Fish and chips form the culinary heart-beat of any place showing a culture of fishing, sea-faring and cooking. This makes Cape Town, one would think, an ideal bit of seaside spread for procuring a decent plate of fish and chips. What’s the use of having foodies the world over breathlessly scribbling reams of gushing copy about the City’s food scene and us having two restaurants in the world top 50 if such a quintessential dish is not to be had in amounts of abundant joy?
I have taken the liberty of referring to RTM Hutchinson instead of Tim when talking about the head of local drinks conglomerate DGB. “Route to Market” is the lifeblood of this industry, although its importance gets little air-time as distribution and marketing do not have the same sexiness as granite soils, wet northerly breezes, 83yr old vines and a winemaker quoting Camus.
It was a real bitch of day, all windy and grey and with the morning light as dull and listless as a monk’s hand-shake in Lent. This is when the Hemel-en-Aarde shows itself as the rugged, agriculturally poor and harsh farming land it is, features far removed from the post-card pretty vinelands and vinous splendour too often associated as being requisite for the making of fine wine.
I have spent so much time having fun at Vondeling in the Voor-Paardeberg that the absolute quality of its wines passed me by. Raucous bouts of judging potjiekos competitions, ball-clacking boules tournaments and even one memorable game of cricket have not been conducive to actually concentrating on the Vondeling offerings, besides seeing how quickly they went down the hatch. Last week, however, I was corralled into a tasting-room to sample 11 vintages of their Babiana white blend without any reason or alternative activity to set the attention span a wandering.
The National Department of Sport and Recreation is seeking an explanation from the South African wine industry after industry representatives comprehensively lost a rugby scrumming contest against a team of national Portuguese wine makers in the Douro Valley. According to Ballus Haarhof, spokesperson for Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula, losing to Portugal in rugby scrumming is not only a national disgrace, but the Department is also concerned that the South Africans tried to keep their loss a secret from the sporting world.
Nestled in the heart of the Douro Valley, the village of Pinhão was being drenched by sheets of icy rain riding into northern Portugal on a brutal cold wind from west Spain. It was all grey and misty and chill, but not even the sight of a ugly horde of red-shirted EFF water-bottle throwers or the sound of a whining Donald Trump speech would have rendered the Douro anything but magnificently beautiful. It truly is God’s wine country, the vines clinging to the 40 degree slopes, all granite and schist reaching to the heavens and stopping at about 1000m above the river.
When he shouldered through the lines
Of our cropped and mangled vines,
His unjaded eye could scan
How each hour had marked its man.
- Rudyard Kipling
Things have been getting quite emotional about the gnarled old vines scattered throughout the Cape Winelands. And yes, they are magnificent plants adding to the brooding atmosphere of some of the more robust and rural wine regions. The sight of an ancient vineyard, dense and obtuse vines pointing their wrinkled shoots at the heavens, set among the rolling hills of Bottelary or Malmesbury, can be mesmerising.
Last week’s Amorim Cork Alvarinho wine-tasting at Muratie gripped me with soil-encrusted hands, held me against a blue overall smelling of olive oil, garlic and sardines, and threw me over to the Atlantic Coast of north Portugal. Few things can export you to those other places, foreign and exotic and special, the way a wine does. And for this, the white grape of the Vinho Verde region, Alvarinho, does it in a way no others can.
The trick to attending a wine fundi’s party is to arrive early. Just as I did last week when attending a birthday soirée thrown by a vinous vixen. Her fridge was heaving with bottles of wine waiting for the 40-odd guests expected to arrive an hour later. But with these wino types you have to know that they are going to kick-off their party with some really good stuff. So it was music to my ears when she said: “Let’s crack a special bottle before the hordes arrive.”
Hindsight brings wisdom, so it is only now that I am truly beginning to get what Mike Ratcliffe and his team were on about with Vilafonté. It was in 2005, at a gathering of the Wine Swines – the most famous wine-tasting circle in South Africa – that Mike used the word “luxury brand” to introduce a thing called Vilafonté which he was driving together with Californians Phil Freese and Zelma Long. It was the maiden 2003 vintage of the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Vilafonté “C” and the more Merlot-ish “M”.