Wine-tasting is hard work. Not only does the physical exertion of repeated lifting of a wine glass burn copious amounts of calories, but the splashing of wine into the stomach leads to the stimulation of stomach juices and the sharpening of appetite.
My regular visits to the Paul Cluver Wine Estate, a habitual favourite, have therefore led to the kind of hunger pangs associated with Arctic explorers and bulimic Hollywood actress types. Post-wine tasting relief in this neck of the woods would normally,only be found with Houwhoek’s legendary curry pies, and a lot of the time I doubted if I’d make it that far without passing out in an empty, hungry heap.
Showing admirable foresight and humane consideration, the Cluvers recently decided to open an eatery. On the farm, across the lawn from the Estate’s tasting venue, one now finds Fresh, run by a well-known purveyor of all things freshness – Joan Lancefield.
I would not go as far as to call Fresh a restaurant. It is the quintessential country kitchen with patrons literally eating next to the area where the pottering, chopping and cooking is going on. The atmosphere is just as relaxed as one would want it to be in this beautiful region of the Cape, with the fare being of the from-farm-to-kitchen variety.
Open from morning until late afternoon, Fresh offers breakfast, all-day staples such as croque monsieur and gourmet hamburgers as well as quite an extensive lunch menu.
For lunch one can start with soups such as pea and coriander or tomato and basil. There is smoked salmon, smoked chicken and Caesar salad, too. On the main side the eye falls on Thai Curry, the ubiquitous bobotie, Parmesan chicken and a couple of Pasta dishes.
After a strenuous morning’s tasting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the barrels with winemaker Andries Burger and Paul Cluver Jnr, I needed no invitation to try out Joan’s Fresh stuff.
We started out with a pear and Gorgonzola salad. All crisp, fresh and crunchy, the strong cheese offset the sweetness of the pear beautifully and the whole thing was a perfect accompaniment to the Paul Cluver Riesling, probably the best Riesling in the country.
Joan was on hand to inform me that where possible, herbs and vegetables are sourced from the Cluver garden or from as close as possible. Makes sense to me: the whole valley looks like a green salad, so there should be plenty of good stuff around.
Andries hauled out some Pinot Noir for the main course, including the epic Paul Cluver 7 Flags, the Estate’s flagship. With this kind of wine, a combination of poetic, dreamy lushness and sleek racing horse power, I hoped our hosts were going to bring a hearty dish to the party.
The beef medallions did not disappoint. Tender, flavoursome fillet covered in a port and red wine reduction. Potatoes gratin with just the right blend of silky cream-cheese moistness. The vegetables included fresh asparagus of the most wonderful emerald green. And my favourite: large, chunky fresh broad beans.
Yes, it was as good as it sounds. And asked my opinion I told my hosts that this was the kind of food I’d expect on a wine farm in Burgundy where the winemakers wife was a very competent cook. Tasty, nourishing and satisfying without being overbearing.
Desserts include fresh apple pie, Pavlova, fruit salad and ice cream, chocolate mousse and lemon meringue pie. Just like the rest of the meal, these all freshly prepared and the baking done in-house. And to round it off, well, that superb huge coffee machine standing on the shelf is used to great effect.
Starters range from R30 to R60, mains from R50 to R75 and desserts R30 to R40. Wines are available at cellar-door prices, and can be purchased by the bottle or the glass.
Apologies to Houwhoek, who from now are going to be seeing a lot less of me at the pie counter.