Tag Archives: Riesling

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 →

Restaurant Review: Rivendell Restaurant a new start for Chef Thomas Sinn, whale of a good value!

Rivendell Exterior Whale CottageJardine at Jordan Manager and former Sinn employee Riaan Moll told me recently that Chef Thomas Sinn, once an Eat Out Top Restaurant Chef, has closed down all his restaurant interests in Cape Town, and has opened Rivendell Restaurant on the road to Hermanus, near the turn-off to Kleinmond and Arabella.  On our way back from a trip to Hermanus my colleague and I found an oasis of Rivendell Chef Thomas Sinn Whale Cottagefood, in the middle of nowhere, offering a whale of a good value.

Rivendell is referred to in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, ‘Lord of the Rings’ amongst others, and means ‘deeply cloven valley‘, referring to the Bot River valley lying between two mountains.  The wine estate Rivendell is owned by Austrian couple Heimo and Maria Talhammer, and they invited Chef Thomas to open the restaurant on their farm three months ago.  The restaurant building is set back on the estate, and is not visible from the road to Hermanus.  It was previously the tasting and functions venue, but the Continue reading →

Constantia Fresh Fine Wine and Food Festival fun and refreshing, more than just Constantia wines!

Constantia Fresh posterI was invited to the Constantia Fresh Fine Wine and Food Festival held at Buitenverwachting yesterday afternoon. It was a sold out fun event, 44 wine estates (not only from Constantia) presenting their 200 ‘freshest’ and most interesting wines, and chefs (mainly from Constantia) preparing food.

The entrance fee was R400 per person, and included as much wine tasting and food as one liked.  The tables were set out by region, with Constantia having the central stage around a massive oak tree in the middle of the large lawn on which the Festival was held.  It is always interesting to see how the wine estates market themselves in the relatively small space they have.  It was impossible to taste all the wines of all the wine estates represented at the Festival, and it was a pity that one did not receive a leaflet or information about each of the wines and wine estates at the Festival.  The Festival is the concept of wine editor, Platter taster, sommelier, and wine consultant Jörg Pfützner, who is known as a Riesling fan.

The Constantia Fresh Festival was preceded by two events on Friday: Jörg led a themed tasting with the interesting title: ‘If modernity is sexy, is tradition passé?’  This was followed by a four course dinner cooked by Chef Bertus Basson, paired with a total of twelve wines from the Constantia valley, which was held at Klein Constantia.  Yesterday the ‘walkabout tasting‘ allowed attendees to taste to their heart’s content, and to meet wine estate representatives, although most top winemakers were not present due to the harvest being in full swing. On its website, Constantia Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 31 January

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   The African Nations Championship 2014 will come to an end at the Cape Town Stadium tomorrow, with a closing ceremony, followed by the third and fourth place play-off, and the Final thereafter.   The Closing Ceremony is themed ‘Celebrating Africa’s Home Champions’, explained City of Cape Town Councillor for Tourism, Events, and Marketing Grant Pascoe to The New Age.   Ghana plays Libya in the Final, while Nigeria and Zimbabwe will battle it out for places three and four.

*  American air travellers would ideally like a passage that allows free baggage, confirmed seats, and security fast passes.  They do not want to pay for baggage.  They are however prepared to pay for overhead space for hand luggage, for their luggage to come out first at Baggage Claim, to have comfortable seats, to have extra legroom, complimentary meals, and to not have a reclining seat in front of them!

*  South Africa ranks 29th out of 140 countries on the World Economic Forum Travel & Tourism Index, and third in Africa (after Seychelles and Mauritius) on this Index.

*   Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, with their family, are said to live in Johannesburg for a few months, while Pitt works on a  movie Continue reading →

Winemaker Eben Sadie: a blend of focus, independence, passion and charisma!

Earlier this week I attended a winetasting of Sequillo wines, led by well-known and highly respected maverick Swartland winemaker Eben Sadie, at French Toast. It was the most enjoyable wine function I have ever attended, largely due to the refreshing down-to-earth three-hour tasting done by Sadie, and excellent value at R100.

The name of the winemaker leading the tasting was clearly a big drawcard, with 45 winelovers having booked.  I was introduced to Eben by Karen Visser, co-owner of French Toast, and Eben struck me as a really nice and friendly person, without any airs and graces, not what I expected at all, for a winemaker who has achieved a number of career highs, including having his winery selected as Winery of the Year, and his Sadie Family Wines Palladius selected as South Africa’s top white wine in the 2010 Platter’s South African Wine Guide.

