It’s a bit of a “watch this space” – the re-launch of wine estate Delaire – but I was reminded of the winery again because SABC3 are rebroadcasting their mini-series on the life of mining legend Barney Barnato. Diamonds have been the vector in a number of rags-to-riches life stories (as they have unfortunately caused worlds of pain) and the more notable the diamond, the bigger the story. The new owner of Delaire, Laurence Graff, is known as the King of Diamonds, so this is one big story.
Graff began as a teenage apprentice in a London diamond workshop and wheeled and dealed his way to the top. He now sells rocks to the likes of Oprah Winfrey and David and Victoria Beckham, along with your usual Saudi prince or two, who buy them like candy. Much of his business is done on private yachts and cities like Monte Carlo and Cannes. He’s the kind of guy that understands the world that James Bond inhabits.

So when he bought this piece of Helshoogte real estate, you knew there would be action and that the action would be worth a look. It’s a corner of the Cape with some pedigree. Thelema and Tokara are immediate neighbours, and Zorgvliet is another rich man’s plaything with a state-of-the-art cellar. Today there’s a lot going on at Delaire, from a total revamp of the cellar and vineyards to the building of a luxury hotel and restaurant. It’s a building site at the moment, but there are no flies on this project. Chris Kelly has been appointed as winemaker, and he’s been told in no uncertain terms that his goal is to make a wine that ranks among the world’s best. Kelly has settled on a very ambitious time-frame of ten years to achieve this.

One expects the new Delaire range to be frightfully expensive. Kelly, who was one of the first Cape winemakers to explore the idea of the flagship white blend with the Kumkani VVS (Viognier, Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc) will be heartened by the range of whites he has on the farm – and the prices that flagship white wines are being put into the market at these days. For example, Steenberg have just launched their Magna Carta at R395. Steenberg is backed by the deep pockets of mining magnate Graham Beck, so taking these risks with the market is mitigated. Delaire will be in much the same position to make a few statements, and word has it Graff is not shy to make a few.


The Perdeberg lies between Wellington and Riebeeck Kasteel, named after the zebras that used to roam here. Many of the vineyards are now of great age (in the Cape that’s 50+ years) because the small mixed agriculture farmers planted white varieties for distillation rebates and it so happened that these farmers never pulled these old vines out – while the rest of the Cape’s vineyards were rapidly replanted in the commercialisation that began in the 1990s. The combination of rare old vine stock and the Perdeberg’s naturally granitic soils has resulted in an area of undeniable excitement for a new wave of winemakers.

Leading the new wave with confident energy and now world-famous wines is Eben Sadie, who makes his Palladius white blend solely from Perdeberg grapes. A good portion of his red blend, Columella (the 2005 was the highest rated South Africa wine ever in US Wine Spectator magazine), also comes from these slopes. For Sadie, a good wine is assessed by its structure, not its obvious fruit. The Perdeberg vines, with their age, give him this structure in spades, and their granitic composition preserves the natural acidity of the grape – and natural acidity is far superior to added acidity for a wine’s balance.
The Palladius 2006 comes across as a beguilingly soft wine, but its lingering persistence and mineral heart give you an idea of what role provenance can play in making individualistic wine. It’s a solid wine without being at all hard, and its consistency in the palate is fantastic. Difficult to find, expect to pay around R349 in fine wine shops. If Palladius is unavailable, get hold of some of his Sequillo 2006 white (R165). Again a white blend from the same soils, this time lower on the slopes, the result is a more accessible style of wine.

Other wines to seek out are the Lammershoek Roulette 2005, a blend of Shiraz, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Viognier that packs a sophisticated punch and the Black Rock White 2006. The latter is made from old vines; it’s an intense blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and a little Viognier. On the reds, the Scali Syrah 2005 is herbal and lithe and even though it carries the structure of the area, this wine proves that Shiraz does not have to be fruit soup. Vondeling Baldrick Shiraz 2007 is a lightly wooded wine with an exuberantly spicy palate that’s fresh and delicious. If famous brands are your game, the David Frost Par Excellence 2003 is a modern wine of great intensity, still very much in its youth. Contact (021) 869 8655 or visit for more on these wines.

