Tag Archives: Merlot

Getting a taste of Chilean wines in Casablanca and Santiago in Chile!

Through a stroke of luck I was invited to visit Santiago in Chile for four days, and in this time I was able to drink some Chilean wines. I also visited Casablanca, a wine region outside Santiago, with my friends Guy and Pia, who live near Casablanca. Continue reading →

A first introduction to Argentinian wines!

Before arriving in Buenos Aires on this my second visit to the city, I had not prepared for my visit from a wine perspective, my main goal in spending a month in Argentina being to learn to dance the Tango. I have planned to visit Mendoza, renowned for its Malbec, have attended a wine tasting and food pairing evening at COWI in Buenos Aires, drunk three wines at the dinner at Buenos Aires’ Tegui, 86th Best Restaurant in the World, one wine at Don Julio, the 34th Best Restaurant in the World and Best in Argentina, and two wines at dinner at 1884 Restaurant in Mendoza. I have summarised my initial knowledge about the wine industry of Argentina, the fifth largest in the world, to which I have added some research information too. Continue reading →

‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’ episode 4: Franschhoek food and wine highlight, Fairview moves to Franschhoek!

Hayden Quinn 4 Huguenot Monument Whale CottageLast night’s episode 4 of ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’ was good marketing for Franschhoek, known for its food and wine, combined with its beauty, being filmed on a perfect summer’s day.  There was minimal, if any, Woolworths punting in the episode!

Hayden started his Franschhoek journey at the Huguenot Monument, erected in honour of the French Huguenots, ‘exiles‘ who picked Franschhoek to grow vines viewers were told, a bit of creative licence, as they were given the land.  Hayden explained that the village name, which he pronounced close to perfectly, means ‘French Corner’.  He  said that the monument represents peace, agriculture, and viticulture, copywriting nonsense, as the monument (erected in 1948) represents religious freedom, something the Huguenots could only experience in Franschhoek, having to flee France.  The village was previously called Olifantshoek, after the elephants roaming in the valley. The main road of Franschhoek was shown, and Hayden referred to it as having buildings with ‘French style architecture‘ (sic)! Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 31 May/1 June

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

  Going on safari is an increasing trend, which is good for tourism in Africa, popular not only amongst European and American tourists, but also amongst BRICS travelers from Brazil, India, Russia, and China.

*   SA Tourism has appointed Gaining Edge to help increase our country’s profile as a Business Events destination in India and China, for the South Africa National Convention Bureau.  South Africa is ranked highest as a business events destination in Africa, and 34th in the world.

*   Topless Tours have a new meaning, and do not refer to Cape Town’s Hop On Hop Off buses.  It’s a new trend started in the UK, whereby ladies take photographs of themselves topless at top tourist spots, including Table Mountain! Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 31 May/1 June

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   Going on safari is an increasing trend, which is good for tourism in Africa, popular not only amongst European and American tourists, but also amongst BRICS travelers from Brazil, India, Russia, and China.

*   SA Tourism has appointed Gaining Edge to help increase our country’s profile as a Business Events destination in India and China, for the South Africa National Convention Bureau.  South Africa is ranked highest as a business events destination in Africa, and 34th in the world.

*   Topless Tours have a new meaning, and do not refer to Cape Town’s Hop On Hop Off buses.  It’s a new trend started in the UK, whereby ladies take photographs of themselves topless at top tourist spots, Continue reading →

World Design Capital 2014: Audacia sulphite and preservative free wines inspired by design!

Audacia Merlot Whale Cottage PortfolioI was invited by Eclipse PR to attend a media briefing at the offices of Cape Town Design NPC, the company operating Cape Town’s role as World Design Capital 2014, on Thursday, the first such invitation, and received earlier in the day.  While it was thin on media news, and poorly attended, it was a most interesting session, in learning about the unique new sulphite and preservative free Audacia Wines using indigenous woods for its maturation, one of the about 450 registered World Design Capital 2014 projects.  Being an official project, it has raised the bar of Audacia’s design elements.