It took some time for the tasting to get going, due to some late-comers, but we were served a Mystery wine, which we were asked to identify.   It was a Riesling, only 60 bottles made (unwooded) by Eben from grapes coming from Elgin, and not one of the attendees could identify it.  Throughout the evening, Sadie told us stories, and for him the most important role that his wines play is that they too tell stories.  He loves to play with wine, to experiment, and his greatest goal is to get locals to enjoy wine, without any fancy references to the aroma wheel (which should be burnt, he says), as it puts people off wine-tasting.  He said ‘my guava is not your guava’, explaining his controversial winetasting views.  Eben came across as the most down-to-earth, hands-on winemaker. Awards generally do not mean much to him, and he would not answer my question as to how he views the Platter’s guide.  In the introduction, French Toast co-owner John Harrison said that Eben is recognised as a ‘renegade’, who has broken all the rules of conventional winemaking.  This ‘enfant terrible’ is South Africa’s first certified celebrity winemaker’, Wikipedia writes about him.

Eben’s big passion is surfing, he studied at Elsenburg, and he started his winemaking career at Romansrivier Winery in Wolseley, moving to Charles Back and making his Spice Route wines for him.  Sadie Family Wines is a joint venture between two Sadie brothers Eben and Niko, and their older sister Delana, starting with R9000 in 1999. They grew up on a vegetable and pig farm on the West Coast, and it was grape farming, and winemaking with it, that attracted Eben to this sector of agriculture, telling me that winemaking ‘can carry a century’.  They have three wine operations, making Sadie Family Wines (a wine for weekends and special occasions) and Sequillo (a wine for weekday drinking) in the Swartland, and make wine in Priorat in Spain (Terroir Al Limit label) too. Studying winemaking in Germany, Austria, Italy, the USA, and Burgundy, Eben liked the lifestyle of the Spanish the most, choosing this country, but clearly declaring his love for the Cape. Taking a swipe at ‘molecular gastronomy’, Eben said he believes that winemaking has been ‘intellectualised’, in that wine drinkers are encouraged to sniff and spit the wine.  He said one should not bother with drinking one glass of wine only, as it was as good as drinking a glass of water!  Wine drinking must be done in volume, so that one can enjoy it, he said.

All the Sadie wines are blends, and they do not make any single varietal wines to sell.  Eben said that winemakers could make wines to the ‘100 point formula’, to tick all the judges’ boxes, but this would be an ‘intellectual wine’, made without regard for soil and climate.  It would have ‘blueberries, cigarbox, cream, and fennel on the nose, would be opaque, and have tannin’. He mentioned this dig at the ‘aroma wheel’ a number of times during the evening.  Rather, wines should be an ‘ambassador’ of the place and the climate, and that is why Eben does not irrigate his grapes anymore, to be a true representation of the climate of that vintage. To counter climate, Eben will reduce his crop by half, depending on whether there is late rain or not.  His wines have no added yeast, and only about a third of the allowed quantity of sulphur is added two days before bottling.  Very old barrels are used, adding little or no wood to the taste.  Eben said it was hard to move from conventional farming to ‘natural farming’.  He told us how they have built up the resistance of their grapes in Spain, and plough with mules there.  Mules were not suitable for the Swartland, he found, so they use horses.  We laughed when Eben said that one can read how to get onto the moon, but the internet does not guide him as to how to use horses to plough his land!

Eben became very fiery about Law 70 of 1970, which does not allow the sub-division of agricultural land. This means that Eben leases 53 blocks of land in different areas, which he tends to with his staff, driving from one piece of land to another.

Sequillo is a second label, and the name comes from the Latin, meaning ‘dry arid place of great purity’.  To introduce the Sequillo Red and White blends to us, Eben ‘deconstructed’ the wines for us, and we drank most of the individual varietals that made up each of these two blends.  The Sequillo White blend 2010 consisted of:

*   Grenache Blanc: Eben said this wine is like someone you know who is in jail, being someone you love but you cannot mention it.  This variety came from the south of France.  It is used in the blend to ‘build volume of wine’.

*   Palomino: the origin of this grape is Jerez, from which sherry is made in Spain.  It has acidity, firmness, coming from a 65 year old block in Piketberg.  It has minerality, and white peach and other stone fruit, with a lingering after-taste. There is some saltiness.

