From Rustic to Refined

Two diametrically opposed food and wine tasting events so far this month. First off to Stellenbosch Hills for a biltong and Merlot matching competition. One wine (the meaty 2006 Stellenbosch Hills Merlot) and 28 biltongs tasted blind (natch). Then off to Bot River for a food and wine dialogue at the über-bling Première restaurant of the Arabella Western Cape Hotel & Spa with seared scallops in a foie gras foam matched with a Newton Johnson Chardonnay 2006 and confit leg of duck with saffron buttered apple up against the Blaauwklippen Zinfandel 2005.

 From Rustic to Refined

Tasting 28 biltongs is no walk in the park as the more attractive on the palate (gobs of greasy fat) the harder on the liver. My personal best (which came second overall) was accompanied by a rather blood-thirsty tasting note: “the biltong is that of organic Springbok meat, originating from peaceful herds of animals from the Richmond region. Killed with one shot to the head, the Springbok were disemboweled and the carcasses hung in cold storage for 24 hours to allow excess moisture to be removed naturally.” Not for Bambi-huggers or vegetarians, clearly.

Terroir was an important factor. As entrant 25 noted “the winemaker gets grapes from the vines to make different wines. On the farm of this Karoo farmer there are [sic] a big variety of Karoo bushes which adds unique flavour to the meat of Springbok. Black berries and plum flavours with this ‘Skaapbos’ complement each other perfectly.”

Entry #9 (in third place overall) is described by its makers as “like a good woman, memorable, but not in your face.” Politically correct this one was not.

The Bot River Dialogue saw two wineries – Blaauwklippen from Stellenbosch and Newton Johnson from Hermanus – match pairs of wines against a classic five course meal composed by Arabella chef Warwick Taylor. (Coincidentally Warwick’s Mike Ratcliffe was also at the hotel on a Young President’s Weekend and denied once again that family farm Warwick has been sold to Champagne Indage, the Indian wine group).

A real eye-opener was the Blaauwklippen White Landau 2008, a 60:20:20 blend of Chenin, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. Winemaker Rolf Zeitvogel makes the point that for him, Viognier is the Riesling equivalent for South Africa providing excitement and elegance in a blend. At a R30 farm price, it is certainly a bargain and paired with the tomato basil consommé was a match made in foodie heaven.

Gordon Newton-Johnson’s Chardonnay 2006, made from Kaaimansgat grapes just outside Villiersdorp, has a nose of crushed seashells and a fine mineral character and was a gracious date for two seared scallops under a foie gras foam blanket.

Rolf’s signature Zinfandel 2005 was all prune and dates on the nose and a sympathetic accompaniment to the roasted breast and confit leg of a duck while his unexpected Noble Late Harvest Malbec 2007 was like Port-lite: sweet and intensely fruited and great with the brown bread ice cream.

The Arabella event was the first of a monthly food and wine evening the resort plans to host until April 2009. With such luminaries as Hamilton Russell, Hermanuspietersfontein and Fleur du Cap (busy sweeping the boards at Veritas in Cape Town while we were sweeping our plates) penciled-in, these Dialogues look set to become very grand Symposia indeed.