Anwilka Redux

The high-profile collaboration between Klein Constantia’s Jooste and Bruno Prats and de Bouard – Anwilka – saw its second vintage release last Friday night. It was a very missable affair, unfortunately, stiff with Bordeaux negotiants. Which was also the reason that they were launching the 2006 already, it’s the en primeur concept. So, not having great experience with tasting wines that are far too young, all I can say is that it is a serious wine, while not being overly-laboured with oak.

A group of us escaped to dinner. Pastis in Constantia, which used to be reasonable and is now a comedy of slow service and average food: “We don’t serve the mussels anymore. Too many people were getting sick and dying.” I was tempted to ask whether these unfortunate diners got to their cars or died in their seats.

Pity, since the location is superb and the outside courtyard a winner. Our saviour came in the form of the Cape Point Isliedh 2005 which was well priced. It’s a subtle wine, keeps coming at you but with a whispering insistence. Delicately wooded, fresh and tangy.

Russian roulette

I’ve been told it’s a Russian thing. From the red carpet with its classical ensemble and roses where vintage Dom Perignon flowed to the bountiful glasses of some of the world’s great wines – there was a palpable tang of excess in the air. This was wine bling, there was as much as you desired, and the next incredible wine arriving even before you’d had the chance to really get to know the last. This was the launch of Haskell Vineyards, a new winery on the Annandale Road in Stellenbosch.

In the spirit of the day, here are the wines we were poured: Continue reading “Russian roulette”

Optimal ripeness

“Optimal ripeness is an extremely relative term”. How much truth is not contained in these words from Chris Mullineux? I’ve written about this before, and it’s very refreshing to get some honesty from a winemaker, not the sense that “optimal ripeness” is some clear point of a graph. In fact, it is subjective, and Chris harvesting on taste is a welcome change from the dreaded “physiological ripeness” chimera.

Malcolm Gluck’s Brave New World

Malcolm Gluck is best known as the wine critic behind the UK’s “Superplonk” a guide to the cheaper wines on the market. Now he’s in the process of re-inventing himself as a broader wine commentator, with a special interest in debunking certain “myths” (as he puts it) and, in Malcolm Gluck’s Brave New World, celebrating the New World wines of Australia, California, New Zealand and South Africa.

What of other new areas in the wine world like South America? They don’t fit into a very curious theory he espouses – that it is in English-speaking countries that true innovation occurs. “People who speak English … are … like the language itself, open to ideas… and sceptical of hard and fast rules.” Which is clearly an illogical proposition at best, at worst outright xenophobic. Continue reading “Malcolm Gluck’s Brave New World”

Not Bowled over

24.com 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.

Hugh

Busy reading Hugh Johnson’s A Life Uncorked and it has so far sparked two thoughts. The first is that it remains a challenge to write about wine or wine-life without sounding like a prat, which he strays into (between entertaining rambles through wine country) when he lists famous-wines-I-have-drunk (and-who-with). Very clubby.

The second and more positive is a sudden urge to drink more chablis – Johnson evokes a stony refreshness in a gradually revealing wine that appeals to my sense of good stuff. For this reason I look forward to a launch I’m attending on Thursday of the “new” L’Avenir, now under the ownership of Chablis-maestro Michel Laroche.

I did drink some chablis last week at the surreal and bling-laden launch of Haskell vineyards, but a fuller report on this coming soon. In the meanwhile, if you are in the mood to debate the ethics of wine journalism, its subjectivity and the use of critics, check this out (thanks to Pieter de Waal for pointing me there).

The theatre of food and wine

Last week had me singing for my supper again as a presenter of wine at a food and wine evening. Ideally, you know what the food is going to taste like through a preceding session with the chef, but this is not always possible – and to be honest not all chefs seem to think it necessary, overly-confident of their powers against the capricious nature of wine.

Problem is when the food doesn’t go with the wine… and you are standing there caught between telling it like it is and turning it into a chance to discuss the principles of matching; or pretending everything is just swell – in fact the most perfect match ever, (which is regrettably what you hear at most of these affairs).

Food and wine matching is something of a parlour game, a pastime of our BBC Food age. “Eat what you like and drink by the same rule” is a principle to ward off the anti-snob brigade. At the same time there are better and worse pairings, and when you are asked to present a table you assume that the people want to know a bit more about this pastime, and you engage – turning it into a chance to bring wine to life in its most ideal setting, the social table.