Co-owner Trevor Strydom is passionate about his pet project, and started talking to me about it in the reception whilst we were waiting for the meeting to start.  Audacia Wines is a partnership between Trevor and Paul Harris of Rand Merchant Bank and Ellerman House, describing itself as ‘The Red Wine Boutique WineryAudacia Trevor Strydom Whale Cottage Portfolio (2). Given how tough the wine industry is, and that there are no subsidies for farmers, it is hard to survive in the industry. Harris inspired Trevor with the quote: ‘change only occurs when the pain exceeds the joy‘, and advised him to find a point of difference for his brand, which currently is very well known for its weekend market off the R44.

Trevor read up about the law of winemaking and additives, and found that only two additives are allowed: enzymes, and wood.  He made his winemaker Michael van Niekerk make samples of red wines with different woods, given that every winemaker uses oak, whether as staves, chips, or powder, and they tried woods such as bluegum, acacia, and fig, to the amusement of van Niekerk. Being offered tea by his daughter one afternoon, she drinking a cup of rooibos tea with him, he had the brilliant idea to try rooibos wood (Aspalathus linearis), and they were delighted with the results, not being picked up on the nose nor on tasting the wine.  Whilst consulting his patent lawyer Mohammed Valli, he was initially sceptical whether a non-drinking lawyer could identify with his project.  He was most impressed with Valli’s conclusion that the anti-oxidant properties Continue reading →

Doolhof showcases voluptuous Malbec in its Signatures of Doolhof range!

Doolhof Malbec wines Whale Cottage PortfolioAn unusual venue for the vertical tasting yesterday of the Doolhof Malbec wines in its Signatures of Doolhof range was Belthazar in the V&A Waterfront, where we tasted the five latest vintages of the wine, as well as some Argentinian and a French Malbec too.

Owner Dennis Kerrison welcomed us, after we had enjoyed oysters and Confrérie du Sabre d’Or champagne, explaining Doolhof Dennis Kerrison Whale Cottage Portfolio that they had planted Malbec with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, to create  a Château Lafite style wine. In the process they discovered the quality Malbec they were producing, and bottled it as a stand alone wine. Dennis said that baboons and the southeaster create a low yield for the variety. The Kerrisons have celebrated the tenth year of owning Doolhof this year, and celebrated the estate’s 300th anniversary last year.  Dennis introduced Rianie Strydom as their consultant cellarmaster.  As winemaker Friedrich Kühn could not attend, the tasting was led by Rianie. Continue reading →

Bilton Wines: wine-making with a difference!

I have driven past Bilton Wines on my way to Rust en Vrede and Haskell Vineyards a number of times, but had never stopped to visit their Tasting Room, even though their collection of old-timers catch the eye. An invitation by the wine estate to attend a tasting of their wines, paired with dishes prepared by ‘pop-up’ Chef Craig Cormack from Sofia’s, was an excellent opportunity to hear how its winemakers go about their winemaking so differently.

We were welcomed in the Tasting Room with a massive fire burning in the fireplace on a very wet Winelands day, by owner Mark Bilton, referring to us as ‘blockers’, which caused a laugh, because of the double meaning implied, especially due to many bloggers blocking each other on Twitter! I was told that he is British in origin, has American connections, but lives on the estate. His grandfather, Sir Percy Bilton, was a well known philanthropist, who came to South Africa in 1938, and bought the wine estate at the end of Annandale Road ten years later. It is one of the largest wine estates in the country, 377 hectare in size, but only 20 % of the land is planted to vine, the rest dedicated to biodiversity, being fynbos. The distance between the cellar and the highest point on the wine estate is 680 meters. Winemaker Rudi de Wet believes that Bilton Wines is the largest wine estate in private ownership.  Rudi has been on the wine estate since 2005, having studied at Elsenburg, and then setting up Ernie Els Wines and Webersburg close by. From there he moved to Meerlust, working on their iconic Rubicon. Elizma van der Mescht is Rudi’s assistant winemaker, having also studied at Elsenburg, joining Bilton Wines and gaining experience by working a harvest in St Émilion. We chatted about women winemakers, and Elizma said that she was one of seven female students in her class of 20. The physical challenge of the harvest, including 20 hour days during the harvest, is a barrier to entry for women in this career, but was no deterrent for Elizma.  She believes that women winemakers are perfectionists, and therefore very good at their jobs. She has seen an increase in the number of female students from Italy and France, who come to Bilton Wines to help them with their harvest. Elizma admires Erika Obermeyer from Graham Beck Wines, and Ronel Wiid, winner of the first woman winemaker of the year competition and now at Bartinney.

