Sucking my Raw Nerve with Etienne Bonthuys

It began with an oyster.........

Strange as it may sound, there was a time in South Africa when chefs were, well, just chefs. Nameless, faceless men and women who gallantly slaved away in restaurant and hotel kitchens, feeding patrons to whom only the content of the plate mattered. The Ch?+¦???+¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¬teaubriand (for two, of course) and Crayfish Thermidor could have been cooked by Hannibal Lecter or Marilyn Monroe, nobody would give a chicken liver.

A dining venue was judged on the food and the ambience and the mood created by the fulfilled feeling of being fed by others.

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From the Outside Looking In

As a partner to the South African wine industry, part of my responsibility entails immersing myself in this country’s unique, colourful and vibrant wine culture. This, of course, includes getting close to as many South African wines as possible by, well, tasting them. As they say in the classics: it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Obviously I keep a cellar of various local wines to entertain ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ especially when friends and family from my home country of,Austria are in the vicinity.

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King of the South Hill

If God was a wine lover, the Grabouw-Elgin area would be his kind of place. In a country blessed with arguably the most splendid wine-land scenery anywhere on earth, this region of valleys, mountains, rocks, orchards and lakes must count among South Africa’s finest. It is also producing some pants-wetting gorgeous wines, with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling having thrust Elgin into the fore.

Oak Valley also produces a passable Bordeaux-blend, and Shannon has caused a few rattling Zimmerframes and pacer-recharging with its bulky Merlot. And then there are the brisk, refined bubblies produced by the late Ross Gower, wines whose legacy is fortunately still with us.

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Made to Feel Like a Butcher’s Pick

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Meat is meat and a man must eat.

PL Kopp, a WineGoggle correspondent, visits the Butcher’s Shop in Sandton. Apparently for the last time.

There was a time when Sandton, Johannesburg, and the world was a better place. I remember those balmy Highveld evenings, strolling through The Square enjoying the lights and the cosmopolitan crowd and the fact that here, at least, was one place in this ghastly city where I could walk around after dark without getting a sharpened bicycle spoke in my neck before briskly being robbed.

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Chow-Down at Cluver

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.

Veritas Rocks to the Beat and Whiff of Senility

A perfumed duck takes a break from the Veritas tasting.

The place is packed and jumping and it’s only five-thirty on a weekday. Glasses chink and voices rumble and shoulders get rubbed on the way to a wine stand. Yep, it’s the Veritas Competition tasting where Joe Public has the chance to glug the Double Gold and Gold Medal winners.

It’s a sell-out. All the familiar wine-loving faces are there, as well as a dollop of keen punters from the streets.

But hey, would someone tell the latter to go easy on the perfume and hairspray before attending a wine tasting? There were a couple of elderly ladies who smelt like Estonian hookers after they’d raided a Max Factor van. Try appreciating delicate Sauvignon Blanc at the Anura stand when some ugly old duck waltzes passed leaving a scent of musky perfume, chemical hairspray and sterile denture cement. Kick them the hell out. Burn their Maltese poodles.

But the wines rocked, really rocked. I couldn’t get around to everything, of course, but did well enough to identify a couple of pearls of which orders have been placed.

How about Guardian Peak Lapa Cabernet Sauvignon 2008? This wine gave me such a woody the smelly old ladies couldn’t get their ZimmerFrames close to the stand. Phil van Staden is the winemaker and I hauled him over. “Great wine, great and awesome,” I told him. He says it is concentrated – Napa style (Lapa, get it?) – but such to leave oodles of pencil shavings, spice and intense black fruit.

This wine proves cab is king in SA. We will never, ever make a Shiraz as striking as a corker of a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Helderberg. Finish. Bam.

Being an occupant of the Bosman’s Crossing complex in Stellenbosch, I was proud to see neighbour High Road pouring a Double Gold winner. High Road Reserve 2007. Cab, Merlot and a whack of super spicy Cab Franc. What a wine! In your face as a Barry Hilton joke. Muscular and inky black as a Kenyan yoga instructor. But also velvety, sensual with crushed allspice, maraschino cherry and the slightest overtone of pickled sea urchin roe. Get this, a cult wine in the making, absolute cult.