Changing the world

I like the way Michael Pollan writes. He brings it back home. The recent New York Times Magazine carries this piece by him, it discusses what individuals can do to help our mother earth along.

Country eating

You know the type: a country restaurant with all the Biggie Best-ish frills and the menu filled with salad and quiche. Well I am pleased to tell you about Madré’s in Stanford. It does have the salads and the quiches, but it also has lunch specials that are well above the usual cut. I lunched there yesterday and had a pea and bacon soup that was as thick as porridge and delicious in its “pea-ness”. Followed by a risotto of pea (a phase) and mint with prawns. The prawns were probably the best restaurant prawn I’ve had, and the risotto was capable, and at R50 it was a bargain. The chocolate torte was fine, the coffee ok, making this a great all-rounder. Set on a working farm, the whole thing is rather charming, and there’s a pétanque piste right there.
Robert Stanford Estate on R43
Fri-Mon lunch.

Headache in the bottle

Perhaps it’s because its self-evident, but wine reporting hardly ever discusses the after-effects of indulgence. Of course, it’s clearly not in the interests of an industry that’s promoting the elegance and enhanced life style of wine consumption to focus on the deleterious side of the noble liquid. Usually, this “dark side” relates to alcohol, that sly old joker in the pack.

Alcohol gives, for a while, and then it takes away, for a much longer while. But its dangers are well-known, and people habitually play with its fire – we’ve been drinking alcoholic beverages of some description for millennia. But there are other perils, some of them potentially new, in wine.

Over the summer season, I tend to drink more white wines and especially the fresh whites like Sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc and blended whites. On more than one occasion, after having had a half bottle of a fresh white, I wake up the next morning with a sore head and the irritation that the dull ache is a gross mismatch to the relatively moderate amount of wine consumed.
Some white wines do it; others don’t, so clearly some have been made in a way that affronts my system, while others haven’t. First off, it’s notable that this is a problem with fresh, unwooded and newly-released wines, not in wood-matured wines. Since I know that all wines get a sulphur dose prior to bottling, which dose is then absorbed in the wine over time, my first suspicion would be the levels of sulphur in the wines, which can vary significantly.

Sulphur has been used in wine-making for centuries, all the way back to the Romans. It’s a preservative, an anti-oxidant, preventing oxygen from robbing the wine’s flavours. I have never been a sulphur alarmist. I know that products that are high in sulphur can be terrible for asthmatics, but I also know that wine is much lower in sulphur than fruit juices or dried fruit, and no-one talks of a prune headache. Studies show that less than one percent of people actually have a physical intolerance to sulphur.
So that’s probably not it. Another suggestion made to me by a winemaker is that the cause is the histamine level in some wines. As he explained, when the flavours of white wines are “artificially” enhanced through processes like reverse osmosis (yes, it happens here in our wine lands), the histamine levels spike and can cause nasty allergic side effects.

I now think I should keep a diary of offenders. Wouldn’t it be interesting to collate hundreds of drinker’s lists and see whether common culprits begin to emerge?

*There’s a fascinating evening planned at Aubergine restaurant on 9th February. The wines of Loosen, Niepoort and Sadie with a 7 course dinner. Contact [email protected] for more.

Wine lists at restaurants

It’s interesting how often wine lists in restaurants give the lie to the suggestions of quality that the eateries are trying to convince you of. Money spent on fine fittings, enormous rentals to hold beautiful positions, a menu that boasts fresh this and the best that – and a wine list that is not only founded utterly on commercial wines but usually littered with errors in spelling. Continue reading “Wine lists at restaurants”

Up the Garden Path

Travelling the Cape’s magnificent garden route to visit some restaurants for my guide. Along the way, have come across a few good ones that happen to be in guest houses. There is a trend for upmarket guest houses to bring a “name” chef in and to create a semi-stand alone restaurant, but I am not convinced that this always translates into a success for the outside visitor.