*   Verdelho:   This wine is made from grapes originating from Portugal, planted in its northern areas.  Eben said that his wine comes from 8 year old vines, the youngest vines he has.  He tested this variety’s suitability in different soil types, and it does well across a variety of these.  It does not have the prettiest bunch nor leaf, not having been to ‘finishing school’, he says in Sadie-speak, but is a great grape that is conducive to good natural farming.  Their grapes are planted in Wellington, Perdeberg, and Stellenbosch.  It has spiciness, potpourri, great nose and taste, easy to grow but hard to make in the cellar.  Presenting it to Portuguese winemakers, they were very complimentary about his wine, Eben said.

*   Viognier:  This variety comes from Croatia originally. Eben said that it was grown too ripe originally in South Africa, giving too much alcohol.

*   Grenache Noir: This is the most planted grape in the world, about tenfold of the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a Mediterranean grape, which can go to 17% alcohol, but Eben keeps his at 13.5 % by picking the grapes earlier.

*   Semillon and Roussanne are also part of this blend, but we did not taste them.

The Sequillo label design is done in-house, and is refreshingly different, changing every year.  The ‘Dorper skaap’ on the Sequillo White symbolises the hardiness of this sheep variety, like his wine, and is politically correct in being white and black, he laughed!  The Sequillo Red has a locust on it.  The Sadie wines are sold in 35 countries.  When asked how they market internationally, Eben said that he answers his e-mails!  They do not have a website for the Sadie Family Wines, and have only just created a website for Sequillo.  They will never get into Social Media, Eben said, and he probably will throw away his cellphone when the contract expires, he said.  He has no TV nor radio, and does not follow rugby.  He makes all his own wine, and does not buy any of it in.  While Eben had to keep reminding himself to ‘focus’ on the tasting, to great laughter, he explained that he is ‘semi-German’, and has ‘structure and order’, answers his e-mails, and is organised about his wine-making.

Asked which wine estates and their winemakers he admires, Eben mentioned Mullineux, Hamilton Russell, Newton Johnson, Adi Badenhorst, Neil Ellis, Boekenhoutskloof, Paul Benade, and Chamonix, and described them as mavericks too.  He told us that he used to make full-bodied heavy wines, but now he makes lighter ‘roadblock’ wines, that will get one through a traffic control! He said that the wine industry has come a long way, and that the country’s political transformation in 1994 caught the industry by surprise, not being ready to compete on an international platform initially. Eben deplored that rarer and interesting wine varieties do not sell locally.  He is focused purely on making wine, and is not there to set up pretty gardens with fountains on his wine estate!

The Sequillo Red blend 2009 is made from the following varietals:

*  Syrah is Eben’s favourite varietal, and he told us that its origin is said to be Persia or Greece.  The Australians could not pronounce its Old World ‘Syrah’ name, and called it ‘Shiraz‘. While other winemakers pick their Syrah grapes in March, Eben picks his in January, to prevent it being ‘jammy’, sweet and pruny, because of its thin skin, and the intensity of our sun, giving him 13,8% alcohol compared to 16 % for others picked later. He says it is a lunchtime wine, is well suited to the Cape, although it may be too hot, needing altitude to do well. He would not reveal where the special Syrah is grown, but hinted that the block is 60 km from the city, just above that of a very well-known wine brand. Platter’s Guide says 65% of the blend is Shiraz.

*   Mouvèdre is the most difficult wine to make, Eben said. It is great to farm, a beautiful grape and a vertical grower, but difficult to make in the cellar.  It has ‘nervous aromas’, ‘energy and electricity’, ‘is alive’ and great to use in blends, as it raises the fruit in these.  This grape variety makes the world’s greatest Rosé in Bandol in France, Eben said. He added that Rosés are cool wines now, not a ‘chick wine’ any more!

*   Cinsault is like one’s brother that is in jail and about whom cannot talk (Eben likes to use the analogy of wines and jailbirds!), being one of the greatest varietals but that has ‘suffered from human ambition’, he said, extending the analogy to say that it has been ‘framed for a murder he did not commit’, referring to its poor appeal as a variety. He says it is one of the most drinkable red wines in the world, it is seductive, and a wine he thinks about every day.

*   Grenache and Carignan are two further varietals used, but not offered for the tasting.

As if we had not had enough to taste, Eben opened a 5 litre bottle of his newly 5-star rated 2012 Platter’s (for its 2009 vintage) Columella 2007, a Rhone blend of 80 % Shiraz and 20% Mouvèdre, according to Platter’s.