We moved to the wine cellar, in which a long table had been set, beautifully and simply decorated by Marketing and Sales Manager Cindy Eveleigh, with vases of fynbos, corks in glass jars, labels on each glass, and name cards. Rudi introduced the Bilton Merlot 2008, and shared with us that they harvest 100 tons of grapes, and all wines are barrel matured, using 25 different barrel types from 25 coopers.  Rudi explained that the wood used to make the barrels by each cooper is different, influencing the taste of the wine, and he blends the wines matured in the 25 barrel types over two years, to achieve the perfect wine. Interestingly, 80% of the production each year goes into new barrels. Rudi’s previous boss from Meerlust, Giorgio Dalla Cia, is a consultant to Bilton Wines.  Rudi expressed his passion for Merlot, not the easiest wine to make, its grapes either giving a fresh and green taste or a plummy taste.  The thinness of the skin, the sugar, and eleven other parameters are evaluated to select the right time to harvest, night harvesting being preferable. To aid oxidation, Rudi adds 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Chef Craig and his team prepared a beautiful study of beetroot, with a curry-flavoured ice cream, risotto, and purée all made with beetroot, toasted caramelised walnuts, and sprinkled with truffle oil.   The earthy Merlot (R 99) was a good match with the Beetroot starter.

The second wine we tasted was the Bilton Viognier, and Rudi explained how he makes this wine look and taste different to any other local Viognier, receiving the blessing from Mr Bilton to experiment and try out new things.  Rudi introduced the wine as one he had no intention to make, but explained that a winemaker spends his or her free time by reading international wine magazines.  It was in one of these that Rudi read about Josh Gravner from Northern Italy, and his Viognier, which he matures in clay vats under the soil, fermenting the grapes with their skins, ‘unheard of in New World wine-making‘, Rudi said. Rudi has used this €1000 a bottle wine as his benchmark to produce his Viognier, sold at R250 per bottle in the tasting room. It was first produced in 2008, and only 10 barrels are produced every year.  They select berries, and not bunches, and the skin contact is 18 days, compared to the usual 6 hours.  Rudi explained that there are no boundaries in making Viognier. All of the wine is matured in barrels, 25% of them made from acacia wood, a wood type normally used to make grappa, because it has fewer tannins, and the balance in oak.  Craig paired the wine with a strongly flavoured Chakalaka sauce served with a delicious pork belly, pap, bok choy, and a jus to which he had added star anise.

The biggest surprise of all was Chef Craig’s third course, for which we were expecting a dessert.  In the mould of doing things differently, like Bilton Wines does in its winemaking, Chef Craig created intrigue when they served each guest a platter containing three bowls, with a raw egg, a mushroom, a piece of bacon and steak, and a tomato.  Then the creative chef arrived with hot Himalayan salt blocks, which Chef Craig smeared with olive oil, before each guest prepared their own bacon and eggs!  The steam from the preparation reminded one of the smoke created with liquid nitrogen in fine-food cuisine. The salt contained in the blocks was a natural flavourant for the food.  I added some Viognier to the egg, and Rudi was most intrigued by this creative use of his wine!  Whilst on the egg theme, Rudi explained that all red wines have too much tannin, and therefore all winemakers add proteins (gelatine, but more often powdered egg white) to soften the tannins. He adds 1 egg white per 300 litre barrel, whereas the French winemakers are inclined to add six egg whites for the same volume, in order to clarify the wine. Locally wines are filtered, for clarification. Rudi explained that making a screw cap takes 24 times more greenhouse gases than a cork, and therefore one can be sure that all Bilton Wines have corks.  I liked Rudi’s description of vineyards being ‘oxygen factories’.  Rudi also burst the bubble on sulphites, saying that every grape has them naturally, and therefore every wine too. Many wines claim to not add any sulphites, but that does not make them sulphite-free, he explained. We had the Bilton Sir Percy (R149) with our ‘breakfast’, a Bordeaux blend first made in 2004.  Its current 2007 vintage has 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, and 17% Petit Verdot. Once again Rudi uses 25 different barrel types in which to mature this wine, which spends about two months on skins, which is the way in which it is done in Burgundy and Bordeaux, Rudi explained.

