The Revival of Riesling, Queen of Grapes

An epic tasting experience of this versatile, expressive, and aromatic German white wine varietal.

From Cabernet Sauvignon to Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa and particularly the Western Cape has become the cultivator of an entire alphabet’s worth of wine grape varietals. One of the lesser-known colours within this rainbow spectrum is the German white wine varietal of Riesling. This ignorance, thanks to what is being called the “Riesling Revival”, the first of a series of Riesling tastings, is thankfully set to change. And the two women championing this movement are superlatively talented winemakers Catherine Marshall and Jessica Saurwein, both of whom craft boutique, namesake wine ranges.

Catherine Marshall is a veteran of the wine industry, producing reverentially lauded vintages of Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc, while Jessica Saurwein’s award-littered “Nom” Pinot Noir is so devastatingly delicious, you’d be forgiven for ignoring your date at the dinner table after cracking open a bottle. Both winemakers, however, have an unwavering passion for Riesling, and a conviction that this “Queen of Grapes” produces the most expressive, aromatic, and food-friendly white wines available in South Africa and indeed the world.

Knowing next to nothing about Riesling and eager to learn at the hands of the most knowledgeable people in the industry, I arrived at Lavinia Cellars in Stellenbosch, the home of Catherine Marshall Wines, Jessica Saurwein, and the Riesling Revival series of tastings.

Riseling Revival

Meet the grape: an introduction to Riesling

The day kicked off with an introduction to Riesling, a white grape varietal, which originated in the Rhine region of southwestern Germany. This aromatic grape cultivar, which thrives in cooler climates, displays a flowery, almost perfumed nose, as well as high acidity and is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet, and sparkling white wines that are seldom oaked.

“If farmed and made well, Riesling is one of the greatest varieties of white wine in the world, in terms of flavour profile,” began Catherine Marshall. “It has excellent longevity for a white wine and it’s very expressive geographically with soil, site, and climate showing up incredibly well in the flavour and aromatic profiles of the wine, owing to its monoturpine and turpenoid characteristics.”

Riseling Revival

Riesling also generally has low alcohol content, is known for its bracingly fresh acidity, particularly in those from Germany, and can be made with all levels of sweetness. But perhaps Riesling’s greatest claim to fame is its potent aromatic properties, which are 10 to 15 times higher than that of any other white wine variety. In other words, Riesling has a powerful nose, the precise profile of which varies depending on terroir and origin.

Riesling roots: where in the world do we find the Queen of Grapes?

The Germans are the foremost producers of Riesling, not only in volume and variety, but also in quality; they have, after all, been doing it for centuries. A large acreage of land bordering the Rhine River and its tributaries in southwestern Germany is carpeted in Riesling vineyards, with the Rheingau, Mosel-Saar Ruwer, Rheinhessen, Württemberg, and a smattering of other virtually unpronounceable names being notable Riesling-producing regions.

Riseling Revival

Alsace in France (where your Alsatian pooch originates) is another famous Riesling producing region found on the Rhine River plain in northeastern France. Historically caught in an immense tug of war between Germany and France, Alsace has suffered from tremendous identity crises over the centuries. And while France eventually won the battle, the culture here (and the wine, obviously) remains a delightful blend of the two.

Further afield, producers in South Australia’s Clare and Eden Valley (neighbouring the famous Barossa Valley) have jumped on the Riesling bandwagon. The varietal is also grown in Austria, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Croatia, Luxembourg, Russia, Argentina, Chile, Ontario (Canada), New Zealand, California, Washington State, and finally – and most significantly to the group gathered at Lavinia Cellars on this utterly gorgeous spring day – the cool and verdant Elgin Valley in the Western Cape of South Africa.

The pudding and the proof to be found therein

With beguiling tales of history, geography, and chemistry under our belts, we moved on to our practicum in Riesling – a sweeping tasting experience that included Jessica Saurwein and Catherine Marshall’s creations, as well as some iconic examples from around the world. From the Eden and Clare Valleys in Australia to the Mosel in Germany and Alsace in France, we travelled the length and breadth of the world’s most iconic Riesling appellations. In total, we sampled a staggering 14-15 different Rieslings, a few too many to describe in any detail here. As such, I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a wholly subjective highlights reel of our Riesling Revival experience.

Highlights reel: most memorable Rieslings tasted

Niepoort/Kettern Falkenberg Riesling 2016 – “From vineyards in the western Mosel village of Piesport, Germany, the 2016 Mosel Riesling Falkenberg has a very clear, fresh, and delicately slatey nose of white ripe fruits and cold stones. Lush and piquant, with a salty freshness and remarkable finesse, this is a lithe but tensioned dry Riesling bottled with 11% alcohol. The finish is long, pure, and salty, absolutely refreshing and highly delicate.” Thank you, Wine Cellar Fine Wine Merchants for the erudite tasting notes.

Personally, I found the Falkenberg to exhibit a sharp, almost confronting acidity – perceived as a lemony tartness – but what clinched it for me was the wine’s exceptional expressive nose of rose geranium, citrus, and gunflint.

Riseling Revival Catherine Marshall wines

Catherine Marshall Riesling 2019 – From the Kogelberg Biosphere in the Elgin Valley, Catherine Marshall’s 2019 Riesling exudes sweet yet persistent, bright, fresh limes, crisp apples, and white flower perfume. The brisk acidity is well balanced and supported by expressive fruit with spicy undertones.

To me, this off-dry Riesling was a childhood summer’s day bottled. Where I grew up in Hout Bay, there were lush Jasmine bushes growing right outside my bedroom window and that same fragrance simply exploded from the glass. In fact, so heavily perfumed was Catherine’s extraordinary Riesling that one could quite plausibly dab it behind the ears and on the wrists and go out for dinner smelling like a summer garden.

Trimbach Riesling Reserve 2014 – For almost 400 years (since 1626), the Trimbach family in Alsace, France has represented the exceptional terroirs and fine wines of the region. The Trimbach Riesling Reserve 2014 is the product of rigorously selected grapes from the Ribeauvillé region and is a bone-dry wine with a nose of white peach, acacia blossom, lemon zest, and gunmetal.

The lattermost descriptive might sound laughable but this is precisely why the Trimbach made my highlight reel. One sniff of this Riesling and I was transported to a sooty rail yard, the sharp, flinty, and metallic smell of railway tracks and trains in my nostrils. Tasted side-by-side with Catherine Marshall’s heady jasmine and honey-suckle scented 2019 Riesling, the comparison drove home that fundamental truth about Riesling: that it is the most aromatic of all the white wines and acutely expressive of terroir.

Saurwein “Chi” Riesling 2019 – Jessica Saurwein’s 2019 Riesling is made from grapes sourced from the same Elgin vineyard as Catherine Marshall’s Riesling and yet the two were remarkably different. The wine’s heavily perfumed floral nose of citrus, fynbos, rose geranium, apple blossom, and white stone fruit was followed by a zesty, fruity palate of citrus peel and lemon sherbet. Delicious and dangerously moreish!

Riseling Revival Sauwein

There were many, many, many other Rieslings that we tasted this day that fully deserve a spot on this highlights reel but I do feel the point has been successfully made, and that is that Riesling is incredibly distinctive yet anything but uniform! (Also, your boss will probably start noticing that you haven’t typed anything in a while).

Riesling brought to life

I was hoping for an education and, boy, was I educated. Prior to our lovely tasting experience at Lavinia Cellars, I regarded Riesling as a light style white wine that was typically a little too sweet for my palate, which has somehow become slavishly devoted to tannin. Afterwards, I left with a profound appreciation for this German varietal and the alchemy that goes on in Jessica Saurwein’s and Catherine Marshall’s cellars when they transform their Elgin Valley grapes into this queen of white wines. My eyes have been opened and Riesling brought to life!

Riseling Revival

Catherine Marshall Wines: www.cmwines.co.za

Jessica Saurwein: www.saurwein.co.za

Address: Lavinia Cellars, Polkadraai Road, Stellenbosch

This article was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa.

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Oldenburg Vineyards: a must-add to any boozy Stellenbosch itinerary

It is all too easy to wax lyrical for paragraph after paragraph about how spellbindingly beautiful the Cape Winelands are. For example, here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote for Southern Vines magazine about a year ago:

“Perched high up on Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, Tokara Wine & Olive Farm affords visitors the kind of views that words fail dismally to convey. From here, you can see the Cape farmlands’ patchwork quilt of emerald green fields and autumnal-coloured vineyards bordered by dramatic, craggy mountain ranges turned blue by a low haze.” 

And another earlier this year:

“I’d need the romantic turn of phrase and poetic dexterity of William Wordsworth to describe the view from Cavalli Estate’s restaurant. An extensive terrace juts out over a small farm dam that reflects an endless vault of creamy blue sky. A neat, yet explosively coloured Fynbos garden thrives around the perimeter of the dam, in and out of which canaries, sunbirds, and prinias flit. The sky was completely unblemished, saved for the occasional soaring raptor, and the sun gently gilded the surrounding rolling hills, rugged mountains, vineyards, and horse paddocks.”

Evocative enough?

So now I sit here, kalaeidescopic memories of Oldenburg Vineyards emblazoned across my mind, trying to cook up a clever new way of conveying its particular allure because I dare say it’s one of the most beautiful of all the Cape’s wine estates I have ever visited. Top three at least!

In fact, to describe the sweeping amphitheatre of dramatic mountainscapes, undulating vineyards, and fiery flowering Fynbos gardens as merely “beautiful” is to nonchalantly say Thai food is “okay” or “Ja, she’s pretty” about the actress from the latest Wonder Woman movie. Beautiful, pah! Such a pedestrian, everyday adjective is almost slanderous in this context. A litany of far more adoring words come to my writer’s mind: mouth-wateringly delicious, heart-breakingly gorgeous, and knee-weakeningly divine…and yes, these apply to both Thai food and Gal Gadot.

So there you have it. Oldenburg Vineyards sprawls across a setting that will blow your mind in the most exquisite way possible and if you receive any visitors to the Cape and want to send them home with immediate plans to relocate, bring them here:

Oldenburg Vineyards Stellenbosch Rondekop

I told you I could wax lyrical for paragraph after paragraph…and I haven’t even started talking about the wine yet!

Wine, glorious wine

Oldenburg Vineyards’ wine tasting centre

On the subject of wine, let’s talk about wine! Located at a higher elevation to most Stellenbosch farms and in the rocky embrace of the Groot Drakenstein and Jonkershoek Mountain Ranges, the valley in which Oldenburg’s vineyards sprawl is several degrees cooler on average. Three to be precise.

Upon arrival at the estate, the velvety-voiced and charismatic Stefan Reinmuth, Oldenburg’s wine ambassador, greeted us with a glass of the estate’s <CL° White Blend. There’s a great story to that name, which I’ll share in a minute but first I need to express how very delighted I was to receive a welcome drink of lightly wooded white wine as opposed to the usual crisp rosé or MCC…not that I have anything against MCC (quite the contrary actually), but a change is as good as a holiday, isn’t it? Also, I’m amongst the endangered species that love a good, wooded Chardonnay.

Yours truly with a grotesque volume of Chardonnay in hand. Awesome.

Oldenburg Vineyards <CL° is a white blend of 63% Chardonnay and 37% Chenin Blanc, both partially wooded. The name is a composite of nerdy symbols, the key to which is provided on the back of the bottle. “CL” is the vehicle registration for Stellenbosch, “<” is the mathematical symbol for less than, and “°” is the symbol for degree, as in temperature. Ergo, slapped together, the name alludes to the fact that the terroir here is cooler than central Stellenbosch, which, in winemaking, is a very good thing.

Oldenburg Vineyards CL-White-Blend-2018
Oldenburg Vineyards <CL°

The <CL° on Oldenburg Vineyard’s bottles of White and Red Blend is what the estate’s marketers call a “message in a bottle” but what the dashing Stefan Reinmuth jokingly prefers to call a “dad joke in a bottle.” I prefer the latter, probably because I was raised on an interminable diet of dad jokes.

(Hopefully this doesn’t get you into trouble, Stefan.)

“Jy dink jy’s cooler as ekke”

Profoundly foul-mouthed philosopher and poet, Jack Parow

Okay, so why is cooler better (within reason)?

Grapes typically take longer to ripen in cooler microclimates and a longer time on the vine means more nutrients for the grapes, a better development of the fruits, and more concentrated flavours. Quality fruit is the bedrock, foundations, and building blocks of an excellent wine. The winemaker is the architect. 

If you’re still struggling to grasp the relationship between temperature and fruit quality, consider the following: have you ever eaten ripe tomatoes off the vine? Aren’t they delicious? Bursting with citrusy, sweet, and vegetal flavour? Quite a bit different to the tomatoes you buy in the supermarket, which are watery by comparison. This is because the latter are typically plucked off the vine when they are green and then ripen en route to the store, in the store, or even after they’ve been purchased. These tomatoes have been cut off from the steady feed of nutrients from the parent plant and so aren’t nearly as delicious and flavoursome as their vine-ripened cousins. This is why “vine-ripened” has become a sexy word in gastronomy and on menus.

So there you have it: the longer the ripening period, the greater the development of those fruit flavours winemakers (and wine drinkers such as myself) covet so dearly.

The wine tasting

After gagging over the view and sipping delicately on my “dad joke” in a glass, we took our seats around a long table in the stylish wine tasting centre to sample the fruits of Oldenburg’s vineyards and winemaker, Nic Van Aarde.

Oldenburg Vineyards Winemaker Nic van Aarde (HR)
The architect.

First up were the Oldenburg Vineyard Series Chenin Blanc 2018 and Chardonnay 2018. The first, a beguiling golden hue in colour, delivered aromas of yellow apples, fresh pineapple, and honeysuckle, followed up by a lovely texture on the palate, filled with flavours of ripe peaches, apricots, and gentle oak spice. The wine was fermented in a combination of egg and older barrels, and matured in 300 litre French oak barrels for eight months, of which 17% were first fill.

Oldenburg Vineyards Chenin Blanc & Chardonnay
Chardonnay on the left, Chenin on the right.

The Chardonnay 2018 was 100% barrel fermented and thereafter matured for eight months in 300 litre French oak barrels, 35% of which were first fill. Bright yellow in colour, the wine imparted a nose of gorgeous ripe tropical fruits: litchi, banana, papaya, and ripe citrus with warm oak spice. The palate was a study in balance between fruit and oak, delivering mouth-filling flavours of tangerine and dried pineapple with a fresh, crisp finish.

Next up were the Oldenburg Vineyard Series Grenache Noir 2017 and Syrah 2015. Mercifully, the tables were decked with great platters heaped with Dalewood cheese, olives, sweet green grapes, charcuterie, and crackers that were as delicious as they were deafening to crunch on in the quiet around the table, while Stefan walked us through the tasting. Oh, and by the way, these platters (minus the charcuterie – we’re special) are served to all guests who visit Oldenburg Vineyards for a wine tasting!

Oldenburg Vineyards Grenache Noir & Syrah
Grenache Noir on the left, Syrah on the right.

The Grenache Noir 2017, a gorgeous, silky red, was matured for 16 months in 300 litre French oak barrels (28% new and 72% second-fill barrels). The wine has a dark plum hue and aromas of rich red fruit, raspberries, hints of liquorice, and pleasant herbal notes. The wood from the oak is elegantly integrated into the body, while the sturdy tannins are rounded off by luscious fruit flavours, leaving the wine smooth and succulent.

To those of you scratching your heads over my persistent referencing to first and second-fill barrels, here’s the deal: oak imparts a distinctive flavour to wine that is strongest with new oak barrels (first fill). After a vintage, the barrels are thoroughly steam-cleaned and sterilized to receive their next consignment of vino, to which they also impart a lovely oak flavour but not as concentrated as the first. Oak barrels can be used many, many times over but each time they impart less and less “oakiness” to the wine. Some wines benefit enormously from being fermented and matured in new oak, like rich, heavy red wines.

Oldenburg Vineyards - barrels

Other wines can be ruined by too much oak, as is the case with Chardonnay and that blasphemous “ABC” movement – Anything But Chardonnay – to which I say: clearly, you aren’t drinking the right Chardonnay. Some wines, such as crisp whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, typically aren’t oaked at all but are rather fermented and matured in great steel containers. There’s more to it – winemaking is mind-bogglingly complex – but consider this your crash course.

The Oldenburg Vineyards Series Syrah 2015

The reason I have given the Oldenburg Vineyards Series Syrah 2015 its very own subheading is because this wine – this liquid velvet ambrosia – was my absolute favourite from our tasting. First, it must be explained that the 2015 vintage here in South Africa is widely considered to be the best ever for our country’s wines. Not merely “one of the best”…the best. Cooler conditions throughout February 2015 allowed for slow, even ripening of grapes early in the season, contributing towards the development of the fruit’s colour and flavour, particularly in the red wine cultivars.

Syrah, Syrah! Whatever will be, will be!

The Syrah 2015 was matured for 20 months in 300 litre French oak barrels (40% first fill, 30% third fill, 20% fourth fill, and 10% fifth fill barrels.) On the nose, this dark crimson wine delivers a powerful, ripe red fruit profile laced with vanilla oak and sultry savoury notes. On the palate, it boasts brooding, dark chocolate flavours with cumin notes and a firm, muscular structure. I fell so ardently in love with this wine that I bought a bottle after our tasting, even though my wine collection overfloweth and, with plans to relocate to Canada in the next six months, I should be whittling down my collection rather than adding to it.

Next was the bold but elegant Cabernet Franc 2015, matured for 19 month in a mixture of new, third, fourth, and fifth fill French oak barrels. This wine, another beautiful velvety red, is a deep, plum-red in colour with a nose of ripe cherry and savoury notes and the most succulent palate of liquorice, violets, raspberries, and red fruit and a mouth-watering pepperiness of capsicum, paprika, and black pepper, particularly appreciable after hoovering down 17 olives (no one else was eating them!)

Oldenburg Vineyards Cabernet Franc & Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc on the left, Rondekop Cabernet Sauvignon on the right.

Finally, we were treated to a tasting of the Rondekop “Per Se” Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, one of three wines from Oldenburg Vineyards’ top tier range. The grapes for these wines are grown on a low, rounded hill (Rondekop or “round head”) visible from the winery. Like a contagious laugh on an already attractive person, the presence of this geological feature within the valley adds further desirable idiosyncrasies to the microclimate. The result is that the fruit grown here is not just good; it’s blerry good. In fact, only ten barrels showing exceptional quality and potential were selected and left to age in 50% new oak and 50% second fill barrels for 24 months to create the Rondekop Per Se 2015.

Oldenburg Vineyards Rondekop
View from Oldenburg Vineyards’ winery with Rondekop poking its rondekop above the Fynbos gardens.

The subsequent brick-red Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a profound herbal aroma with dried peach and hints of vanilla and a gorgeous full body of broody black currant, plum, and red fruit flavours. The tannins are as soft as a fall-of-the-bone lamb shank, but structured enough to allow ageing of 20 years or more. And, according to the winemaker, “this virile, succulent wine is a textbook example of what Cabernet Sauvignon is all about.”

Sufficiently titillated? Buy Oldenburg Vineyard’s wines here!

Wine estate worthy of your next Stellenbosch visit

Oldenburg Vineyards is a must-add to any boozy Stellenbosch travel itinerary – the wines here are simply superb and the views, as I explained ad nauseum, heart-breakingly gorgeous. The only downfall to visiting such an exquisite wine estate is that you might find yourself insufferably critical of all others to follow!

Wander Woman Thea is for sale (but in a totally legal and classy way)

If you like what you see and fancy a talented, witty, and grammatically pedantic writer for your website project, blog, or marketing materials, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at thea@wanderwomanthea.com.

Stellenbosch in Spring!

The country’s best wine and food celebrated against a backdrop of blossoms, tender leaves, and singing birds

The sun is peeking out, the once skeletal fruit orchards are bursting into white and pink blossoms, the birds are singing their little love-struck hearts out, and the gnarled grapevines are sprouting tender green leaves. Spring has sprung and there’s no better vantage point for the bountiful show than a Stellenbosch wine estate…or two! So we packed up the car and headed to Le Pommier Wine Estate for an overnight spoil followed by a wine pairing and Sunday lunch at Skilpadvlei Wine Estate.

Le Pommier Wine Estate

Ah, Le Pommier… apple of my eye. Located on Helshoogte Road in Stellenbosch, adjacent to Zorgvliet Wines (to which the estate used to belong), Le Pommier is a wine estate that’s also home to a luxury country lodge and a rustic country-style restaurant. It used to be an apple orchard, hence the name, which means “apple” in French, but while its acreage is now dedicated to growing quality grapes, you’ll still find apple trees scattered throughout the estate.

Le Pommier Country Lodge

Le Pommier Country Lodge

Le Pommier is decidedly “country” in feel and agenda, delivering a more laid-back, authentic Cape experience coloured with staggeringly gorgeous views, thick embracing nature, easy drinking wine, and honest, delicious food. Our accommodation for the night was a suite within the luxury country lodge, which features six suites, seven rooms, and two self-catering units. The décor here is simple: clean white wood furnishings with red highlights courtesy of scatter cushions, couches, and curtains. There’s a king-sized bed, freestanding Victorian bath, bedside fireplace, and large flat screen TV. The suite overlooks a generous wooden deck and a dam heavily fringed with reeds and tangled nature; craggy blue mountains beyond that.

What more could you need?

Le Pommier Country Lodge
Le Pommier Country Lodge

Wine tasting

Wine, of course! And so we walked the short five-minute walk (ten if you like to stop and look at birds) to the wine tasting room adjacent to the restaurant. Here, with awe-inspiring views of the imposing Simonsberg and the quilted farmlands and vineyards between, we sipped and smacked our way through Le Pommier’s range of wines in the dappled shade of the spring sun, under the guidance of charismatic wine ambassador, Zin. I wonder if that’s short for Zinfandel? My favourite wine of those we tasted was the Le Pommier Red Blend 2018 (R105), a rich blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with a powerful nose of dark berries, a full, firm structure, velvety tannins, and a generous, lingering aftertaste.

Wine tasting at Le Pommier: R40 for four wines

Le Pommier Wine Estate

Le Pommier Restaurant

Dinner was taken at Le Pommier Restaurant, which spills out onto a two-tiered shaded al fresco dining area. Ambitiously, we sat outside to enjoy the sunset but with winter still clinging to the Cape, we headed inside where it was cosier and a fire had been lit. For sustenance, we enjoyed a hearty country meal of creamy, thick chicken and noodle soup and roasted tomato and basil soup, followed by a shared portion of spaghetti and meatballs. The lovely servers looked quite disappointed when we didn’t order dessert but I would have had to be carried out of that restaurant in a stretcher if I’d had another bite.

In the morning, after a long languorous night in soft sheets, we completed our luxurious overnight at Le Pommier Wine Estate with a “build-your-own” breakfast of scrambled eggs, tomato smoor, chicken livers, and farm-baked bread. Ah, my mouth waters as I fondly remember the meal!

With such a spoil under our belts (literally), we could quite happily have headed home to rest up and recover but it’s spring in Stellenbosch and it would have been a travesty to waste the good weather. So we hopped on over Skilpadvlei Wine Estate for more wine and food.

Le Pommier Wine Estate: +27 (0) 21 885 1269 | www.lepommier.co.za | Helshoogte Rd, Banhoek, Stellenbosch

Skilpadvlei Wine Estate

Skilpadvlei Wine Estate on Stellenbosch’s Polkadraai Road is a special slice of heaven. First of all, driving in, I spotted a great-crested grebe paddling in the estate’s dam, which, being a birdwatcher, instantly made me happy. You don’t see them too often and they are beautiful birds with an exceptionally beautiful courtship dance.

Skilpadvlei Wine Estate Great Crested Grebe
Great Crested Grebe spotted at Skilpadvlei Wine Estate

Secondly, Skilpadvlei’s tasting room is gorgeous, rustic, and cosy with the heat of an enormous fire lapping gently at your back. Here, we sat down to a very goedkoop soup and wine pairing for only R100. This indulgent taste experience pairs (1) the Skilpadvlei Grenache 2017 with a creamed butternut and coconut soup, roasted nuts, and crispy bacon; (2) the Skilpadvlei Shiraz 2018 with a roasted tomato and chicken soup with deep fried mozzarella balls and paprika; and (3) the Skilpadvlei ML Joubert (the estate’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend) with a seafood chowder, crispy prawn, and coriander…

All with freshly baked bread.

Skilpadvlei is open for wine tasting Monday to Saturday, 08:00 to 16:00 and Sunday 09:00 to 15:00:

Lunch at Skilpadvlei

And because we apparently hadn’t had enough food the entire weekend, we skipped across to Skilpadvlei’s restaurant right after our tasting for a truly hedonistic lunch of steak, chips, and onion rings; and fried calamari, Greek salad, and pan-fried vegetables. Oink. Aside from the fact that Skilpadvlei serves up really excellent, honest South African cuisine, they’re gearing up with a suite of “Ruggas Specials” for the coming Rugby World Cup and, very truthfully, I can’t imagine a better place to watch a game, enjoy a meal with friends, and sink a couple of glasses of their beautiful wines or Stellenbrau beer.

Skilpadvlei Wine Estate

Yes indeed: spring is in the air and while Stellenbosch’s wine estates are making it exceptionally hard to get the body summer-ready, there simply is no better place to celebrate the arrival of the warmer weather than on a deck overlooking the winelands, or in a festive restaurant with delicious food and wine before you!

Skilpadvlei Wine Estate: +27 (0) 21 881 3237 | www.skilpadvlei.co.za |

Skilpadvlei Farm, M12 Polkadraai Road, Stellenbosch

Skilpadvlei Wine Estate

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/08/29/enjoy-stellenbosch-in-spring/

Discover a World Secreted Away at Jan Harmsgat Country House

The historic and luxurious Jan Harmsgat Country House delivers an unforgettable experience of al fresco dining, handcrafted wines, 4×4 farm tours, and divine country lodging.

On the southernmost periphery of the Robertson Wine Valley, about 20 minutes before Swellendam on the R60 highway, you’ll discover a bucolic haven spread out beneath a thick canopy of tree leaves. Here, the historic homesteads, luxury suites, dappled sunlit pathways, and warbling birdcalls offer visitors a serene respite from “it all”, whether it’s the stresses of the workweek or a demanding tourist itinerary. This is Jan Harmsgat Country House: a world secreted away and a place of cool tranquillity and sensual indulgence.

Jan Harmsgat

Picnic Under the Pecans

Jan Harmsgat picnic under the pecans

The first of many diversions guests can enjoy at Jan Harmsgat (JHG) is a picnic under the pecan trees, featuring a delicious abundance of farm-fresh, locally made treats. Think: whole breads that crackle as you cut into the crust, a selection of charcuterie and cheeses, fresh strawberries and grapes, olives and olive tapenade, biltong, fig preserve, and crunchy garden salad washed down with a bottle of JHG Sauvignon Blanc 2018. Our advice is to arrive hungry because you aren’t going to want to leave any corner of this indulgent spread untested.

Jan Harmsgat picnic

Exploring the working farm

JHG is a 680-hectare working farm that produces a rich harvest of fruits, including whole pomegranates and pomegranate juice, pecan nuts, and grapes for wine. The farm is spread out on both sides of the R60 highway, providing a pleasing degree of separation between guest accommodations and trundling tractors. Having said this, some of the JHG’s most alluring attractions are its farming operations, which guests are encouraged to explore by foot, bicycle, or 4×4 safari truck…and there are few better ways to recover from a lavish lunch than going for a walk in nature!

Jan Harmsgat

The pecan orchard is a magical place to start with its soft carpeting of lush green grass and resident chestnut-coloured hoopoes. Beyond that, you’ll discover olive groves bedecked in purpling drupes belonging to the neighbouring Mardouw Olive Estate. There are no fences, so meander through the groves and look out for the gravesite of former farm owner and respected local councilman, Hermanus Steyn de Jonge. Another equally charming way to explore and work off all that delicious farm-fresh bread is to jump on a bicycle, of which the estate maintains three for guests to use. Just ask the staff to pump up those tyres!

4×4 Tour and Sunset

Jan Harmsgat sunset winetasting

With the evening approaching, guests are invited to bundle onto JHG’s steed: a handsome Land Rover safari vehicle with manager and marketer of JHG wine portfolio, Mitch Boy, as tour guide. With a glass of JHG Chardonnay 2016 in hand, guests set off on a rutted track that winds its way through the farm’s vineyards, pomegranate orchards – stopping for a taste of the voluptuous ruby fruit – and up a nearby koppie to watch the sun descend into the mist-swathed mountain ranges bordering the Robertson Valley. Keep an eye out for the resident herd of wildebeest!

Guest Accommodations and Restaurant

Jan Harmsgat Country Lodge

JHG’s luxury accommodations consist of ten exclusive rooms and a romantic honeymoon suite. The spacious rooms are elegantly dressed and offer all the modern amenities you’d expect; yet still exude the enchantment of rustic, farm-style living with their original metre-thick walls, yellow-wood detailing, and floral touches.

Jan Harmsgat Country living

Mealtimes are taken at the estate’s restaurant, Just Amy, which lovingly crafts delicious, homespun dishes, such as ostrich carpaccio, grilled West Coast sole with Mediterranean couscous, slow roasted lamb shank with mashed potato, and, for dessert, pecan pie! The elegant, yet rustic country theme extends beautifully into this space with its hardwood ceiling, warm lighting, gracefully decked tables, large fireplace, and leather sofas. There is also a large outdoor seating area under the shade of the pecan trees, which is perfect for al fresco dining on sunny days.

Jan Harmsgat Wines

Jan Harmsgat wine

Lunch, dinner, or anytime really, JHG’s staff is ready to deliver a wine tasting of the estate’s boutique range of small-batch, wild-fermented, and vegan-friendly wines. This consists of a Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Chenin Blanc 2018 (sold out) Chardonnay 2016, Pinotage 2016, Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, and Shiraz 2016. Each wine is crafted from a single block of vineyards no more than six hectares in size and with minimal intervention in the cellar so that the resultant wine is a loving and honest expression of its unique terroir.

Jan Harmsgat wine tasting

A restorative getaway

For days spent embraced by nature and fruiting trees and nights engulfed in red wine and warm, white sheets, there are few better destinations than Jan Harmsgat Country House. Couple this luxury and indulgence with quintessential Western Cape vistas of vineyard carpeted valleys and rugged mountain peaks, and you’ve got a restorative getaway against which you’ll measure all others.

For bookings and enquiries: reservations@janharmsgat.com, +27 (0)87 057 4507.

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/14/discover-a-world-secreted-away-at-jan-harmsgat-country-house/

Holden Manz Wine Estate Delivers a Food and Wine Experience that is Pure and Unpretentious Luxury

We pulled up to Holden Manz Wine Estate in Franschhoek on a day that was the epitome of winter; although in her fine dress of vineyards and voluptuous mountain borders, this idyllic winelands town always manages to look beautifully dramatic on even the drizzliest of days. Situated in the southernmost corner of the Franschhoek Valley, sandwiched between the Franschhoek River and Stony Brook, the 22-hectare estate of Holden Manz boasts a unique terroir that is the progenitor of a range of truly exquisite red wines, including a ‘top 6 in the world’ Cabernet Franc and ‘top 10’ Merlot.

On the two occasions we have sampled Holden Manz wines before – the Franschhoek Summer Wine and Franschhoek Winter Wine festivals at which we had the Chenin Blanc and the Proprietor’s Blend, respectively – we were compelled by their depth of fruit, aromatic complexity, and pure elegance. And so it was with much anticipation that we swooned into the estate’s rustic tasting room to explore the full range before sitting down to a three-course lunch at Holden Manz’ restaurant, the Franschhoek Kitchen.

Holden Manz wine tasting

Holden Manz red wine Franschhoek

Our wine tasting was hosted by the dashing and charismatic Ruben, Holden Manz’ wine ambassador, who walked us through the estate’s very fine repertoire of award-winning wines, beginning with the lush and creamy Provence-style rosé, the gorgeous Chenin Blanc, and, the final white wine, the barrel-fermented Chardonnay 2018. Then, we embarked upon Holden Manz’ rich, elegant, and smooth reds, the grapes of which are grown in the topmost 16 hectares of the estate. To be quite honest, I would be hard-pressed to decide upon a favourite but under duress I suppose I would opt for the Holden Manz Syrah…and the Cabernet Sauvignon…and while we’re at it, the Reserve Merlot. Oh and their Visionaire, Cabernet Franc,and Big G Bordeaux-styleblend.

Do you see where I’m going with this? My absolute compliments to Holden Manz’ experienced and artful winemaker, Thierry Haberer.

Lunch at Franschhoek Kitchen

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen
Franschhoek trout ceviche with yuzu mayo and horseradish crème

A rather gluttonous volume of wine later, we headed upstairs from the tasting room and cellars for a much-needed lunch at Franschhoek Kitchen, which has been rated one of the leading restaurants in a valley already lauded for its culinary calibre. In this classically beautiful, yet rustic setting with stunning views over rain bejewelled vineyards, we tucked into a feast crafted from fresh ingredients strictly sourced from the Franschhoek Valley.

For starters, we shared the gorgeous and velvety vichyssoise soup, served warm and paired with the Holden Manz Chenin Blanc, and the Franschhoek trout ceviche with yuzu mayo, horseradish crème, and a glass of the deliciously indulgent Reserve Chardonnay.

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen sea bass
Sea bass with laksa (Malaysian curry) sauce and toasted coconut chips

For mains, we shared (again, because variety is the spice of life) the pork belly with pomme purée, peach gel, shitake mushrooms, vine tomato, and shitake jus with a glass of Holden Manz Reserve Merlot, and the sea bass, which came swimming in a rich, creamy laksa (Malaysian curry) sauce with toasted coconut chips. The wine pairing for this dish was the exquisite Holden Manz Syrah Reserve. For a sweet ending, we chose the triple chocolate mousse, apple tart, and a nip of Holden Manz Good Sport Cape Vintage 2014, by which stage we had slumped into a miasma of hedonistic pleasure.

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen dessert
Triple chocolate mousse

Five-star accommodation

A visit to Holden Manz Wine Estate need not conclude with a meal. With the Holden Manz Country House being a stone’s throw from the tasting room and restaurant, guests – satiated with good food and wine – can collapse into the lap of luxury. This five-star guesthouse offers five spacious and lavishly appointed suites, all with breathtaking views of the upper Franschhoek Valley and the mountains beyond, as well as a pool, afternoon tea with homemade delicacies, sandwiches, cakes, and preserves, and generous breakfasts, featuring fruits from the estate’s orchards and eggs from their vineyard chickens.

Holden Manz Country Manor Franschhoek

Top culinary and wine experience

Holden Manz Estate owners Gerard Holden and Migo Manz, together with winemaker Thierry Haberer and every member of their staff, have created a wine and food experience that is every ounce as luxurious as it is unpretentious. There are few airs and graces here to dress up the offering because – no surprises here – absolutely none are necessary. Our first few encounters with the brand at Franschhoek’s seasonal wine festivals already had us impressed but our visit to Holden Manz took our impressions to stratospheric heights. Wine estate, fine dining country restaurant, wedding venue, wine tasting cellar, and luxurious five-star accommodations, Holden Manz has it all!

www.HoldenManz.com, +27 (0) 21 876 2738

Blockhouse Kitchen serves “try-not-to-lick-your-plate” delicious food

If you’ve had your ear tuned in to the Cape Town foodie / culinary airwaves, you’ll likely have heard about the recent opening of Blockhouse Kitchen at the arrestingly beautiful Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate. It has generated quite a bit of noise. Situated in the oldest wine-producing region in South Africa and, in fact, the Southern Hemisphere, Blockhouse Kitchen is headed by Executive Chef Brad Ball, who returns to the estate after 12 years at the helm of the previous restaurant, River Café (and who completed a five-year stint at nearby Steenberg Farm’s Bistro Sixteen82). Curious to see whether the restaurant is worthy of the hype, we paid it a visit on a blustery winter’s evening.

The look, the feel

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The weather actually couldn’t have been better suited to our purposes. On a cold evening, there’s nothing quite as inviting as a rustic, country-style restaurant in an historical building older than the Titanic and whose various dining rooms are warmed by raging fires. The main area of this 250-seater restaurant exudes a country-chic, contemporary feel while the two smaller ancillary rooms are simpler, barer, and more rustic in appeal. Ceramic pitchers and bowls of fresh produce like lemons, pears, mushrooms, and chilli peppers function as farm-style “décor” and enormous tapestries with textured prints adorn the walls.

The kitchen is separated from the main dining room by countertops and a glass wall (so you can watch the magic in action) and a combination of the tantalising aromas wafting from its stovetops and the wine cellar, which is visible through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, heightens the anticipation of the food and wine experience to come!

Blockhouse-Kitchen-1 Constantia Uitsig

Food, glorious food (and wine)

Blockhouse Kitchen offers an all-day dining experience that is both healthy and eco-conscious. Here, nose-to-tail and root-to-leaf philosophies are applied to every dish, which not only constitutes a more sustainable approach to dining but also means that dishes are generous in portion and pricing. The menu is varied, packed with local and seasonal ingredients and dishes, and is guaranteed to please both foodies and those with more conventional palates.

For starters, we shared two small plates, one off the menu and one off the specials board: the crunchy, deep-fried squid fritto miso with courgette, fresh lemon, and garlic, and a divine harissa-spiced aioli; and the earthy, wild mushroom ragu with pistachio pesto and polenta porridge. These, we paired with a glass of the Uitsig Chardonnay Reserve 2016, an elegant, well-structured and balanced wooded Chardonnay with earthy and citrus aromas of lime and orange.

Squid-fritto-miso-blockhouse
Squid Fritto Miso
Wild-mushroom-ragu-blockhouseWild Mushroom Ragu

On a side note, while the restaurant does maintain an impressive and varied selection of local and international wines, I most ardently recommend that you pair your food with Constantia Uitsig’s spectacular repertoire of wines. “When in Rome”, as they say!

For mains, I had the slow-braised lamb shoulder, which was so tender and soft I didn’t know whether to eat it or use it as a pillow to sleep on. This was smothered in a rich, red wine jus, whole baby carrots, winter caponata (a Sicilian eggplant dish), and Parmesan polenta. My plus one chose the winter Bolognese casarecce: twisted tubes of homemade pasta served in a rich, savoury Bolognese sauce made from slow-cooked, grass-fed beef and dusted generously with Parmesan cheese.

Braised-Lamb-shoulder-blockhouse
Braised Lamb Shoulder

For this course, I chose a glass of the Constantia Uitsig Red Horizon, the only red wine the estate makes, and a delicious, light, and elegant blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The wine had a lively nose of bright, red cherries with lingering tobacco and ripe plum notes and lovely soft tannins, which paired beautifully with the lamb.

Bellies happily filled, we opted to forego dessert in favour of a glass of the Constantia Uitsig Muscat D’Alexandrie, a rich and soft dessert wine bursting with ripe peach and flower fragrances. The Constantia valley is historically and internationally acclaimed for its Muscat or Muskadel (to use the South African term) or Moscato (if you prefer Italian) – are you keeping up here? So, naturally, Uitsig’s expression of this sweet wine could quite aptly be compared to the ambrosia of the Gods.

Blockhouse-Kitchen-Dessert-Wine

Blockhouse Kitchen confirms the rumours

The rumours abound were that Blockhouse Kitchen serves a mighty good supper and that the food is unpretentious but absolutely delicious. I can confirm that these rumours are indeed true. Chef Brad Ball and his team create environmentally conscious dishes that are take-home-in-a-doggy-box tasty; swat-your-partner’s-hand-for-trying-to-sneak-a-bite flavoursome; and have-to-make-a-concerted-effort-not-to-lick-your-plate delicious. So, if you count yourself as someone who loves a good “foodie” spoil but isn’t comfortable with the expense and measly portion sizes of other fine dining establishments, Blockhouse Kitchen is a must-visit restaurant to add to your culinary bucket list!