At Daniela’s on Leisure Isle, Knysna, for example, a place that is highly regarded by foodies, the lunch visit was not one that I would rush to repeat. The deck and views were great, but there was no-one else there. Wait, the guys fixing the roof were there, and so were the guys delivering the umbrellas. The chef rushed off, and the front of house was vague.

Dinner is when it happens, I guess, and this is the nub of the problem: places like this don’t feel the need to be “switched-on” all the time. They have other concerns, like the rooms, and the restaurant is always ancillary. A restaurant, on the other hand, needs to be the constant fly-trap – if you are open, you need to allure. You can be open and vague, but you certainly won’t last.

So I am thinking of dropping these “in-house” restaurants from the guide. Of course, there is always space for a restaurant that happens to have rooms… but there are few of these in the Cape, or South Africa. It’s more a European thing.

Not Bowled over recently ran a very complimentary review of Bowl in the new Adderley Hotel downtown. Lunch there today told a somewhat different story.

The food is not without interest, but it’s clumsy. The sushi platter stumbled on poor glutinous sweet rice, while the mains lacked flavour. I had some (very average) butternut ravioli which was supposed to be “tossed” in okra which there was no sign of, my brother did better with some (tender) pork on an Asian noodle nest. This noodle swirl added little taste to the dish, but the pork was great and meltingly tender. Dessert, an alleged whisky creme brulee (‘scuse the missing accents), was poor, more a custard pie.

The service was good but strangely coy, as if I was complimenting them on their fabulous breasts. The wine list is a triumph, however, of simplicity and good picks, at reasonable mark-ups.

That sinking feeling

In a recent post I talked about a fish course on the menu that involved a fish that is on the endangered list. A reader then alerted me to this site where the fish populations are discussed and you can get specific info about certain species on the database.

In conversation with people involved in marine work, it seems that fish stocks are generally very threatened and there’s the feeling that the next generation may not know the fillets of “line fish” that we enjoy, and only eat farmed fish. We should also be eating more of the small and quickly reproducing species (like sardine and anchovy) instead of those fish higher on the food chain. The current rage for sushi, for example, must be sending tuna to an early exit from the oceans.

There used to be a cookbook locally called “Free from the Sea” – but the sea is not an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Where’s the syringe?

Last week I ate at a restaurant called Momo that’s in my guide and has changed owners, so needed updating. It has stayed the same in look and the menu is also unchanged, upon enquiring, it turns out that the chef has stayed on.

As a Belgian toned place, steak and frites appears on the menu and a number of tables ordered it – as did I. Never mind that the specifically skinny nature of a frite was unknown to the establishment (more importantly the fries weren’t great), it was the nature of the slab of unidentified protein on my plate that was the most disconcerting.

Uniform in shape, a block with a strip of fat, this “220g sirloin” had a slightly scorched, ruddy brown look with no griddle marks. In texture it was spongy, and though very tender, it didn’t have any discernable meat fibre. It tasted a little like kassler, with hints of chemical smoke. It was clearly awful, our dogs had to be cajoled to eat the bulk of it.

Any help? My guess is that this is bulk imported beef that has been chemically tenderised and water injected, probably packaged to perfect grammage.

All hail caesar

An amusing account of the rise in importance of the chef in NYC, due in no small part to that country USA (though I can see the trend here too), the power of television, and everybody’s new-found biggest hobby: food.

It is interesting to reflect that it wasn’t too long ago when the chef was a mere artisan, pretty much illiterate, who had to get a famous nobleman to pen his ideas and recipes. Now food is theatre, and we, apparently ever more knowledgeable about it, need the chef to be bigger – so that he remains the leader and higher in the chain.