Other wines in the Bilton range are Shiraz 2008 (R99), Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (R99), Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (R59), Merlot 2008 (R99), Pinotage 2009 (R99), and the Merlot-dominant Matt Black blend (R79). Cabernet Franc has been harvested this year for the first time, and its first bottled wine of this variety will be available in five years.  Interesting is that Bilton sells 1 million tons of salt to Oranje Soutwerke a year.  In the Tasting Room Bilton also sells delicious chocolate slabs, made by Marionette in Knysna and costing R35 each, and are meant to be paired with their wines, the Dark Chocolate Espresso paired with their Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Milk Chocolate Cape Malay Spice paired with their Shiraz.  The Cape Malay Spice chocolate has an intriguing gingerbread/Lebkuchen taste, with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Vintage D’Vine restaurant serves light meals prepared by Nella and her staff, and includes sandwiches, salads, boboties, lasagne, chicken pie, and burgers.

Bilton Wine Estate, Annandale Road, Stellenbosch.  Tel (021) 881-3714. www.biltonwines.co.za Twitter:@BiltonWines.  Tuesday – Sunday. Wine tasting R35, chocolate and wine tasting R50. Vineyard walk free.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

Holden Manz Merlot Magic at Winemakers’ Dinner!

Holden Manz has introduced an unusual series of Winemakers’ Dinners, showcasing its own wines against some of the best per variety, each winemaker’s wine paired with a special dish created by new Executive Chef Cheyne Morrisby.  Last night was a magical evening, not only with Merlot being the focus, but also because it was a catch-up Mother’s Day dinner with my hospitality son, who spoilt other moms on Sunday.

Kicking off on a very high note was the 2008 Meerlust Merlot, which was introduced by its winemaker Chris Williams.  He described the wine estate as ‘one of the most iconic‘, awarded in the 1690’s to its first German owner Henning Huysen. He named it Meerlust, meaning ‘love of the sea’, given its close location to False Bay, which impacts on the way that the Meerlust wines are made.  The wine cellar was built in 1694.  The Myburgh family took over the farm in 1756, and its current owner Hannes Myburgh is the eighth generation of the family living on the wine estate, ‘the longest run family business in South Africa‘.    For the first time Meerlust has used grapes from a new vineyard with 25 year old vines next door for its Merlot, with 10% Cabernet Franc added for structure and its ageing ability. He said the result is a wine that is ‘unashamedly classic’, giving a sense of place, developing with age, and pairs well with foods without overpowering them. I loved the old style smokiness of it, and it was my favourite of all the wines we tasted. Chef Cheyne paired this gorgeous wine with a Shiitake mushroom and coconut cream risotto, an excellent combination, which can be ordered in R50/R90 portion sizes on the new Winter menu.

The second wine was made by highly regarded Rianie Strydom, the General Manager and winemaker at Haskell Vineyards, making both Haskell and Dombeya wines at the highest point on the Annandale Road outside Stellenbosch.  Preston Haskell bought the property in 2002, and she joined the farm in 2005, located in what she called the ‘jewel part of Stellenbosch‘.  Dombeya wines were made from 2005 onwards, and Haskell wines from 2007.  The first vines were planted in 1990. She praised the terroir of the farm.  She has created a unique character for each of the two wine brands, Dombeya being an introduction to wine, being for old and young, a lifestyle wine.  It can be drunk now, but can also be aged for six years.  The Haskell wines have her own stamp, are more single vineyard driven, and have lots of tannin, she said.  Her taste for Merlot was developed when she worked with winemaker Jean Daneel at Morgenhof. She said that Merlot is a difficult wine to make, it being a challenge to create a good one.  There are no shortcuts in making it.  It ‘needs love and passion’.  It is fruit-driven, gentle, has elegance, femininity, and structure. She said that not everyone in South Africa likes Merlot, mainly because locals are drinking it too young. Chef Cheyne paired the 2008 Dombeya Merlot with Beef tataki, mustard and mirrin to which sugar had been added, white and black sesame seeds, and micro herbs, a delicious starter which costs R60.