Proud to have the High Road in my hood!

Bumped into Veritas Chairman Duimpie Bayly at the show who was attempting to flee from all those perfumed geriatrics trying to corner him due to his rugged good looks. Told him the Pinotage Association was full of dung for eschewing mocha pinotage, he accused me of being anti-Pinotage, but I told him I only drink good Pinotage, ek s?+¦???+¦?+¦-+??.

I found this at Diemersdal. Reserve. 2009. Elegantly Burgundian with cruncher fruit and exiguous wood notes. Backbone longer than a giraffe’s neck ache. Perfume on the nose, and a nice wash a life. Slight hint of stewed Borneo orchid leaf brought a haunting, exotic touch.

And to the whites, Diemersdal Sauvignon.com 2010. Double Gold and a blaster. Upfront grass and granny smith and forearm of grass. Long length. Refreshing, but not light nor quirky.

Loved the De Wetshof Finesse Chardonnay 1993 which still has more life than a Helen Zille boob job. Clear colour. Huge mineral. Fine fruit, you can taste the limestone of Robertson. Good nick, not a hint of oxidation.

Went to chat to Hermann Kirschbaum and knocked back Buitenverwachting’s Hussey’s Vlei Sauvignon Blanc 2010. Double Gold. Wine is like Hermann: stylish, easily elegant and deceptively charming. Great fruit from the tropics with a breezy mouth-feel and honey drop moreishness. Knocked me sideways. Bam!

David Nieuwoudt Ghost Corner 2010, fresh and minerally and unexpected, like wet sea pepples washed up in the desert. Edgebaston Chardonnay 2009, subtly wooded, like a Chablis, except more clay soil apparent on the mid-palate than Chabilis’s limestone bombs.

On and on it went, busting through the perfume to get to the wine. Great show. Nice glasses. Couple of good-looking pourers who were up for it, working hard and informing, teaching, sharing.

Dig it.

Pity judges couldn’t find Pinot Noir for Gold. Or Cabernet Franc. Get with the programme. Make it work. Handle it, next time. We hope.

The Joys of Getting Old

Sendiment is not for sissies.....

WineGoggle is delighted to welcome the intrepid commentator Kwispedoor to the fold. And what’s more, he’s writing on one of the Goggle’s favourite topics: Sweet, old sticky stuff – and we ain’t talking Joan Collins.

Generally, nobody wants to pick a Muscadel tasting theme at our little wine club, The Noble Rotters. Too much sugar and too many simple, raisiny wines for one night: if you’re going to lose teeth and gain weight during a particular flight of wines, you want them to be worth it.

However, given enough proper maturation, these wines integrate nicely and gain a nutty, caramelly complexity, making them vastly more drinkable and interesting. So we tweaked the theme to “Non-Port Fortifieds From the Previous Millennium” and nine eager Rotters sat down to a truly memorable blind tasting.

As it turned out, only two of the twelve wines were not Muscadels. One was a non-vintage Blandy’s Madeira Rich Malmsey, aged for ten years in wood. With all the information at our disposal, we’ve determined its actual age at exactly 35 years, give or take a decade. The other was a Rooiberg Red Jerepigo 1996, famously made from Pinotage and generously donated by their CEO Johan du Preez, along with the other two Rooibergs on the tasting. The two non-Muscadels were more or less spotted by all the tasters although, perhaps surprisingly, nobody guessed that the Red Jerepigo was made from Pinotage.

We tasted in random order, which got us off to a rollicking start with a sumptuous, complex, soft, but balanced Rooiberg Wit Muskadel Vintage Reserve 1994, placed second overall. From then on we worked our way through an orgy of muscat, fig, citrus peel, boiled sweets, pear, raisin, apricot, herbs, watermelon and even some dainty flowery aromas, with wood and Father Time adding mint, toffee, nuts, molasses, chocolate, honey, spices, smoke and tea to the heady mix. Here and there we found a slight lack of complexity or a wine that was just a little bit too sticky, but generally they really wowed us.

