It’s All About Creation

Image ain’t everything, but it sure helps. The stratospheric success of Hemel-en-Aarde’s relative newcomer Creation would not have happened quite so suddenly if the excellent quality of what is being produced in the vineyards were being poured and sold by a bunch of bleached poppies listening to Heuwels Fantasties while trying to ascertain what the difference is between Cabernet Franc and Paris France.

Creation is a super-slick winery ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ you expect to slip on Michael Moll’s hair gel on the way to the barrel cellar. It is what restaurant reviewers would call “a well-kept space”, with money-shot views down the valley of vines and gullies, and a bit of real mountain thrown in for good measure. Everything gleams and is in the right place ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ not a Croc or a well-thumbed copy of You Magazine in sight.

But then, the operation has a slice of Swiss influence thanks to owners JC Martin and Christoph Kaser and their respective spouses. So you would expect everything to be spank and organised.

Thankfully JC has been in South Africa for some time so he is not as boring as most residents of the land of cowbells, Heidi and Third World Dictator safety deposit boxes. He is energetic, chirpy and even humorous at times, which means he can always get a job at the Lausanne Circus if things don’t work out in the South African wine industry.

Much of JC’s ebullient chirpiness, methinks, has to do with his other half, Carolyn. The only daughter of vinous old hand Walther, Carolyn is one of those women who gets things done when others are still thinking of doing it. She is not a coffee shop-cruising, 4×4 driving wine maker’s wife, that is for sure.

Okay, but enough psycho-analysis and down to the wine.

I cruised up to Creation the other day to check out some Pinot Noir, a grape variety that tends to attract some attention in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. In fact, it wants to be the region’s signature grape very much. Yet, in the words of every second American rock star, there is a whole lot going on in the area.

Besides the Burgundian influence in the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Semillon,Viognier, Merlot, ,Grenache, Riesling (real), Pinotage and Semillon have ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ among others ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ been planted in this little piece of Burgundy-by-the-Sea. And the climate and soils’ are obviously not limited to infusing a bit of intriguing expression in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Creation can be attributed to assisting in ensuring that the Hemel-en-Aarde’s reputation is not going to depend on its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay offering. The winery’s Syrah-Grenache blend, which had a bit of a pong when I found the maiden 2007 vintage, is now showing terrific sunniness and velvety palate weight. Pong has been replaced by perfume and savoury, with a clean-finish minerality that is quite delicious.

The Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is stark, sparse and bone-dry ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ more Bordeaux than Loire and a welcome dimension in the Cape’s Sauvvie offings.

Okay, okay, I know we were there for Pinot Noir.

Creation’s vineyards are in the Valley’s clay region, so the wines are big. No pussy-footing with washed-out colours and airy, fairy delicateness. The Pinot Noir 2008 and 2009 are not shy with upfront red fruit followed by a burst of spice and marshmallow. Wooding is marvellously understated, but ensures the presence of sturdy tannins, which will no doubt be ironed out with a few years in the bottle.

The wine’s clean, sweet fruit-core is a result of the excellent health of the vines. JC may be a happy-go-lucky type, but vineyard practices are thorough and optimal vine health is non-negotiable in virgin vines that exist in a mother block.

Creation’s first vintage was in 2007, but it is already an established winery not only in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, but on the South African vinous landscape. The future’s so bright, shades are called for.

Costing The Jem

If good wine is, as Ernest Hemingway said, the most civilised thing on earth, then Waterford is a wine estate for whom the bell tolls. One of those clanging Catholic bells hammering out a celebratory christening or festivity in a summery European village, the air smelling of coffee, sawdust and lavender.

Look, I’ll go to Waterford for a vertical Old Brown Sherry tasting and leave the place feeling like somebody who has just sipped a line-up of Madeira wines from the 18th century. The hacienda-like quad, leather furniture, easy-going charm and air of confidence does it for me.

Okay, I have expressed my thoughts on Waterford before, so won’t hamper on the peripherals. Recently I scored an invitation to go and taste some vino, which including the latest release of The Jem. This is Waterford’s flagship, best-of-the-best, although those wishing to trivialise will immediately choose to focus on the R700 price before anything else has been whispered.

So let’s get this out of the way, shall we?

Asking if any South African wine is “worth” R700 is displaying a lack of comprehension about the wine industry I find pitying.

We all know that, at tops, the cost of producing the most super-duperest wine from the lowest yields harvested by sushi-eating virgins in moonlight is going to run at R120 a bottle, max.