Eben Sadie and his wine brands will continue to make waves, given his passion and charisma, his dedicated focus on what he loves doing best, in making wines, and his fresh anti-bureaucracy and anti-convention views.  Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof said of Sadie that he makes wines as an ‘artisan’, and not as a chemist or a technician!

Sequillo Cellars, Malmesbury.  Tel (022) 482-3138.  www.sequillo.com

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

Restaurant Review: The Kove winter special only value relative to its normal high prices

Our blog has been running a Restaurant Winter Specials list for the past few months, with more than 100 restaurant offers attempting to attract locals into restaurants in Cape Town and the Winelands towns, in what is traditionally a poor time for the hospitality trade.  The winter special of The Kove in Camps Bay only is good value relative to what the restaurant normally charges for its dishes, and does not compare favourably to many of the restaurant specials offered.

The Kove is part of a quartet of restaurants owned by Paul Kovensky (the surname being the inspiration for the naming of The Kove, no doubt), three of them being almost next door to each other in The Promenade building in Camps Bay (The Kove, Zenzero and Paranga).  Pepenero is located in Mouille Point.   The latter restaurant occupies a large space, and clearly was not able to attract enough custom to fill the space, and since last year has attracted food bargain hunters by offering specials.  The Kove is the only other restaurant in the Kovensky Quartet to be offering winter specials this year.

When we entered the restaurant on Saturday evening, after having left the over-heated and over-priced Zenzero next door, we were offered a table closest to the fireplace, which we declined, not without some attitude from the Manager Bevan (the type that knows better than you do where you would like to sit).   The first thing I noticed was the tattoos on Bevan’s arms (I am sorry, but it is the most off-putting thing, something that I experienced at Leaf Restaurant recently as well).   Waiter Casper presented himself soon thereafter, and gave me one of those looks that declares attitude without saying it.  By “mistake”, waiter Richard also presented his services to our table, and he was genuinely nice and we requested that he be our waiter, and he did a great job in looking after us with what seemed like genuine interest.  

The restaurant has a raised back section, with different chairs compared to the street level section, in which the chairs look like lawn furniture, in smart white and silver frames, with white or green chairbacks (the same grass green as at Leaf Restaurant), with green blankets over the chairs, should one still be cold inside the warm interior.  The lighting is dimmed to very low, making it difficult to read the menu.  We had flashes of white light from the World Cup TV above us, when it changed its picture!   Music was vibey, from an iPod playlist, along the lines of the Gotan Project.   Riedel glasses are on the table, and good quality linen and cutlery is used.  A faux library on both sides of the restaurant is meant to add a homely touch, I assume.  The ceiling of the street level section of the restaurant is adorned with a mock grapevine in autumn colours, and there are plastic marigolds on the table.

The menu for the Winter Specials covers two pages almost hidden at the back of the menu, and one is not told about them spontaneously (as at Five Flies and 1800 Restaurant at the Cape Royale).  One has a number of choices of specials, making it feel like one is really getting a good deal, but the Specials prices are average compared to other Cape Town restaurants.  First, one has the option of a two-course special, consisting only of a starter and a main course, and a glass of wine, at R 120.   The problem starts with the wine.   Why would a reputable restaurant offer an unlabelled unidentified white and red wine as part of the special?  It cheapens the Winter Special immediately.  They must have paid next to nothing for it, if they have to hide the wines’ origins.   Starter choices are mussels, Prawns 3 Ways, calamari, chicken livers and a house salad.   My partner had the prawns, brought to the table with a finger bowl, and the “3 ways” are 2 minute prawns each served with mustard and brandy, garlic and ginger, and orange and cumin.  It was a struggle to get them out of their shells.  The main course choices are fresh line fish, sirloin steak, baby chicken, beef burger and pork ribs.  The portion sizes are not indicated, and a starch is served with these.   (On the a la carte menu, one has to pay extra for starches, sauces and salads).   The steak was served medium rare, as ordered, but was not as tender as my partner would have liked it to be, with a tendon running through it, showing that a cheaper cut of meat had been used.   A good spicy and creamy Pepper Sauce was served with the steak.  No desserts are offered as part of this special.   Two small slices of older white bread were served, which I did not even bother to try.  To do the mathematics on the special: normal price for 1/2 prawn portion R45 + sirloin steak R85 + sauce R 20 + mash R20 = R170 (Special price charged plus glass of unidentified wine R120) – however, paying R125 for the 200 – 250 gram sirloin, mash and sauce on the a la carte menu is excessive anyway. 

