from the Paarl area
- A few of the syrahs – I have a tendency to like the dark, brooding syrahs with a hint of tar and earth. A good one was the 2010 Mullineux Family Syrah from Swartland
- Ports and Brandies – South Africa is known for this category, and in fact has won best brandy in the world for the past 5 years. My favorite here was the 1995 Bopplaas Family Vineyards Cape Tawny

Unique Style of South African Sauvignon Blanc – Grass & Jalapeno

The biggest surprise of the tasting for me were the sauvignon blancs, which were very green and herbal. When I asked about this, I was told it was the preferred style in South Africa. The wines are extremely lean, acidic and taste like jalapeno or roasted green chili mixed with green grass. To achieve this they grown them in very cold areas – even cooler than their chardonnays. Sauvignon blanc is one of my favorite whites, but this is a style that is an acquired taste. There was none of the nice kiwi and gooseberry you find in New Zealand, or the grapefruit and pineapple I love in California and Bordeaux savvys. Instead I was told that these flavors were frowned upon in South Africa.

Excellent South African Wine Dinner – With Stewed Water Lilies and Cape Gooseberries

The food was incredible and beautifully served by the hotel staff, with the wine pairings overseen by the very charming, Miguel Chan, Certified Sommelier with the Sun Tsogo Hotel Chain. The first course was a Butternut and Parmesan Cheese Soup with Oxtail Ravioli. It was rich, creamy, fattening and incredibly delicious paired with a Walker Bay pinot noir. Next was a Franschhoek Salmon Trout Gravadlax with Waldorf and Dill Salad with Beetroot Dressing. I had this with some of the excellent South African sparkling wine.

The main course was Braised Lamb Shoulder in Red Wine with Stewed Waterblommetjies, Buttered Mash Potatoes, Green Beans and Confit Garlic. This was paired with some of the Cabernet Sauvignons/Blends, with the rich lamb muting out the green notes in the cab. I was especially intrigued with the waterblommetijies, which are a type of water lilly, that remind me of an artichoke (see photo).

Dessert was Warm Cape Milk Tart, Cape Gooseberry Sherbet Ice Cream and Sticky Toffee Sauce. This was very decadent especially because it was paired with a Cape Tawny. I need to mention that the Cape Gooseberry is a different variety than the regular European gooseberry. This one is orange with stone fruit, ginger and citrus flavors. It is very tart, and I was told to buy a jam made from it before I leave the country.

All in all, a very enjoyable dinner and a great way to celebrate my first night in South Africa. I was especially impressed with the warmth, hospitality, and collegiality apparent between all of the South African wineries and Cape Masters present. I learned that “Cape Wine Masters” are South African wine experts who have completed a two-year study program and passed a rigorous exam slightly more difficult that then Diploma level of the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust).

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Corey Glenn said...

What I like about the wines from South Africa is that they have so much variety. I think this is influenced by the country’s wide range of macroclimate. The country also has a long history of wine production, which makes their wines of top quality. I’m particularly amazed with the Ataraxia Chardonnay, which has a fruitful flavor combined with a creamy taste. It’s one of the best wines I’ve tasted. :)

Corey Glenn