The Madeira was my second favourite wine, but only managed to achieve eighth place overall. I guess in context it might have been a bit unusual for some tasters, but I loved it! Its advanced age was obvious looking at the colour and I was excited to see ample chunks of sediment. The unique and complex nose revealed forthcoming banana, boiled sweets, pear, musk and nutty wood. The palate seemed drier than all the other wines with intriguing sherry nuances and had, to me, great mouthfeel, near-perfect balance and a lingering aftertaste. It was also the most versatile wine, paired with all the food we had afterwards.

My favourite wine was also the overall winner with a boisterous average score of just over 18, putting it in the top three Noble Rotters wines of the last decade: KWV Late Bottled Vintage Bin B14 Muscadel Superior 1930. KWV’s Lampies Lambrechts and Thys Loubser are our heroes for their sterling efforts in getting the wine donated to the club for this tasting.

It seems that details of this (pre-computerised era) wine will remain somewhat of a mystery, as various people at KWV had scant luck in unearthing any information about it from dusty and dungeoned files. Combining estimations from Sakkie Bester and Lampies it seems that, in all likelihood, it’s a white Muscadel made from Paarl/Wellington grapes that spent around 45 years in wood. Yes, that’s four and a half decades! And I thought the 1974 Charles et Charles ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ see the list below ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ at 16 years in casks was wood-matured for a long time! One recent fact about the 1930 is that the single bottle of this wine that was up for auction at the 2010 Nederburg Auction, went for R5800.

Tingles tangoed up my spine as I looked at the toffee coloured wine with its green-tinged yellow rim and abundant sediment ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ something special was in store for us! I found the wine to be one of those that almost defies description, because it is such a perfectly integrated whole with a singular, unique character.

In awe, I scored it 18.5, but my notes were reduced to simply: “Gorgeously old! Forthcoming toffee, sweet fruits, still fresh acid. Cracking aftertaste. Magical!” I was rendered powerless to dissect the wine’s attributes and merely basked in its heavenly joy. My fellow tasters were more prolific, gushing on about ginger, coffee, honey, dark chocolates, rooibos, liquorice, wood shavings and so forth ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ not spitting a drop in the process. It was a humbling honour; drinking wine made from grapes harvested almost a decade before World War II began?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-+?-+ It’s not generally available at all, but the KWV Red Muscadel 1953 is available at the KWV Wine Emporium at R500 per bottle.

If one takes the wines out of the context of this blind tasting, even the ones at the bottom of the pile would mop the floor with most young Muscadels. Just this month, the unctuous Nuy Rooi Muskadel 1988 (ninth at our tasting) received a well-deserved double gold medal at Veritas 2010. At the prices they go for, our country’s best Muscadels are a “buy and keep” no-brainer.

The wines we tasted and their average scores are listed below:,

Score Wine
18.0 1930 KWV Late Bottled Vintage Bin B14 Muscadel Superior
17.7 1994 Rooiberg Wit Muskadel Vintage Reserve
17.3 1992 Monis Vintage Muscadel
16.3 1975 Boplaas Vintner’s Selection Red Muscadel
16.2 1974 Charles et Charles Superior Premium Muscadel
16.2 1975 KWV Muscadel Jerepigo Liqueur Wine
16.0 1968 KWV Muscadel Jerepigo Liqueur Wine
15.8 N/V Blandy’s Madeira Rich Malmsey
15.8 1988 Nuy Muskadel Volsoet Rooi
15.3 1996 Rooiberg Red Jerepigo
15.0 1974 Riverview Red Muscadel
14.8 1990 Rooiberg Muskadel Jerepiko

Wonder Dining in a Wasteland

When David Kramer sang Bloemfontein was the kakkest place he’d ever seen, he’d obviously never been to Citrusdal. Okay, now we are not talking to what is around this town just the other side of the Piekenierskloof. Beautiful mountains, fynbos, citrus orchards and the gushing Olifants River. But the town itself? A real example of how a community can let itself to go to waste. A long straight road lined with non-descript buildings selling garish and cheap imported garments and toys. Enough cheap liquor stores to inebriated an army of English soccer hooligans. The atmosphere of a Kurt Darren song.

I say all this to accentuate how much The Old Village was needed to breathe a bit of life into the place as well as to give any one travelling the N7 between Cape Town and Namibia a reason to stop off at Citrusdal.

