Do not look a beached whale in the mouth. Instead, walk around its head to the bulky girth and cut yourself a steak or two. Forget beef from beer-fed wagyu or grass-reared Angus cows. Those Japanese kobe numbers who listen to opera, slurp organic egg-nog and get one massage per day plus a weekly hand-job? No way. Whale meat out-performs all these on the MeatOmeter as far as taste, texture and more-ishness goes.
Of course, whale meat is a bit tricky to come by. Forty years ago you could pick the stuff up, dirt cheap, at a butchery in Long Street, Cape Town. But today it is far easier to score heroin in Long Street than it is to get a grip on a piece of Southern Right sashimi.
I was introduced to whale meat in the 80’s by an Icelandic back-packer who used to chomp on what was essentially whale biltong. Homesickness for South Africa may have played a role, but a biltong connoisseur like me had to admit that this was some seriously good meat. Back in her cottage in Reykjavik, she cooked the real stuff for me as we listened to Wham!, Spandau Ballet and – her favourite – Culture Club. I forgot the music, but never the taste of Megrieda’s stew of whale cooked with milk, beer and potatoes. (You’ve never had a potato until you’ve had and Iceland potato, by the way.) There were exotic whale-strip stir-fries, whale tongue casserole and – my favourite – whale steaks on the grill. Medium rare. Thick as a Beijing telephone directory. Charred on the outside. Juicy inside. Meat-lover heaven.
The only living person I know who appears to share my penchant for whale is Abrie Bruwer, legendary proprietor of the Springfield Estate in Robertson. Robertson legend, as reported by Neil Pendock, has Abrie commandeering his son Boy-Boy to lovingly cut some steaks from a whale beached outside Struisbaai. Which is nothing strange, as unless you are willing to play Captain Ahab by attempting to harpoon a Minke outside Hermanus, waiting for a freshly beached whale is the way to satisfy the culinary craving these animals induce.
Abrie’s sister, Jeannette, kindly sent me a stash of Springfield vino recently and I was secretly hoping that a strip of Southern Right sirloin was hidden in the package’s secret compartment. This was not to be, but the first wine I opened had me calling the NSRI to find out if any beached whales had been spotted between Saldanha and Arniston.
The wine was Springfield’s The Work of Time 2006, a heady Cabernet Franc-led Bordeaux blend. Powerful, rich, broad and aggressive, the wine had me drooling for a thick slice of whale sirloin grilled over furious coals and basted with soya sauce, lemon peel and white wine.
Despite being eight years old, The Work of Time 2006 was in great shape with at least 10 years ahead of being at its very best. A whiff of oak was still evident, but had no intention of molesting the gorgeous fruit and statuesque structure of what is a monumental South African red wine.
The nose showed savoury and spice, with a touch of calf’s leather and bramble. The wine attacked the palate with the subtleness of a kugel at a Carol Boyes sale, as assertive Cabernet Franc tends to do. Heady flavours of concentrated blackberry, Spanish paprika and fig-paste spun around the mouth. A shard of pine-needle and pencil-having sliced the taste-buds with visceral abandon, while a soft, velvety cloak of red-fruited Merlot mopped up the excess, like a gartered French maid cleaning the remains of a saucy bachelor’s party.
The Work of Time, what a fantastically decadent and downright sexy bottle of juice. One glass can only lead to a whale of a time. Score: 967/1000.
If you are doing whale meat sushi, Springfield’s Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2011 is the way to go. Robertson produces the finest un-wooded Chardonnays in the country, with this wine being one of the best examples.
It is a surprisingly rich wine for an un-barrelled number, the wild yeast ferment bringing complex aromas of butterscotch, burnt butter and dried marigolds to the fore. The taste is fresh and steely, but on the mid-palate an explosion of ripe tropical fruit is detonated, bringing a Gauguin-like colourful decadence to the fore. Pineapple, custard apple and papaya lies on a classic Chardonnay foundation of grilled nuts and stone-fruit, making this a fresh and dreamy wine. Going at 938/1000.
Any whale listening, well these two wines have a message in a bottle: life’s a bitch should you ever end-up on a beach.
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