Food and wine should interact like a stimulating conversation, generating new thoughts and ideas which bounce back and forth with each sip and each mouthful.
But what is good wine and good food without good company? It can turn even the ordinary into a memorable and happy occasion.
Far from ordinary and certainly memorable and happy was the occasion of the second annual cook-off between Muratie, hosts this year and DuToitskloof wineries. I’m not entirely sure how these two got together (I believe it was one of those ‘late night’ ideas, so better not to delve too deeply!) but let’s ust say I’m glad they did.
This cook off is all about celebrating South Africa’s culinary heritage. A specific, traditional Cape dish is chosen, each winery then produces its own version and their respective winemakers select a wine to accompany the meal.
Last year at DuToitskloof, Waterblommetjie Bredie was on the menu and the honours went to that Breedekloof winery (as it took place at the height of Platter tastings, I unfortunately couldn’t attend). This year it was the turn of a Cape Malay Curry. It was informative to have guest, Cass Abrahams, well-known foodie and specialist in Cape Malay cuisine give her insights as to what makes an authentic Cape Malay curry, such as don’t fry the onions and layer the spices so each releases its own perfume; interesting new ideas to me.
Any dish with ‘curry’ in the title is notoriously difficult to pair with wine (beer is the usual default), so I was keen to find out which of their wines, Muratie’s Francois Conradie and DuToitskloof’s Shawn Thomson would select.
Thomson’s Beaukett 2013 is a blend of gewurztraminer, its extravagant aromatics toned down to a more subtle and interesting level by the gentler fragrance of muscat de frontignan; chenin adds its own je ne sais quoi and also gives the wine body. For those who walk past wines bearing ‘semi-sweet’ on the label, my advice on this one is ‘don’t’; it has such bright and well balanced acid that there’s very little sense of sweetness. It made a thoroughly enjoyable partner to Thomson’s talented wife, Elrine’s curried lamb shanks.
Conradie’s just off-dry Laurens Campher 2012 caters to the tastes of those who prefer something less fruity. It’s in the current popular genre of chenin-based white blends, here with sauvignon, verdelho and viognier, all fermented in 500 litre oak, mainly used. Unfortunately, as good as the blend sounds, for me it doesn’t have the richness or density of texture to match up to Kim Melck’s lamb knuckle curry. Kim, charming wife of owner, Rijk Melck went on to win the cook off by just three votes. Not that this event is about winning, more about celebrating South Africa’s great multi-cultural food heritage and the increasingly diverse wine styles to partner with them. It looks set to become an established annual event.
Although the cook off is limited to participants and a few media, it would be a great idea for groups of friends or wine clubs, combining learning and fun.
If you’re looking for wines to go with the less hot, more fragrant style of curry, I can happily recommend new vintages of Solms Delta Amalie, retailing at around R110 and Solms Astor Vastrap, good value at R50, both 2012. I’ve been a fan of the Solms & Astor wines since the first vintage, though for some reason they’ve proved a little divisive among the general wine drinking population. Hopefully the fan-base with grow with new winemaker, Hagen Viljoen on board; he completed his first vintage this year, so the wines Tim James, Ingrid Motteux and I tasted were blended but not made by him.
I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed on first taste of the Vastrap – perhaps the genie needed time to fly from its screwcapped bottle? But then the semillon is more of the unaromatic, waxy style but I did expect a bit more lift from its chenin partner. That said 12.5% alcohol is at yesteryear’s welcomingly moderate level but the wine still delivers a good deal of savoury substance. But what’s this – 24 hours later, the genie had indeed emerged from the bottle, leaving the wine with much more verve but not aggressive, and subtle fruity interest.
The initial dullness might have been a bit of reduction, but so often a newly opened, younger wine tastes just so much better the next day, that I’m wary of laying blame on the closure. It’s good value and will happily partner rather than kick into touch any number of dishes as well as curry.
There was no hidden genie in Amalie, who paraded the excitement of her viognier, grenache blanc and roussanne partners with much more purity – wild scrub, fragrant herbs – than previous vintages. (I’m amused to read on the fact sheet that the closure is described as ‘best quality cork’ – hopefully no TCA problems then!) Apparently Viljoen is aiming for this purer style rather than the more oxidative one of previous vintages, which I did also like. Only the viognier was barrel fermented, the other two were left on the lees in tank to retain freshness. Despite viognier’s lead role, this isn’t a loud, brashly aromatic wine, rather the one variety plays off the other, lending plenty of intrigue as one sips one’s way through.
Like Vastrap, it was even more enjoyable the second day, showing more substance and flesh, with no obvious sign of its few grams of sugar. There’s a lot of competition in this style and at this price level. I don’t say it stands head and shoulders above others, but for those who prefer fruit to oxidative styles and also would like to support this winery that has gone the right way about uplifting the lives of its workers and giving them a sense of belonging, it’ll be money well spent.
I was lucky enough to taste the first Solms Delta wines for Platter and was somewhat startled to find myself compelled to give the rosé, Lekkerwijn, four stars. The grenache noir, mourvèdre, viognier partnership has remained the same, as has older oak fermentation and maturation, though Viljoen has decreased the amount of oak in this 2012 (R67) again with the object of capturing a fruitier style. Sadly, even giving it every chance over several days, it never reached the levels I’ve so enjoyed in that maiden 2004.