This discrepancy in input versus end-price is not unique to the wine industry. Think Cuban cigars. Rolex. Petrus and Roman+¬e Conti. Vuitton leather jock-straps. Organic goats’ milk cheese. The list goes on and on.

The question should rather be does the quality meet brand expectation, and if so, is this what you’d be prepared to pay?

In the case of The Jem I’d say yes. In fact, I have paid more when ordering it whilst dining at a mark-up obsessed establishment with foreign clients wishing to be impressed on the local vinous spectrum.

Why? Because the Waterford brand has impressed me. It is not a brand of great history and tradition, but the lack of this has been made up for with integrity. I have trust and faith in this brand due to the winemakers, the taste of place and in the commitment to and passion for excellence.

Okay, back to The Jem. The third release is the 2006, and like its predecessors ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ the 2004 and 2005 ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ it is a motley blend of the best-of-the-best Waterford has to offer. As Kevin Arnold said at the tasting, there is no recipe. The Jem is an ultimate expression of the Estate, and something that will never be replicated ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ “not even by our neighbours”.

The blend is led by Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) followed by 15% Shiraz. Then you drop down to Malbec and Cabernet Franc, a bit of Mourv?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëdre and finished with splashes of Sangiovese and Barbera.

It is an enormously exciting wine, because you don’t know what next it’s going to through at you. Cabernet Sauvignon and Francs ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ my personal favourites and preferences in the blend ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ give the wine a huge muscularity and brushy, dusty flavours. Shiraz, that tart from the south, brings a bit hot juice to the party, while the Mourv?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëdre adds an intriguing hint of spice. The Italians’ marble minerality is there, and the whole blend is weighty, gorgeous and enticing.

After 20 months in oak ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ 1/3 new, 2nd and 3rd there is still a bit of wood around, although by no means obtrusive. Tannins are not silky and there is a bit of grip. But by opening The Jem 2004 and 2005, Kevin gave me an insight into what awaits one who invests in this wine.

The 2004 was lean and elegant with a delicious punt of developed Cabernet Franc. In the 2005 version, Merlot was introduced, giving the wine a silky berry spectrum.

How cool is this going to be, when you someday have five, ten vintages of one wine ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ The Jem ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ each displaying a variety of different nuances. One wine, an array of personalities through the years?

If its all good, such an experience is priceless.

Getting Stuffed by Caveau Restaurant in Cape Town

It was like being kicked in the teeth by a French prostitute wearing Rossi boots. And this happened at one of my favourite Cape Town wine establishments.

Okay, a bit of background: I dig Caveau. Not the restaurant-wine bar next to Newlands rugby stadium, but the eatery in the city centre. Killer steak tartare. Very good sushi. Nice people, especially seeing as Caveau shares a space with Max Models and lunch-times seem to be a good time for leggy models to drop by with their portfolios.

But the best thing about Caveau is the wine. Great wine list. Diverse selection by bottle and by glass. The place makes no bones about its aspirations of wanting to be seen as a wine destination.

No problem. I enjoy it and spend good dosh buying wine there, albeit that some of the mark-ups are a bit steep.

Last week I drop in at Caveau for a late lunch with The Porra and Calculus. We order food and expensive beers. And then I haul out a bottle of Crystallum Pinot Noir 2008. It is not on the wine-list, so I thought I could pay corkage so as to allow Calculus and the Porra to experience what I perceive to be great wine. And Caveau being a wine emporium, I did not think this would be a problem.

Not. No wines from outside allowed. I explained the situation ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ it was not a BYO get-pissed-cheaply scenario. We merely wished to share a bottle of special wine in a special place.

No, sorry. Rules are rules.

I put the bottle away after muttering some delicate words about the waiter’s mother’s pink bits and continued drinking beer. A while later, we tried again. And this time a different waiter was more forthcoming. He opened the wine, poured three meagre tasting drops, and pushed the cork deep back into the bottle.

That was it. No it was not. Then the waiter had the nerve to come back to our table and ask us where the Crystallum can be sourced because a customer on an adjoining table wanted to know.

Two thumbs down.

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

Don’t talk Kakamas about this Sushi

Gerrie in the sushi zone.
Gerrie in the sushi zone.

HE’S got a glint in his eye and a knife in his hand. Gerrie. Gerrie de Beer. Sushi master. Not just any sushi master. Gerrie is sushi slicer supremo of Kakamas.