In addition to the two-course special, one can order oysters at R 9 each, 1 kg of prawns or Karoo lamb chops at R99, fish and chips at R79, 400 gram ribs at R75, and a seafood platter at R129.  On the surface these prices are not bad at all, until you realise that these are standard prices elsewhere, and more expensive than some of the other specials offered elsewhere at the moment (e.g. a 6-course dinner for R150 at Myoga and at La Mouette).  I had the lamb chops, three served on a large plate with the mash served lukewarm after the meat was brought to the table, in a side dish. The steak knife provided was super in getting to the bone.  I loved the ‘braai’ taste of the chops, which Richard told us came from the special basting sauce.  I would have liked to have a finger bowl.   The chops were ordered medium, but the meat closest to the bone was raw.  Ten cocktails are part of the specials list, at R25 each, but we were given the cocktails menu (with peeling plastic cover), showing a Mojito at R40, and were not told about the specials.  As part of the Winter Special, The Kove also serves “tappas” between 3 – 7 pm, and two cost R 45 and three cost R60.  One has a choice of twelve, including hake goujons, pop-corn prawns, deep-fried halloumi, teriyaki salmon and stuffed jalapeno poppers.

The a la carte menu has starters ranging from R 50 for a mussel pot, seafood chowder, goat’s cheese tartlet and buffalo wings, to R 90 for 12 of the prawn 3-ways (having seen them on the special, and being seawater prawns, this is hugely expensive for what one gets), and salads cost R 40 – R 75.  A wide selection of steaks (fillet, sirloin, entrecote, chateaubriand), each in two weight options, is offered, a 250 g sirloin costing R85 and a 500g Chateaubriand costing R200.  Unspecified Venison costs R120 for 250g, as does baby chicken.  Starches are extra at R 20 each, as are a selection of five sauces, also at R 20 each.  A Braai section offers a 1,2kg fillet to share at R395, “kreef” at R 195, ribs, an identified skewer and fish.  A number of seafood options are available, a seafood platter costing R295, calamari costs R80, and baby kingklip R130.

For dessert we shared an odd item on the a la carte dessert menu, being waffles with syrup and cream, perfectly executed, at R 45. Other desserts include apple crumble, and pecan nut pie, costing between R35 – R45.  The Cappuccino was made with LavAzza coffee, but was thin and not the best I have had. 

The wines-by-the-glass at The Kove are very expensive, being based on three glasses out of a bottle.  The difference in price between the cheapest shiraz (Spier 2009) at R 30 and the next up at R95 per glass of Kevin Arnold made me choose the former, a grave mistake, in that it was so bad that I could not finish it.   I asked for the wine to be poured at the table, but the manager was about to refuse this, when he changed his mind.  I wondered what I would have been served (perhaps the same unlabelled wine for the special?).   No vintages are specified on the winelist, nor are the wine varietals or brands described.  The 15-page beverage list is Fleur du Cap-branded throughout, on every page, even though only two of their wines are offered out of the more than 100 wines on the winelist (and typed as “Fleur de Cap”!). 

The winelist is introduced with notes on “Matching wine with your food”, highlighting the essence of “paring” being “seeking to achieve a balance in your personal tastes”.   It indicates which wine types (e.g. “high acid wine”) go with which food types, and lists white wines with high acid as including Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and sparkling wines; and red wines with high acid level Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Gamay. The effect of adding salt to the taste of the wine was an eye-opener, in that it reduces the astringency of wines.   Riedel gets a half page punt and branding, and the benefits of decanting wine is highlighted (although not practised, in that it may have made the young Spier more palatable). 

Fifteen champagnes are offered, ranging from R1 000 for Laurent Perrier Brut Rose and Louis Roderer Brut, to R6000 for Dom Perignon Rose’.  One can order seven of these by the glass, starting at R 140 for the Moet et Chandon Brut Imperial to R 220 for Veuve Cliquot Vintage. Only five Methode Cap Classiques are offered, two Graham Beck and Pongracz each, and Boschendal, ranging from R180 – R320. The Graham Becks are served by the glass too.     A large selection of Chardonnays is offered, dominated by Hamilton Russell (R420), with Muratie Isabella at entry level (R175), and Sauvignon Blancs (between R180- R250).  Fewer red wine choices are offered by varietal – the Shiraz category costs from R200 – R280, but has the Spier at R130.  Four Organic wines (Avondale Chenin Blanc,  Reyneke Reserve white, Waverley Hills Cabernet Sauvignon and Stellar Merlot), and two Kosher wines made by Backsberg, are also available.