Winemaker Rudi Schulz introduced his 2009 Thelema Merlot Reserve, made from grapes grown on what was previously a fruit farm. The Merlot was first planted in 1988, and a sorting system was brought in, due to the uneven ripening of the Merlot grapes. They have used aerial photography combined with software to identify the perfect areas for picking, going back into a block six times. This means that they cancel out the ‘averaging effect’ in making the wine, and that they can pinpoint ‘pockets of excellence‘.  The 2009 vintage came from a 1,5 hectare block, and they limit the production to ’12 barrel bottling’ for the Merlot Reserve. Holden Manz Sales and Marketing Manager Karl Lambour added that 2009 was one of the best vintages ever. Chef Cheyne paired seared crispy duck breast, a sweet potato and miso pureé, star anise syrup, and watermelon jelly (R155) with this special Merlot.

The 2008 Holden Manz Merlot was paired with Karoo lamb, French trimmed, served with kimchi (a fermented Korean dish made from vegetables and seasoning, according to Wikipedia), and potato dauphinoise (R160 on the menu). The wine was introduced by winemaker Schalk Opperman, who came from Rust en Vrede earlier this year, saying that their Merlot is in ‘showing mould’ already, and that the farm has great potential for Merlot. Schalk and farm manager Thys use technology to pick the best grapes, with aerial photography, but nothing beats ‘walking the fields’ to find the best grapes. The Merlot is well structured, and has good berry fruit.

For the dessert Holden Manz served its new port 2009 Good Sport, which is made 100% from Shiraz.  Schalk used the oldest barrels, and it was aged for 18 – 24 months.  Jeanre-Tine van Zyl also attended the dinner, and it was said that an announcement will be made about the port on 30 May – could it relate to the recent Old Mutual Trophy judging?  The dessert was a deconstructed 70% Belgian chocolate pot, served with pistachio nuts, salted caramel, and honeycomb, having a Christmas look and feel to it. On the new Winter menu it costs R48.

What made the dinner special too was that the owners Gerard Holden (having flown in especially from a meeting in India) and Migo Manz were present, and took a lot of time to network with the diners.  Mr Holden is larger than life, with a very sharp eye, and has been described by Mining Weekly as ‘one of Africa mining’s best-known bankers’. He is an avid Twitter reader, and is well-informed about its political dramas! The politics in Franschhoek do not phase him at all. He was recently invited by wine writer Neil Pendock to join the local Commanderie de Bordeaux, and he proudly wore his lapel pin. No surprise then is that the next Holden Manz Winemakers’ Dinner in July will focus on Bordeaux Blends.

We have written previously about the impact that Chef Cheyne has made in his six weeks at Holden Manz, based on his Sunday tapas menu.  Last night’s Winemakers’ Dinner was an opportunity to try a larger selection of his dishes, with flavours of the Orient and a Pacific Rim twist, all on his new Winter Menu.  Chef Cheyne is a strong character, on the edge, creating some of the best cuisine in Franschhoek now.  The Winemakers’ Dinner offered excellent value last night, with five courses and five wines costing R300.

Franschhoek Kitchen, Holden Manz, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-2729.  www.holdenmanz.com Twitter: @HoldenManz  Tuesday – Sunday lunch, Tuesday – Saturday dinner.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage

‘Semi-Soet’ movie sweet marketing of Vrede en Lust and Franschhoek wine valley!