This is correct. Kakamas. A town of the small, quiet variety in the Northern Cape. Think Upington. Orange River. Meerkats and barbel.

Did I say “barbel” or is Gerrie just waving the knife in my direction to show me the honed steel and razor edge of a Japanese hara-kiri instrument? Because one thing we are not going to joke about is Gerrie’s sushi, which sure as hell ain’t made from some brutish barbel plucked from the murky depths of the Orange River. We are talking real fish for this sushi. Flown from Cape Town to Upington every second day before hastily transported to the Kalahari Gateway Hotel, where Gerrie’s sushi bar sits in the sprawling dining room.

I’m travelling with Jeanie T, a blonde of the sushi-loving variety, as most blondes tend to be these days. We sit next to the rotating sushi counter, which is situated under a couple of stylish cheap multi-coloured paper,lamps hanging from the roof. We pick-up the menus welcoming us to Kalahari Sushi. I mention tuna prices, Japanese knife names, geisha kimonos and other,chink specialities. Let the guy know we mean business. We know the gig around a sushi bar.

But Gerrie, he’s not baulking. He gives us the once over, lifts his knife and starts slicing. I order a bottle of Colombard from the Oranjerivier Wine Cellars and watch the kid working. His got flexible palms, nimble fingers. Cuts wafer-thin slices of yellow-fin tuna. Deftly skins an orange fillet of fresh salmon. Desiccates a plump avo.

Hey, but can this kid work a bamboo sushi mat or what? In goes the white rice. Spreads out the wasabi. Whacks in the avocado and the fish. Folds the mat. Rolls it firmly, quickly. He’s got great hands, and Jeanie T is licking her lips.

The rotating counter is switched on and gets going. And Gerrie starts piling on the plates. And it’s all there: salmon roses with proper Japanese mayo and caviar; ice white California rolls; perfectly formed Nigiri with salmon and prawn. Dig the rainbow and dragon rolls. Fashion sandwich and spicy rolls, coated with an orange crust of umami heaven.

We load the bowls with soya, snap chopsticks and fill glasses. And get eating.

The fish is sparkling fresh and clean and melts in the mouth. The rice is perfectly textured with just the right zing of sweet-sourness. This is sushi. In Kakamas.

Gerrie is watching as we pick, dunk and devour. He has that real Zen look of satisfaction, Gerrie does.

“How are the locals getting in on the sushi act?” I ask through a mouthful of cucumber-encased bamboo roll. He gives Jeanie T an eye.

“The ladies like sushi,” Gerrie says. “And they are teaching the men that raw fish is not all that bad.”

But just for the hell if it, Gerrie is going to be introducing some sushi items with game carpaccio once the Northern Cape hunting season gets going.

The spicy roll is a killer with a fierce kick leading into the taste of avocado and salmon and rice.

Gerrie is happy that we are happy, and we’ve had too much so he can start cleaning his knife and he shuts off the rotating sushi counter, shipped in all the way from Hermanus.

Afternoon in Kakamas with a belly full of sushi and wine. Life is good. We’ve got to get going. And so does Gerrie ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ he’s on duty in the bottle store this afternoon.

After sushi, it's time to look at the trees outside Kakamas.
After sushi, it's time to look at the trees outside Kakamas.

Don’t Tune Me Tuna

The author with a dead tuna.
The author with a dead tuna.

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THE fish are jumping, and they happen to be tuna. Last week myself, Goose Wines juice-fermenter Alwyn Liebenberg and Mark Goldsworthy from Edgebaston Wines went 30 miles off Cape Point and caught ourselves a boat-load. Mostly longfin, but running in at 30kg, they were way bigger than usual. I also got a yellow-fin which, although smallish, made my day: yellow-fin has that crimson-coloured flesh,that is far superior to long-fin, and besides blue-fin the yellow provides the ultimate sashimi experience.

So first day it was sashimi. Second day seared steaks. And on the third day I was getting pretty tired or rare, bloody fish. So this recipe was used to turn a loin of tuna into a great meal, highly recommended if you can get your hands on some yellow-fin.

Take one loin or fillet of tuna, about 3kg. Place in a casserole dish. Season with salt and pepper. Pour a glug of olive oil over the fish. Role it around in the oil to ensure the whole fish is covered. Now add the following: 2 cups of black olives, halved and pitted; 3 fistfuls of chopped flat-leaf parsley; the juice of 3 lemons; 1 tablespoon of lemon zest; 1 glass of dry white wine. Mix all this stuff over and around the fish.

