The pickle of beetroot and wine

It is still beetroot season in the winelands and day after day the most glorious bright bulbs are making their way from the garden to the kitchen in the chef’s basket.
Chef Michelle Theron with her basket of freshly picked vegetables
True to our traditional affinity for combining sweet and sour tastes,  in South Africa, beetroot is generally pickled in a sugar and vinegar dressing and served as a refreshing salad.
According to the research of our Cape Winelands Cuisine cookbook and a recipe from an eighteenth-century Cape cookbook, beetroot used to have a bit more kick in the old days. Horseradish was a popular ingredient and a recipe for pickled beetroot includes horseradish and ginger. (See recipe below)
In Pierneef à La Motte Restaurant, Chef Michelle Theron with her canny ability to turn every plate into a piece of art, enjoys using the intense colour of beetroot. With the bounty of fresh vegetables from the estate’s gardens, one of the winter menu favourites is a starter called Textures of Beetroot, combining fresh, pickled and roasted beetroot with a double baked goat’s cheese soufflé.
Textures of beetroot – fresh, pickled and roasted with double-baked goat’s cheese souffle – served with the 2011 La Motte Syrah
The inherent flavours of beetroot being earthy and slightly sweet, it is rarely served as is, but usually either pickled in vinegar and sugar, prepared with the strong flavours of horseradish and ginger, caramelised with other root vegetables or served as a pickle with bread and cheese or as a side to dishes such as a goat’s cheese soufflé. Now that makes wine pairing with the humble beet a bit more challenging!
So what does the experts say?
Shortlisted as one of the International Wine and Spirit Competition’s best bloggers for 2014 for her blog Matching Food and Wine, renowned food and wine journalist, Fiona Beckett has addressed the issue of matching beetroot and wine several times:

She enjoyed a beetroot soup with the matching earthy flavours of Pinot Noir,
Recommended it with Merlot: “Good Merlot accompaniments for main dishes are caramelised roast veggies especially those with a touch of sweetness, such as roast squash, red peppers and beets …”,
Surprised herself with beetroot and Malbec: “But the rich earthiness of the beetroot – always a good bridge to a red wine – and the spicy kick of the horseradish made the pairing a surprising success”,
Chose a combination of beetroot with burrato (a richer version of mozzarella) and pea-shoots dressed with rapeseed oil and paired with a crisp Albarino from Spain as her Match of the Week. What made the combination work, is that the wine had the intensity to handle the beetroot and horseradish while being a refreshing contrast to both.

What does La Motte Cellarmaster, Edmund Terblanche recommend with the Textures of beetroot and double baked goat’s cheese soufflé served on the estate? His first choice, the award-winning 2011 La Motte Syrah. Probably a controversial choice though, given the goat’s milk cheese soufflé on the plate. Made in an old-world style, the Syrah’s elegant freshness and finesse actually complements the soufflé while its mulberry fruit and savoury spiciness ensure a delightful combination with the various styles of beetroot.
Given a second choice, the recommendation would be the 2013 Pierneef Sauvignon Blanc. Here the classic pairing would be the Goat’s Milk Cheese and Sauvignon Blanc (also see our recent blog on cheese and wine). This particular Sauvignon Blanc does however have enough complexity, intensity and an interesting minerality to make it a lovely partner to the beetroot as well.
Try this recipe for Pickled beetroot from our Cape Winelands Cuisine cookbook (page 171), use our suggestions above and try to find your ideal wine partner. Let us know what worked for you!
(Also remember – beetroot is really good for your health! Read more on
Pickled beetroot recipe
Serves 10 – 12
2 star anise
3 whole cloves
2 whole allspice
2 ½cups (625 ml) vinegar
3 cups (750 ml) sugar
¼ tsp (1 ml) peeled and chopped fresh root ginger, or to taste
¼ tsp (1 ml) peeled and chopped fresh horseradish, or to taste
5 bunches medium beetroot, cooked until just tender and peeled while still warm
Place all the spices in a muslin bag and secure with a piece of string.
Heat the spices with the vinegar, sugar, ginger and horseradish in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil.
Add the cubed, sliced or grated beetroot (your preference) and heat until boiling.
Remove the spice bag and squeeze all the liquid from it. Pour the pickle into sterilised jars or into an airtight container and refrigerate.
Serve with freshly baked bread and goat’s milk cheese or Gruyère.
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