The Old Village used to be on the Modderfontein Farm circa 1725. A couple of years ago a Cape Town businessman began restoring the dilapidated mountainside buildings, turning them into rural chic guest-houses, a pub and a restaurant. It all bleeds authenticity with gorgeous furniture, old wooden floors and deep panels that would give a woodworm a hard-on.

Whilst recently visiting farmer friends in the vicinity, we headed for the restaurant at Modderfontein to check things out. Well, they had already been there but I had to see whether their enthusiasm was not a case of local must be lekker.

After a few drinks at the bar to warm things up, we headed to the spacious dining room, its colourful paintings off-setting that wonderful old wooden floor. This is the domain of Keith Blake, well known in Cape restaurant circles, and chef Nico Pretorius who graduated ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ or should one say survived ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the Institute of Culinary Arts.

The menu is chalked up on a massive board, and the evening we were there starters included cheese souffl+¬ with beetroot dressing, parsnip and honey soup and eisbein terrain. Mains featured roasted pork bell, pan-fried hake, rump steak and a beef and spinach pie.

The wine-list is, well, not a list. Wine is presented in a rack and you walk over to the rack, select and that is that. We dented the supply of Tierhoek Sauvignon Blanc, though there were fine reds and whites to choose from.

The food is first class. Only two of us four ordered starters ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the souffl+¬ ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ but the others soon showed their true country appetites by homing in on these like the cast of Biafran Survivor. The souffl+¬s were light, cheesy, perfect.

The main courses included pork belly on mash and hake, with the hake being the show-stopper. Thick and succulent, it game on a bed of lentils in a perky, zesty sauce. One of the party, a self-confessed sushi head, asked herself why she should eat fish raw if it can be cooked to taste like this.

The food is fresh, portions ample without being crude. Nico the Chef came out to join us, and his take is trying to complement the region’s feeling of rustic wellbeing with tasty, fresh dishes with just a smidgen of finesse.

We passed on desserts, but could have had Vanilla Panna Cotta with Blueberries, Apple and Almond Tart with Macamadia Ice Cream of a Chocolate Fondant with mint ice-cream

Prices are embarrassingly reasonable. R40 to R45 for a starter. R65 to R95 for mains. R45 for desserts.

Sunday is buffet day, which includes all the boerekos staples. The restaurant menu changes regularly, depending on availability of produce and seasonal whims.

It can only be hoped that the arrival of more visitors to stay and eat at Modderfontein can inspire the rest of Citrusdal to realise its potential and stop insulting the majestic environment with its rude small town tackiness.

-,,,,,,,,, Faizel van der Vyver

Sous Vide Sucks

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Sous vide cooking begins with this.

IF it’s culinary and it’s got a French name, it has to be hot, hip and happening. Non?

The latest trendy food preparation gig dished up by the tres hottest restaurants is sous vide. Sounds delectable, don’t it? Like a saucy chick called Vida, or something like that. But saucy it ain’t, and it is about as sexy a method of cooking as opening a can or microwaving fish-fingers.

Sous vide means without air. When used in cooking it can also be translated as without soul, love, passion or employment of the senses. For quite simply sous vide cooking means cooking the fucking thing in a plastic bag ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ plain and simple, no buts, ums or ah’s.

Let us thus go to one of these trendy restaurants such as Quartier Francais, La Colombe or Bizerca and order a sous vide something, like a loin of veal. What happens is that the ingredient is slightly browned in a pan, shoved in a plastic bag and all the air removed from the bag. Dump the plastic covered veal into some warm water and wait until the heat from the water cooks the meat. Open up, slap it onto plate and your sous vide veau avec massive price tag is ready.

Bag-in cooking was the kind of thing my mom used to do for us in London when she had no time and had to hurry to get to the bingo hall before the bar opened. We had boil-in-bag Madras Curry, boil-in-a-bag Chicken a la King and boil-in-a-bag Fish Stew. At least Heinz and Craft and these food companies had the decency of taking the trouble to cook the stuff before bunging it in the bag and selling it at Tesco.

