Vinho Verde Saves Fishy Tale

casal garcia

A grilled Portuguese sardine is one of life’s great fishy pleasures. In South Africa one finds these critters in the freezer, each fish having been individually quick-frozen after being caught in the Atlantic off Portugal to ensure firm-fleshed and flavoursome eating.

Last week I hauled a few packs to De Wetshof for the annual sardine braai that Portuguese national Joaquim Sa and moi host for the sardine-loving De Wet family. Our sardines were packaged under the Breco brand and having been purchased at Porra-owned Fish4Africa in Woodstock, I presumed another splendid culinary evening was in store. The perfect sardines would be washed down with vinho verde while Joaquim entertained us with jokes about Portuguese nuns before bursting into tear-inducing bouts of fado song.

The evening was, however, almost ruined by the Breco sardines which had apparently been caught and frozen before Vasca da Gama’s sister grew her first moustache. Not even an accomplished sardine griller like Peter de Wet from De Wetshof could make these old, crusty, decrepit fish taste like anything but a musty body-part straight out of a Stephen King novel.

Being Portuguese Joaquim offered heartfelt apologies at the culinary disaster, but it was already too late. We had started throwing corks at images of Cristiano Ronaldo and swore the nearest prego roll would be set on fire. The Portuguese Minister of Fisheries has been notified of these Breco charlatans’ role in screwing-up one of his country’s national products so they can expect to have a chorizo placed up a place the sun don’t shine.


The test for any wine is to remove the taste of a lousy morsel, such as aforementioned sardine. And thank the Lord, thus, for vinho verde. Joaquim had brought a stash along comprising six bottles each of Casal Garcia and Gatao. And the wines went some way in repairing the damage the stale sardines had done to our traumatised palates.

Both Casal and Gatao are made largely from Arinto and Loureiro grapes grown in the northern regions of Portugal. The grapes are picked young and fresh, fermented in steel and given a slight petillance to further enhance the rampant freshness.

This is really one of my favourite wine styles, and of the two the Casal Garcia is a short head in front. Reason? A real lip-smacking tangy and bracing explosion of wine flavours that make the glass difficult to put down. And at only 9% alcohol, we could all manage two bottles each without breaking a sweat.

The Gatao is slightly more complex in the mouth with a thud of plushness, like a padded bra being dropped on a Persian rug. A hit of litchi and a smile of melon is evident on the mid-palate, but like the Casal, Gatao goes down like a baseball groupie during Spring Break.

Serve very, very cold. With good sardines. Both wines score 839/1000.

A pleasant surprise with which to open this week-end was to be had at lunch with Bernard Kotze from Du Toitskloof Cellars. The wine was a Pinot Grigio from Van Loveren in Robertson and this could very well be my favourite wine in the Van Loveren range. And by the way – why is more Pinot Grigio not being made and consumed in South Africa? Conditions for its development are ideal.

In any event, the Van Loveren Pinot Grigio 2013 is a stony, austere wine with a veneer of greenness. Granny Smith apple and green figs spring to mind. There is full-on freshness, but nothing lean and spiky. A gorgeous, riveting cold glass of white wine on a hot summer’s day.

As in 893/1000.



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