So this time the food and wine were, after all, well matched, and I could be truthful without having to choose my words diplomatically.

Harvest at Luddite

As I moved through the rows of shiraz, clipping bunches and lugging the crates about on a wintry Sunday, I had ample time to have a close look at the variety and individuality of the grapes that end up as wine. All the fancy bottles and pretty or not labels, and all the variation that wine offers begins with plants in a row, dangling perfect and not so perfect bunches of grapes.

Luddite is only one wine, a shiraz. It is a powerful wine, but at the same time it remains pure-fruited and balanced – and above all inviting the next mouthful. Walking through the rows of grapes in 2007 that will be released as wine in 2009, it’s amazing to see the variation in the quantity and state of the bunches: from the ends of the rows where the wind eats at them, to the sheltered middle, to the patches where the soil offers more or less nurture. Continue reading “Harvest at Luddite”

Up close

Five hours of my day spent picking grapes today – one of the few day that I “honestly” get involved in the wine business, in the strange way that we seem to value physical labour above all else in our society.

Five hours picking grapes is a good workout, another way to look at it. It allows you to have the lamb and Luddite shiraz by the tumbler afterwards with a sense of great satisfaction. It was Niels and Penny Verburg’s shiraz that we picked, in weather that was more European than South African, cool, with intermittent showers.

What you see up close are the details that seem to mean a great deal, but often swept up in the cliches of wine marketing. The slope of the hill and the way the grapes look different here, on this end, than they do on the other. The ends, with their wind-bitten paucity of bunches, and the middle, where the bunches hang resplendent. The bottom of the block, planted to another clone, where the bunches are thicker even, though the leaves are light on the plant. The families picking together.

And what I like, even though any talk of vintage and place-specific wines is washed away in the everyday and over-used banalities that producers use: that the block is unirrigated, so the vines have to react to the season as natural plants do, unaided by a refreshing drenching. The old fashioned way.

But then again, it is Luddite Syrah.

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.

Chenin Shake-down

The judges of the 2007 FNB Private Clients Wine Magazine Chenin Blanc Challenge (or FNBPCWMCBC) encountered an interesting dilemma. The dilemma was born out of the fact that, of the 125 entries, there were so many good wines that the final eight had to be separated into winners and near winners by the judges scoring these from one to eight in order of personal preference. Continue reading “Chenin Shake-down”

Invisible dangers

On Sunday morning I went surfing with a slight hangover. It’s not something I do too often these days, with wine so much a part of my life I tend to be careful with my consumption – but the significance of Sunday (and cause of my surprise) was that I had only consumed a half bottle of sauvignon blanc, with food, the night before.

As I sat in the chilly waters and the occasional wipe-out cleared my head, I began to suspect sulphur as the culprit, not alcohol. My headache had set in on Sunday night already and persisted in the night, so it wasn’t like the morning after ache. Some reading into sulphur additions in wine led to the interesting observation that wines of a lower pH, in other words the more acidic ones (like sauvignon) tend to show their free sulphur more explicitly and the side effects are more noticeable. I checked my wine on their website and it claims a free sulphur of 40mg per litre which is well within the allowable limit of up to 150. But apparently individuals who are sensitive can have adverse reactions at around 45mg… could this be me? A serious handicap indeed.

The wine’s identity shall remain secret, since sulphur use is standard it would be unfair to single it out. As for my relationship with it, I have to admit there has been a blow.

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.

Hamilton Russell Ashbourne 2004

The remarkable is generally found in the edges. It’s also so much easier to stand out on the edges, where the competition is less slavering. The edge doesn’t mean that everyone will like what you do, but it is very likely that they will notice it.

My very first wine launch for the year was a pinotage gig. Hamilton Russell, who usually launch their new vintage chardonnay in early January, this year kicked the calendar off with the new 2004 Ashbourne, a wine that is pinotage but doesn’t use its genetics as a selling point. Presented in a handsome, heavy bottle, the label a clear allusion to France, Ashbourne presents itself as, simply, a serious wine. Continue reading “Hamilton Russell Ashbourne 2004”