Right. Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees. Cover the casserole and bung the dish in the oven. Cook for 20-25mins. Remove. Open dish. Break the cooked tuna into bite-size chunks. Serve with the sauce over brown rice.

Eat with a spoon and hunks of bread to mop the juices.

To drink I like a bracing unwooded Chardonnay, and reached for the Paradyskloof 2009. This wine has a steely, grippy, zingy juiciness that perfectly accompanies the fish and is a great wine to have before eating as it gets the stomach juices going. Actually, I have to remember to take Jan Boland some tuna.

Go fishing, and bon appetit.

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Kid Finlayson’s Winning Run

Kid Finlayson strikes a pose while old man Walter hits the wine glass.
Kid Finlayson strikes a pose while old man Walter hits the wine glass.

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ANYONE wondering what David Finlayson has been up to since leaving Glen Carlou last year will have to look past the cellar and the vineyards. It would appear that Finlayson has joined Bruce Jack and Charles Back in the sparsely populated territory inhabited by very good winemakers who also happen to be worth their weight in dried husks as more than competent marketers.

David’s skill as winemaker is well-known. He ensured Glen Carlou stayed on the map as one of the Great SA Estates after dad Walter sold the joint to Donald Hess, producing some of the country’s finest Chardonnays as well as not-too-shabby dollops of Shiraz. An easy-going approach somewhat belies David’s keen knowledge of local and international wines, attention to detail in the winemaking process and an admirable willingness to get his hands dirty in the cellar and put in long hours of gut-busting work.

And in the process ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ over a few short years – the Kid has built-up a few brands out of nowhere, brands that would have taken a corporation teams of overpaid consultants to develop.

The base for these brands is Edgebaston, the 22ha spread David owns outside Stellenbosch. Next to L’Avenir, opposite Morgenhof. ,He was moonlighting as Edgebaston winemaker while at Glen Carlou, and his first crack at the brand big time came with the Edgebaston GS Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. The wine honours one of South Africa’s greatest wines, namely the Cabernets made by George Spies, former production head at Stellenbosch Farmers Winery under the label “GS”.

When the Wine Spectator went ballistic over a GS 1968 (the only other vintage was a 1966), David contacted the Spies family and was given their blessing to honour the patriarch with a modern version of the South African classic. In the process the Edgebaston version has become a legend in its own right. (Those who believe in Platter ratings would have noted 5 stars for the 2005.)

Next up was a wine whose label I initially scoffed at. The Pepper Pot. With a rather dodgy sketch of a three-legged African pot. Serious?

The wine, no. A seductive smoky, moreish blend of Tannat and Shiraz and Mourv?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëdre. Rhone in style, but pure, clean accessibility. Delicious. Not up its arse. Accessible. And consumers have found the name and label as tasty, with feverish local and international sales surprising many, including David himself.

The latest from the Edgebaston stable is The Berry Box. And the smart money says this bottle is going to become about as trendy to have on a Sandton or Banty Bay dining table as an iPhone and a set of platinum worry beads.

The wine is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot. And the label and the name says it all.

Yes, the bloody thing does taste of berries, so none are going to be used to describe it. But it is a really lovely wine: surprisingly elegant with a dramatic perfume, the kind you’d expect to smell on a Tahitian bridesmaid.

None of this The Jam Jar in-your-face sweet sluttishness. The Berry Box is a real wine, but made with care and attention to detail, shining with radiant grape flavours. An absolute delight to drink.

At around R60 a bottle it is going to fly off the shelves as was the case with The Pepper Pot, presenting David with his next challenge, namely how to up his volumes.

But like any other of his other challenges, mince-meat will be made of this one, and washed down with a glass of Berry Box.

Berry Box

A Bar at Portofino

hopper-nighthawks

PORTOFINO RESTAURANT

Harbour Edge, 10 Hospital Street, Green Point. Tel. 021-418-4500

I was to meet Calculus to talk about a war and a good suit, and he suggested a bar and restaurant at the end of town run by an Irishman with a great hair-cut. Balking, I asked whether said Irishman was the so called “rudest restaurateur” in Cape Town, whereupon Calculus nodded sagely and led me through the door.

Portofino is airy and white, and it looks clean and good, but with a modern homeliness. Walking in I almost tripped over a chocolate Labrador belonging to a well-known chef, but this went without incident: dogs like me, and I love them.