Last night I went to see ‘Semi-Soet‘, a locally produced romantic comedy which opened at 70 cinemas country-wide on Friday.  It was predominantly shot on Vrede en Lust wine estate at the entrance to Franschhoek, and I did not expect to enjoy the movie and laugh so much.  The movie can be expected to see hordes of locals descending on Franschhoek generally, and to Vrede en Lust specifically.

Semi-Soet’ was produced by James and Anel (who doubles up as the lead actress) Alexander’s Scramble Productions, using a cast of well-known television actors, Nico Panagio being one of the best known actors in the cast, being a Top Billing presenter, but the other actors are known from series such as 7de Laan, Binnelanders, and the movie Liefling, also produced by the Alexanders. The story line takes two advertising agency teams from Johannesburg to the Franschhoek wine estate, to be evaluated by Vrede en Lust owner ‘Andries Buys’ for the advertising account.  The teams are tested on the farm, in having to walk the ‘Vryersvoetpad’, a lover’s lane with challenges, not least of all being a pig!  They also have to pick grapes and stomp them in barrels, before doing a presentation to win the account.

How Vrede en Lust got to be involved in the movie is not known, with a choice of hundreds of wine estates in the Winelands.  Vrede en Lust owner Dana Buys writes on their website that they evaluated the past work of the Alexanders. They realised that a poor movie could badly affect their brand image, but the past work of the Alexanders (especially the movie ‘Discreet’) made them realise that the chances of the movie not being successful were small enough to make it worth their while to participate in the movie.  “We had high hopes for Semi-Soet, but I suspect the movie will do much better than our wildest expectations”.   There is copious branding for Vrede en Lust in the movie, not only in mentioning its name repeatedly throughout the movie, but also via a wine tasting of the flagship Boet Erasmus, wine bottles, and branded banners and a lectern.

The movie has received good reviews, and while some of the humour borders on slapstick, it is seen to be one of the best Afrikaans and local movies made to date.  English sub-titles make the movie accessible to all South Africans.

The movie presents Vrede en Lust, and Franschhoek with it, in its glorious beauty, mainly with the Simonsberg as a backdrop, but also the Paarl mountains on the other side.  Aerial shots over the farm and the Franschhoek wine valley, as well as the action filming in the vineyards, at the slave bell, and in the Manor House can only boost visitor numbers to Vrede en Lust, a wine estate that was established in 1688.  Vrede en Lust is one of the two best-known and  largest wedding venues in Franschhoek, and the movie ends off with a wedding of two of the movie characters, marketing this aspect of the wine estate too.  The storyline positions Vrede en Lust as a wine estate with family values, passion, hard work, and a vision, which no doubt pertains to the real Vrede en Lust too.  Interesting is that the farm owner pleads for non-pretentious descriptions of the wines tasted in the movie.

Funding for the film was received from the Industrial Development Corporation, and product placements were paid for in cash or as trade exchanges.  Brands seen in the movie, and acknowledged on the movie’s website, include Avis, 1Time, Alpha Pharm, Rhapsody’s restaurant, and many more.  The movie is good in encouraging wine-drinking, with an agency account win celebrated with sparkling wine, and the movie opening with wine-related illustrations, of wine glasses, bunches of grapes, and vine leaves.

Vrede en Lust has launched a Vryersvoetpad 2008 Merlot-dominant Bordeaux-style blend in honour of the movie, as a limited release of 1450 bottles.  Each bottle is numbered, and can be bought at Makro, eStore, and on the wine farm.

POSTSCRIPT 21/2:  I called Dana Buys after writing the blogpost, and he told me that they were approached by the producers to use his farm as the location.  No cash exchanged hands, but they provided the location and the accommodation on the farm, not accepting any wedding bookings during the filming period.  For the movie premieres around the country they had to provide the wine, and pay for the popcorn and colddrinks. From a brand awareness perspective, the movie will be excellent, especially when it goes to DVD and TV, he said.  The movie was shot in April/May last year, and the first sign of autumn is visible in the vineyards.  The grapes picked in the Merlot block were not real ones, he said, as they had long harvested at that time.

Vrede en Lust, R45, Franschhoek.  Tel (021)  874-1611  www.vnl.co.za Twitter: @DJBuys

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage