WINE: Two clever winery food pairings

Are you bored of visiting a winery and having somebody take you through the range of wines while standing at the counter? I know I am. Sometimes I stop for a quick assessment of wine quality versus price, without the fanfare. But for people making a day of wine tasting, a few dry crackers and pre-packaged cheese surely doesn’t make for a memorable impression.A few wineries try to encourage lingering with cosy sitting areas and stay-a-while couches, but without something interesting to nibble, I have my doubts about how effectively it works.

Fortunately creative souls have listened at Neethlingshof and Solms-Delta respectively, and wine tasting has become a whole lot more interesting. Here are my recent impressions:

slow_wine_flash_food_4_hr.jpg At Neethlingshof Estate’s recently revamped tasting area, sign up in advance for a Slow Wine and Flash Food pairing designed by Lucille Jacobs of Neethlingshof. Clearly a good deal of thought went into the detailed discussions focusing on how wine weights balance the respective flavours and weights of the accompanying snacks. The food arrives in a take-away box – it’s ‘flash food’ - from Pink Salt Catering in Stellenbosch. Jacobs wasn’t available the day a friend and I booked an afternoon session, but her temporary replacement did a thorough job.

Six wines from the regular and reserve Neethlingshof ranges were paired with six flash food snacks. There was no contest with the Neethlingshof Gewürztraminer, where the spicy, dry lychee wine flavours picked up fresh ginger in the honey and ginger noodles. On the other hand, the Chardonnay partnered with chicken breast wrap seemed so straightforward it was dull. The surprises were a deliciously fruity Neethlingshof Malbec 2009 (I took home a bottle at R55) partnered with an Australian liquorice strip eaten with a duck and wild mushroom spring roll. An unusual, delightful way of emphasizing the plum, tarry characters in the wine. Equally inspiring was how apricot flavours in the Short Story Collection The Maria Noble Late Harvest were enhanced by the apricot preserve syrup drizzled over ice-cream on a mini waffle.

Neethlingshof Observations: The snacks match well but cannot compare to those made fresh in a restaurant kitchen. The reasoning behind the wine and food partnerships is interesting and thoroughly explained, yet there is room for debate if you find another wine fares better. Conducting the tasting in the brick vaulted private room might score points with a group, but we found it too dark and formal for two. The option of a table outdoors in good weather, or seats among the cheery beige and green tones of the contemporary tasting area, would make the experience more inviting.

R85pp, in the wine tasting centre throughout the year. Book 24 hours in advance for daily sessions after 12 midday. Tel 021 883 8988 or neethlingshof

I thoroughly enjoyed the Cape food and wine pairing offered at Solms-Delta winery near Franschhoek. And if the number of tourists milling around the winery, museum and restaurant on a weekday were any indication, others do too. Solms-Delta prides itself on empowering and employing locals from surrounding farms, and I’m not sure what their secret is, but as a visitor you can have an authentic South African experience here that doesn’t seem contrived.

Meals at Fyndraai restaurant explore the diverse culinary heritage of the Cape, which means a fusion of European, Asian and African flavours with a creative twist. On the menu there is mention of veldkos, Afrikaner boerekos elements, underpinned by Cape Malay slave influences blended with ingredients favoured by the Khoi nomads of the Franschhoek Valley. The Cape food and wine pairing follows a similar theme.
dsc_0017.jpg We were seated at restaurant tables under the trees where wine and heritage guide Tiaan Jacobs provided some background about the six wines we would taste. He’d worked in the vineyards and kitchen before joining the wine team, so we were in capable hands.

Chef Shaun Schoeman brought out an attractive wooden board of six dishes that were grouped alongside the wines. Explanations of food and wine matches weren’t very detailed, but we didn’t mind as the food did the talking. Each wine and food pairing was spot on and flavoursome too, from the creamy local smoked snoek and prawn sambals served under korrelkonfyt grape jam with the uncomplicated Chenin/Clairette Blanche/Semillon Solms-Astor Vastrap, to the inspired addition of cream to the venison shank ragout cooked with wild rosemary and bloublom sallie herbs, partnering Solms-Astor Langarm rustic red blend. When I commented later on the sweeter notes of the tomato bredie with spiced beef frikadelle (partnering a Mourvedre/Viognier/Grenache Noir Solms-Delta Lekkerwijn Rosé, Schoeman explained: “In the old slave curries they tended to sweeten things, so sweeter spices such as cinnamon and star anise are used here.” I ate every morsel of traditional boerber pudding, sweetened sago cooked in full-cream milk, with Schoeman remarking quaintly that they called it ‘padda oogies’ as children. dsc_0011.jpg

Solms-Delta Observations: Although billed as a food and wine pairing, the food is filling enough as a light meal. The pairings are clever and the food very tasty, the farm’s history, unusual wine names and varieties providing a talking point. Formal instruction by Schoeman and Jacobs was kept to a minimum as we sampled each pairing in sequence - unfortunately the wines were brought out so early they’d warmed up by the time we sampled the food. It was nice to be left to finish eating and sipping at our own pace or chat while admiring the scenery.

R85pp, book 48 hours in advance. Preferably six participants, or on request. Tel 021 874 3937, or book at food wine tour