The wind was roaring outside, and we were pleased to be in a place promising sustenance and cold liquid containing good amounts of alcohol. Calculus provided, plonking a bottle of Henri Giraud Champagne into an ice-bucket. Besides that, he had brought a bottle of Chamonix Pinot Noir, while I had lugged a Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1995 as well as a De Wetshof Bateleur 2007.

But we drank Champagne. It was yeasty and biscuit and cold, with a lot of sparkle.

Cormac the Terrible waltzed over resembling a pop star from the 1980s. Cool and certain, and calm. He sipped the Champagne, and asked us what he was tasting. Brioche and grapefruit. Melon and chalk.

Cormac’s fringe flopped languidly as he agreed with our comments, and suggested we eat Parma ham with melon.

The tables looked inviting with their crisp linen, but Calculus suggested we eat at the bar. It looks cooler, like something out of a Peter Lorre movie. And the bar could accommodate all our booze.

Besides the melon, one could start with a prawn, watermelon and goat’s cheese salad. Bruschetta. Capraccio or melanzana parmagiana. Then there is the famous antipasto platter with squid, vegetables and Parma ham.

Calculus poured the last of the Champagne, went through the battle plan one more time and ordered the Parma ham and melon. Ditto.

Upon deciding what to drink next, I asked Cormac whether he served Guinness on tap. I got a look that would make an ice maiden turn into Jameson. “Where do you think you are?” he asked.

I felt like answering by repeating the line from the classic movie The Hangover, the one that goes: “On the corner of fuck-off and get a map.” But I saw the glint of humour in Cormac’s eye, and let it pass. Besides ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ Calculus was in the mood for war, so this was not a good time for a bit of IRA from another corner.

The Chamonix Pinot Noir was corked, with enough mouldy sack to make your contact lenses fall out. So we drank the Paul Sauer 19995. It was a fine wine, ripe and complete and full of nuances tricky to pin down. But in excellent condition.

The Parma ham came, and we ate it with the melon, and I loved those salty cured flavours hitting the sweetness of the melon. It was a civilised starter, in a civilised place.

I mentioned the good suit, and before we started the discussion, Cormac asked us what we would like for a main course. Pasta and risotto. Tasty-sounding meat dishes such as chicken thigh wrapped in Parma ham. A veal parcel. Honey and mustard porked fillet.

Calculus called for the prawn risotto while the spaghetti Carbonara had my name on it.

It was very pleasant at the bar. Soft music and interesting people whispering next to the coffee machine. Just then , we opened the De Wetshof Bateleur Chardonnay as the Paul Sauer was empty.

The food came just as Calculus had the last say about that damned bad suit, and we hunched over our bowls like Sicilian peasants protecting their first-born. My pasta was creamy and eggy with tasty lashings of Parmesan. Crispy bacon made for good salt in my mouth, which made the Chardonay tast very pleasant and excellent.

I like the place, and could see Calculus likes it too. It is a well-lit, accommodating restaurant with an agreeable air of formality and convention offset with a homely feeling of ease and comfort. Like a woman dressed in Chanel and Gucci, but not wearing any underwear.

Calcalus contemplated ordering some or other decadent chocolate dessert, but with battle now only a few days away, he relented. I joined him for an espresso as we finished off the last of the Chardonnay and walked out into the wind and the night lights, hoping the Irishman was looking forward to seeing us again.

JP Bruwer

KWV to Close Head-Office

kwv

One of the South African wine industry’s most iconic symbols, the KWV La Concorde head-office on Paarl’s main road, is to be vacated by KWV staff within the next few months. According to a wine industry insider, KWV staff will move to the vast buildings the company owns closer to the railway line.

“La Concorde will cease to house the KWV’s activities,” the source said. “However, this will not come as a surprise to anyone who has visited La Concorde over the past few months ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ inside it is as deserted as the Overlook Hotel in the movie, The Shining.”

La Concorde’s impressive facade has become synonymous with the South African wine industry as it was for decades seen on the label of the country’s (then) most prolific exporter, namely the KWV. Erected in 1958, La Concorde is also seen as an aesthetically pleasing face of the Cape wine industry, and it would be a great pity if the building is lost to the wine world.

Rumours of converting La Concorde into a hotel have been bandied about, but developers maintain that converting the office space to rooms and recreation centres would be too costly.