Diemersdal wines

Perhaps I am spoilt by all the splendour of the Cape winelands (in fact I have no doubt I am) but these days a winery must have something extra to strike me as truly beautiful. As precociously attractive as many of the new wineries are, and as obviously scenic as sweeping vineyards are, there is little that can replace the harmony of history.
Diemersdal is a case in point. Continue reading “Diemersdal wines”

World’s 1st wine & biodiversity route

Not just launched, but website just up, is the Green Mountain Eco-route – the world’s first wine and biodiversity route. What does this mean? Simply that wine and food exploration are linked to eco-activities like hiking, biking, birding and general fun in the mountain. There is also a sustainability and preservation angle, and a jobs angle. What’s fun about it for me is that this is where I now live, in the curious town of Bot River, part of the route. Here, the wines of Beaumont are the vins de table, and the Bot River Hotel has great music on weekends and an eccentric restaurant.

Red wine not blood

Again tonight reminded of the fact that we so often drink our wines far too warm – not so much the whites which come in the standard ice buckets – but the reds, which are served from the shelf. Hopefully this shelf is not above the griller (though this is known), but even so, with daytime temperatures of over 35 degrees centigrade this (and every summer), a red wine is well above optimal drinking temperature. “Room” temperature is 16-18 degrees, not 25 plus! So ice bucket your reds, even if the staff think you’re eccentric.

Real estate and names

Now living in a wine growing part of the Walker Bay, there are moves afoot to splinter this region into smaller wards. The Hemel en Aarde Valley, home to illustrious wineries like Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson, have petitioned and tramped on a few toes to demarcate their valley as a separate ward. Meanwhile, where I stay, the Bot River Valley, there are ideas to form a ward for this area. In the meanwhile, it strikes me, the best known (if any can be considered well known) is Walker Bay – so why not trade on that? Any comments from those not immediately in the wine scene? Which of the names have currency?

BYO at restaurants

I am a fan of BYO. Restaurateurs don’t like it because they make exorbitant mark-ups on wine and booze in general. But the truth is that it is only in cities that are close to wine regions that this is even considered normal. So perhaps we should think of it as a privilege? How much are you willing to pay for this privilege? I say R25 is fine, even R30 – that way everyone should be happy. The restaurant is paying for its “washing” and “stemware” costs (even though places that bleat tend not to have decent glasses, never mind a useful wine list). A place that is not obviously using wine as an easy cash-cow will more often encourage me to order from the list too… It always sparks debate, like this conversation on Vinography.

The thrill of the new

We are thrill-seeking eaters. As our foods become more and more saturated
with fats, sugars and salts (which mask “true” flavours) we need more and
more flavour enhancers or flavour substitutes. We have all experienced the
black pepper-wielding waitress, we accept the offer – but does the food need
it? Or does our palate need the spike? Same with salt, with chilli sauce (or
Tabasco on oysters), wasabi, mustard sauce, dressings. Our plates are now
accustomed to more and more salt, sugar, fat; these mask the original
flavour of ingredients. Saturation also masks distinctions of subtlety and
difference. What is the real flavour of vanilla? Do you remember it? Or,
more likely, you know vanilla as that sweet extract that goes into “vanilla”
cake and ice-cream.
Why also do restaurants have to continually change their menus? A good dish
should be enjoyed over and over, like the sound of a favourite piece of
music, it changes according to your knowledge and your mood, and there are
subtle changes according to the particular ingredients’ variation. But we
always want something new.
Along the way, we also seem to have forsaken the taste of bitterness – the
unsweetened coffee, the dry tannin of a classic red wine. We prefer our
coffee with milk foam and sugar, our wine with residual sugar and lashings
of new (sweet-tasting) oak – all this reduces bitterness. But bitterness
adds complexity to the palate, though it is an acquired taste. Our palates
are in too much of a hurry, the quick fix is in order. And yet we miss
something and replace it with more, and more.

Green wines?

