Despite being in the profession of having to write copious tasting notes and other wine marketing material, I have always considered wine and food recommendations to be patronisingly prepared with just a hint of arrogance. For who am I, or a winery or a food and wine writer to suggest that a certain dish should be “paired” (Christ, I hate that word) with a glass of something that apparently forms a perfect match?
The Barraida region of Portugal is rugged in its desolate greenness, knots of pine-trees perched on hill-tops overlooking vineyards snaking down the slopes. During the wet winters and warm summers hardy, broad-faced people farm the vines and the cabbages, the beans and the pigs – the latter generating Barraida’s status as suckling-pig capital of the world. Offering crispy-skinned and sweet-fleshed sustenance to the hungry and tired travellers crossing the province during the long trip north from Lisbon.
The late Chris Hellinger was about as colourful a character as one could hope to find among the wine-farm owners in the Cape Winelands. Among his life’s achievements, about which one could write an impressive, vivid and action-packed book, was the overseeing of Chamonix – a farm he purchased in the mountainside of the Franschhoek Valley – becoming a piece of premier wine turf.
A culinary disaster in one of Germany’s major cities has been laid at the door of representatives of the South African wine industry. The north-western city of Düsseldorf has for the first time in its history experienced a chronic shortage of schweinshaxe, a local staple dish of roasted pork ham hock – and now city fathers are fingering the South African delegation to the city’s annual Prowein International Wine Exhibition.
According to Manfred Varkvölen, owner of the restaurant Das Essen in downtown Düsseldorf, extra supplies of schweinshaxe are brought into the city for Prowëin, as the thousands of visitors from over 120 wine countries have shown a particular liking for this roasted piece of pig’s foot, a pinnacle of German gastronomy.
“This year, however, I and the whole street of restaurants around me was cleaned out of schweinshaxe by Monday afternoon, the second day of Prowein,” a distraught Varkvölen told the WineGoggle News. “And it was the South African party who showed relentless destruction of our schweinshaxe stocks, at Das Essen as well as in the whole region. Usually the Georgians and Ukrainians clear us out, but never to this extent.”
Varkvölen said the pork-hungry South Africans had cleared out two days’ stock in a matter of hours, resulting in fury among his local German clientele popping-in for the traditional 2-for-1 Monday Night schweinshaxe special.
“Don’t they have pork in South Africa?” he asked. “It was a sight of culinary devastation. All eating and drinking, and waving green shirts with signs of the springbok on them. Singing some songs, too and laying into the haxe. I had winemakers from a region of Robertson ordering three haxes a piece and a party from Stellenbosch took home take-way hocks after devouring one each. It was crazy, not even the German army who survived the Siege of Stalingrad were this hungry. After the South Africans, all that remains in my restaurant are two half-full jars of mustard, a cabbage and two empty bottles of pear schnapps.”
Bettina Wulpskuchen, president of the Düsseldorf Culinary Society, said that the city looks forward to welcoming the wine world to Prowëin each year.
“But like all our foreign visitors we have a number of requests, ja: Do not laugh at the lederhosen or make jokes about Angela Merkel’s hair-style. No mentioning of Brexit. And don’t eat all the schweinshaxe,” she said. “Those familiar with German cuisine will know that we don’t have much exciting to choose from, with the haxe being a favourite among locals as it is among those visitors to Prowein. Now that the South Africans have cleared out the haxes and we are waiting for more pork, I and the rest of the city have to live on currywürst and sauerkraut until next week. Think about that for a while.”
A representative from Grapes of South Africa (Gosa) defended his countrymen and women at complaints dissing their appetite for haxe.
“Prowein is a highlight on the international wine calendar, and our industry supports this show with great enthusiasm,” he said. “We have always appreciated the warm hospitality and generous humour of the local inhabitants of Düsseldorf, with the offerings of schweinshaxe being an integral part of it all. We can, however, in no ways be held accountable for the shortage of roasted ham hocks, however, and this is one aspect about which the South African industry is not prepared to show any guilt or remorse.
“We have a go-big or go-home approach, and in this instance it was just big man, just big.”
At an urgent EU meeting yesterday to discuss the unfolding situation in Düsseldorf, it was decided that France and Portugal will be air-lifting emergency supplies of pork hams to Germany to offer some relief.
“This while the South Africans go home to their lamb and beef barbecues,” said Varkvölen. “They left us in crisis, but I’d admit they also left behind some very good wine. But what is all this Pinotage without a schweinshaxe to enjoy it with? Nein, nichts.”
There was a collective groan from certain wine industry insiders in January when South African liquor behemoth Distell announced the formation of an affiliate to take care of the upper-end of its wine business. Under the name of Libertas Vineyards and Estates, a stand-alone company has been put in-place to corral ubiquitous Distell brands such as Alto, Pongrácz, Nederburg, Chateau Libertas, Durbanville Hills, Zonnebloem and Plaisir de Merle into an entity tasked with focussing on the corporation’s premium wine offering.
But as the true vision of the new Libertas entity begins to take shape, it appears as if Distell’s wine strategy has reached a maturity and inclusivity sorely missed over the past few years.
I drank a lot of superbly matured Drostdy-Hof Claret and some linear, mineral Aroma White with the author of a great book. Here I reviewed it for Eikestadnuus, the Southern Hemisphere’s answer to Rolling Stone.
Between Rock and a Hard Place, by Carsten Rasch. MF Books 2019
It is a ribald and riveting tale of a hustling music producer in the 1980s, brave and honest in its telling, with only one fear looming above the mullet-haired head of author Carsten Rasch: the dread that the party – the jol – will end.
For like the motley crew of colourful characters joining him in this memoir, the ultimate aim is to have as much fun as possible, thereby ensuring that the jol they are on keeps going, driving them to search for the next bigger, brighter and hotter party, to chomp on the slice of fun-life that’s just got to be out there.
Oh but would the wine world not be so much the poorer without dreamers, visionaries and the adventurous spirited. Those men and woman shunning convention, their untameable obsession with the growing of grapes and the making of wine taking them to new, uncharted regions of this earth of ours. Exploring, discovering and making wine in new geographical frontiers.
I love them.
Sure, it don’t always work out, but when it does the gamble and the risk pays off with joy to the winemakers as well wine-lovers who get to taste and drink the new and unique.
I was enjoying my view of the oak trees and manicured gardens of a leading Cape wine estate this week when some idiot dropped a wine glass into the ashtray. Kid you not: a pink-vested brunette with a pair of white jeans tight enough to give a camel toe-pain, walked out of the tasting room, finished her glass and dropped it into the sand-filled half-barrel deployed for the extinguishing of cigarette butts.
There was a brief verbal exchange between us, best not repeated outside of a pool-hall in Parow, followed by my retrieving the glass and returning it to its rightful place in the winery’s bustling tasting-room.
One is never too old to fall into the trap of having preconceived ideas shattered to oblivion. For some or other reason I expected New Zealand’s famous Cloudy Bay winery to require donning a waterproof and sturdy, grip-secure boots before venturing a visit.
With all the steely Sauvignon Blanc wine I drank in New Zealand it amazed me that no airport metal-detectors were activated on the long way home. Although there was a tense moment at Dubai International when a surly, garlic-breathed member of the security staff had to twice pass the hand-held scanner over my left kidney to ensure I was not carrying a harmful object aimed at unleashing some glamourous Middle-East terror.