Restaurant sous vide is an impersonal, short-cut way of cooking. You can’ touch, feel or smell your ingredient or its reaction to the cooking process. Chuck in pot, smoke a joint while reading Elizabeth David, take the thing out, unwrap and serve. To rapturous applause of restaurant punters who don’t know what’s happening in the kitchen.

Witnessing the execution of sous vide the other day, the assistant chef smiled. “Easy, isn’t it. And with all the hassles kitchen staff give us, it’s a pity we can’t sous vide everything.”

Le short cut with sous vide.

-,,,,,,,,, Darian Morgan

Restaurant Review: Boere Barok at Simonsig

CUV?+¦???+¦?+¦-ú??E RESTAURANT, Simonsig Estate, Stellenbosch.

The Indian Summer conditions residents of the Western Cape are currently experiencing are conducive to al fresco wineland dining. So it was that I recently found myself at Simonsig, one of my favourite wine estates, settled on the porch of its Cuv+¬e Restaurant. Not a breath of wind. Views lasted forever, only hindered by the dramatic mountains in the direction of Stellenbosch.

It was better than sitting inside, a space with an excessively camp interior. A wooden bench hanging from the roof, for God’s sake. All that boere barok. One expects Natani?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦-úl to come striding across the room selling sosaties.

My dining partners were Dennis Finkelstein and Georgia O’Tief. Apparently I owed them a lunch, and Cuv+¬e was deemed an appropriate debt-cancelling venue.

I ordered the Simonsig pink bubbly to get things going. O’Tief informed me the bubbly was not cold enough, which it wasn’t. The waitress, one of these on-the-job-trained affirmative numbers, also did not afford me the opportunity of checking the wine for TCA or oxidation by pouring the usual taster. So this was not a good start.

I told O’Tief to relax as the wine will chill in the ice-box. The juice itself was devoid of malodourness.

The menu had changed since my last visit. Despite being a place priding itself on its bubblies, there were no oysters to go around this time. Pity: winter oysters are best, and I was keen for some.

The menu offered a salad, some Malay and seafood goodies to start. Mains included fish, venison, souffl+¬, lamb with some Auntie’s jam, the ubiquitous beef fillet and some gnocchi in a Parisian baked style.

Finkelstein ordered scallops and prawn for starters while I chose the Cape Malay Bobotie Samoosas with the ever-popular and well-known Malmesbury yoghurt, plus a dollop of Muscat Jam. After a bit of egging on and ensuring her how terrifically svelte, slim and pretty she was looking, O’Tief opted for a warm bean salad with goat’s cheese crostini.

Starters were well-received. Scallops sweet and perfectly cooked, although Finkelstein thought the prawn was off and did not eat it. The salad was,crunchy with a serious chunk of goat’s milk cheese on the crostini. The samoosas were not as spicy as I liked them, but you can always count on that stunning Malmesbury yoghurt to cut the sweetness.

The next wine was a Kaapse Vonkel. Delicious as ever. I must say, I find the fact that Cuv+¬e only offers Simonsig wines a bit anal. The wines are good. And of a diverse selection. But sitting in the centre of one of the world’s great wine regions it is a pity guests cannot choose, say, Kanonkop Paul Sauer, Hartenberg Shiraz or Le Riche Cabernet.

If you are going to limit the wine-list to your own wines, and own wines only, why the hell should I pay a 100% mark-up?

The mains came. Parisian baked gnocchi for Finkelstein, who is trying to put on some weight after a short struggle with a painful STD. Lamb for the carnivorous O’Tief. Chicken ballontine for moi.

Lamb slow-cooked and luscious, served on a plate of pastry. Finkelstein put the gnocchi away as if there was no tomorrow. It was gooey, creamy and solid. My chicken breast was stuffed with herbs and things and alright.

Desserts included cr?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëme br?+¦???+¦?+¦????l+¬e, Malva Pudding and Dutch pancakes, but we decided to skip and head for coffee.

The verdict? Passable, but definitely nothing above average. Seems an awful pity for a topnotch estate to go to all the effort of putting a restaurant in place but the settling for an average degree of execution. Perhaps the real summer will arrive, eventually.

-, Darian Morgan