Jamie Goode has written about “greenness” in South African wines recently. This is a perceived quality that was often used by international commentators to describe unripe harvesting of grapes, resulting in wines that were not “optimally” ripe in flavour and structure. There may an obvious reason for this, in that the vines in question were often virus-infected (as his blog describes) and the grapes never ripen properly, hence a “green” or under-ripe tinge to them. But the scientists are still working on it all and in the meanwhile the danger is that we have pushed for “optimal ripeness” and over-reached ourselves with over-ripe, very alcoholic wines. Goode does not like the greenness and describes it as a fault – and if it’s due to virus it is a problem. But perhaps there are other roots to a “vegetative” flavour, and the term is hard for the average taster to relate to… This is just the beginning to this debate, I am being general – any debaters?

Eating and subjectivity

You’ve been looking forward to this restaurant for weeks, you’ve heard all about it and good things too – but the day you sit at the restaurant is the day someone rear-ended your car. Or you come to the meal after an excessive night out. We often overlook just how much our mood affects our food and wine experience – but maybe even more: how it affects your choice… you may be more likely to choose fresh and bright flavours when you are tired, when spice will pep you up. In a quiet mood, you may want to explore the subtleties of a classic, understated dish.

Tenderness before taste

The modern palate loves soft meat. We value fillet above any other cut for its melt-in-the-mouth quality, never mind the fact that it is the meat with the least flavour. So what’s the obvious solution a profit loving supplier reaches? Tenderise your other cuts. The problem then is, with the synthetic additions to meats to tenderise it, that people become accustomed to this and they demand all meat to be tender. Tenderness is more important than taste. So what is a steakhouse to do? It wants to serve tender and tasty meats – so it slaps on copious amounts of house-style basting sauce to hide the basic quality of the meat. When last did you ask for a properly naked piece of meat at your steakhouse? Try some rump with some sirloin – can you taste the difference?

Water in your meat?

Notice how much your chicken shrinks when you roast it? Or how meat is packed with a flat sponge-like paper beneath it? That’s due to the water that most meats these days exude – and they push out water because water has been injected into them. Added water mass is an easy way for mass meats to be heavier and cost more. The cut also looks more promising, it looks as if it should feed quite a few people – but then your chicken to feed a family leaves the family hungry. Bulk butchers argue that this added water is a way to prevent the home cook (a clumsy individual) from drying the meat out, (see this account of the uk), and not to make money off us… but I would rather have more meat and less overpriced water. All this adds weight, to use the obvious pun, to the use of free-range meats. They may cost a little more, but you are probably getting more meat for your money.
The proper way to mature beef, for example, is to hang it for a number of days. It air-dries and a black skin forms, while the meat softens and develops flavour. As it dries, it shrinks (and loss of bulk means loss of money) and then a good butcher cuts the black meat away – this is dressing the meat – another loss of bulk. The result, however, is properly tasty meat. A quick water injection earlier on means the bulk loss over the course of such ageing is lessened, but so is the gain in flavour.

Iona in Elgin

What is more important to the quality of wine: ideal soils or ideal weather? In a perfect world, you’d have both, but let’s pretend this does not exist (contrary to the PR of most wineries).
Andrew Gunn, proprietor of Iona, contends that ideal weather is the key. Continue reading “Iona in Elgin”

Music puts smoke in your eyes

You would think that the choice of your music during the barbeque is as eclectic as at any other time, but in South Africa a dedicated “Braai Collection” has been launched with a string of dead-ordinary, sing-along pop songs and chest-pounding macho anthems. That the atavism of searing your meat on the fire is blatantly paired to such basic music gives you some insight into the strange tribe that the white South African is.

Sear your beef but cook your lamb

Regarding the cuts we put on the barbeque (or braai as it is known here): more often than not the lamb is a fattier meat than the beef and the fat is marbled into the meat. While certainly not true of every cut of beef (some are fatty too) most of the beef we braai has its fat separate. In order to allow the flavour of the lamb, which is naturally rather neutral, to develop, you need to cook the meat well and slowly – as opposed to the flash, high-heat grilling that works best for beef. Cooked too far, beef loses flavour, but the opposite is true of lamb, it develops flavour through a slow heat that lets the fats dissolve into the meat.