Blockhouse Kitchen is open for breakfast and lunch from Monday to Sunday, 09:00 – 11:30 | 12:00 to 22:00 and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@bhkitchen.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 794 3010. 

www.blockhousekitchen.co.za

Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate, Spaanschemat River Road, Fir Grove, Constantia

This article was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/07/01/blockhouse-kitchen-serves-try-not-to-lick-your-plate-delicious-food/

Braving the Rain for the Oh-so-Worth-It Terroir Winter Special Offer

Bathed in the warm glow of a flickering fire, our table beckoned to us from across the intimate dining room of Terroir at Kleine Zalze Wine Estate. With its warm charcoal walls, bamboo ceiling, and Spanish style terracotta tiles, this rustic, homey restaurant felt to us like a wholesome retreat from the wintry outdoors, a sentiment soon confirmed by the sound of the rain pelting against the roof. The imagination could scarcely cook up a more inviting space in which to sit down to a meal…but it does get better.

In honour of the season and to seduce Capetonians from the comfort of their homes to Stellenbosch, Executive Chef Michael Broughton of Terroir has designed a heart-warming menu of indulgent, winter-worthy dishes, which the restaurant is offering for only R295 for two courses, or R395 for three, including two glasses of Kleine Zalze wine of your choice. Click here for more information on Terroir’s winter special menu. Needless to say, I was thoroughly seduced and so we braved the rain and frigid cold to see if Terroir indeed lives up to its rather formidable reputation as one of the most sought-after gourmet destinations in the Cape Winelands.

Terroir-outside-photo-Mark-Hoberman
Photo by Mark Hoberman

Chef Michael Broughton and Terroir cuisine

Terroir first opened its doors in October 2004, when chef Michael Broughton exchanged tenure at the Mount Grace Country House and Spa in Magaliesburg to head Terroir at the Kleine Zalze in Stellenbosch. Having previously opened his restaurant Broughton’s in Parkview in 1997 to critical acclaim and garnered serious respect in the subsequent years, it was little surprise to see Terroir’s walls adorned with prestigious accolades and awards. Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards’ Top 10, Boe and Moët & Chandon Top 30 Restaurants in Africa, and RASA Rosetta Service Excellence Awards are just a few.

Terroir-Chef-Michael-Broughton-photo-Mark-Hoberman
Executive Chef Michael Broughton | Photo by Mark Hoberman

Chef Michael designs his menu according to the seasons, available local ingredients, and whatever whimsical inspiration may strike, as is true of any artist. He describes his cooking style as “deceptively simple”, applying a “less is more” philosophy in his approach to crafting exciting and satisfying dishes. The proof, however, is in the pudding and so we sat down at our cosy fireside table to explore Terroir’s offering and chef Michael’s creative genius, washed down with some beautiful wine from Kleine Zalze.

Three-course winter-inspired meal

We were welcomed most warmly with a chilled glass of Kleine Zalze’s NV Brut Rosé MCC, a lavish bread platter of sourdough and cheesy focaccia slices, smoked olives, hummus, and honey and soy butter, and a little “love letter” from the kitchen: an amuse-bouche of fish croquette in a creamy green pool of asparagus velouté. All of this and we hadn’t even made a start on the winter menu yet!

Terroir Winter Menu Stellenbosch

Our lovely server brought the chalkboard menu to us to make our selection of starters and mains – there are only wine menus at Terroir, and in the absence of printed food menus, chef Michael and his team have the elbowroom to be inspired, spontaneous, and creative.

For starters, I chose the hand-made tagliatelle in a divine black truffle sauce, with roasted tomatoes lending a pleasant and sharp juxtaposition to the otherwise rich, creamy pasta. Being smacked in the face by the earthy, woody, pungent aromas of a hot truffle dish is one of my favourite culinary experiences, second only to taking the first bite of said dish!

Terroir

Another of my favourite things to do when sitting down to a meal is to pick the perfect wine to accompany my food choices. And with Terroir’s winter special including two complimentary glasses of Kleine Zalze wine – of which guests have a choice of about 16 different wines – the experience was really elevated. Devastated to learn that the Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir 2017 was sold out, I opted instead for the Zalze Range Shiraz, Grenache, Viognier 2017: a worthy substitute and perfect pairing for my starter of truffle tagliatelle.

For mains, I chose the Karoo rack of lamb cooked to pink perfection and served with Bulgur wheat pearls, aubergine and courgette, tomato jus, and what tasted like a mint purée. Now, usually, I cut the fat off my meat – I know, how un-South African of me – but those slivers of lamb fat were singed to the most sumptuous crisp and it was just too melt-in-your mouth delicious to shun. My wine of choice was the heady and robust Vineyard Selection Shiraz 2015.

We concluded our meal with a trio of sorbet (apple, litchi, and berry) and a varied and generous cheese plate.

A winsome winter dining experience

The fire crackled pleasantly to my left, its warmth lapping gently at my legs while my “plus one” and I spent a leisurely two hours savouring Terroir’s scrumptious winter meal, the restaurant’s warm atmosphere and attentive service, and Kleine Zalze’s exquisite wines. The drumming of rain on the roof served only to enforce the ambiance of winter refuge, leaving us with happy bellies and heavy eyelids. Terroir proves itself to be more than worthy of the rain-sodden drive out from Cape Town.

terroir-winter-special-menu-karoo-lamb-loin-696x557

Terroir’s winter special: the details

Terroir is located on Kleine Zalze, a family owned wine farm that has risen to prominence both in South Africa and internationally thanks in particular to its award-winning Chenin Blanc and Shiraz. The winter special at Terroir offers guests a choice between a two-course and a three-course meal for only R295 and R395 respectively. Both options include two complimentary glasses of Kleine Zalze wine.

The offer is valid until 30th September 2019 so even though the restaurant will be closing its doors for its annual winter break from 17th June to 10th July 2019, there’s still plenty of time to make the most of this incredible deal. Just be sure to book in advance: Terroir is busy for very good reason!

Terroir is open for lunch on Tuesday to Sunday, 12:00 to 14:30 and dinner on Tuesday to Saturday, 18:30 to 21:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email restaurant@kleinezalze.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 880 8167

www.kleinezalze.co.za

Strand Road, De Zalze Golf Estate, Stellenbosch

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/07/braving-the-rain-for-the-oh-so-worth-it-terroir-winter-special-offer/