Bevan came to the table, to give us our Loyalty Card, and annoyed me when he told me that it is only for South Africans.  10 % of the value of one’s meal is added as points to one’s Loyalty Card ‘account’, redeemable at any time on presentation of the card.  This would bring value to dining at The Kove, but problems with the system in the past two years has made me sceptical about the accuracy of their record keeping, as they claim to have lost details of our guests having eaten there in the past, and therefore the redeemability of the points.

The Kove is one of the few places that has served a good steak in Camps Bay in the past, but the winter special does not reflect this quality.  It is expensive if one orders off the a la carte menu, and its “winter specials” are only specially priced relative to the normal high prices the Kovensky Quartet charges, and seem to be poorer quality cuts, with unacceptably poor quality wine, thus not making The Kove value for money.

The Kove, Shop 2A, The Promenade, Victoria Road, Camps Bay.  Tel (021) 438-0012.                  www.thekove.co.za (full menu and winelist featured).

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

Restaurant Review: Long Table needs some polishing, but food excellent

I had heard about the Long Table Restaurant and Cafe on the Haskell Vineyards outside Stellenbosch on Twitter, and tried it out recently.  I left overwhelmed by the unexpected quality of the food, matching the stature of the wine estate.  However, not all is perfect.  With some better-polished service staff, and some attention to its table presentation and housekeeping, it can rank with the best Stellenbosch restaurants.

Haskell Vineyards is at the end of the Annandale Road near Mooiberge Farmstall, high above and beyond Rust en Vrede.    I was impressed how three competitive wine farms (Rust en Vrede, Haskell and Bilton) have a collegial co-existence in sharing the security for the communal entrance to their farms. 

One cannot see the entrance to the restaurant from the parking area, as the restaurant signage is set back too far above the entrance door.   One enters a reception area, that of the restaurant on the left, and that of the winery on the right.   I was greeted by Corli as I entered, but I did not realise that she was the chef.  Using the bathroom first (door lock does not work on the middle door), I then connected with Werner Els, who does the wine tasting and sales, and he answered my question about the relationship between Dombeya and Haskell.

Dombeya was originally the name of the farm, and was known as a mohair wool farm and factory.  It also had grapes, and the wines made were branded Dombeya, a Latin family name for the wild pear, which is found on the farm.  Preston Haskell bought the farm earlier this decade, and introduced the Haskell wine label from 2007, when highly regarded winemaker Rianie Strydom started making the wines.   The Haskell wines are super-premium ones, selling at high prices.  The wine estate also represents PHD Wines, selling their Australian and New Zealand wine brands from the wine estate and from select retailers such as Caroline’s Fine Wines and Norman Goodfellow’s.   Werner told me that the new restaurant is pulling in feet through the door, and leading to wine sales since it opened five months ago.  Previously one had to make an appointment to taste the estate’s wines.

Werner showed me around the restaurant, demonstrating the collegiality that exists between the restaurant and wine sales, and I only learnt afterwards that Corli Els (no relation) is the chef and owner of Long Table, and leases the restaurant space from the winery.  The long table is in the last section of the restaurant, a beautiful wooden table that can seat about 20 persons.  Here they host regular Winemakers’ lunches.   Blackboards list the wines and menu items inside.   I noticed some odd looking lampshades, made from beads, but preferred to focus on the view from the terrace outside on a lovely summery winter’s day.

The outside area is large, with many tables and chairs, the trees providing shade if required.   The wooden tables and chairs are garden furniture, and the waiter brought a cushion for my chair after I had sat down. The waiter was an irritation – he kept wanting to talk to me in Afrikaans.  I found him extremely lightweight, and not a credit to the restaurant nor the wine estate.  I found it hard to understand what he was trying to tell me, and the pork belly which I ordered without chickpeas was served with chick peas!  It took him forever to bring the bill (there were only 2 tables in total booked for lunch).

Chef Corli was previously from Pretoria, and last worked at Ernie Els’ (no relation) Guardian Peak restaurant close by.  She has also worked at Hazendal, and owned the Fusion Cafe’s in Observatory and in Stellenbosch, but sold them.

Corli bakes her own bread (I loved the whole wheat bread), and is excited that the farm is creating an organic vegetable and herb garden for her.   I ordered the Avocado and papaya salad served as a stack with Black Forest ham, with a yummy dressing, and finished off with a pansy – I have not seen one on food for years.  I loved the salad, and the look of it, and I would come back again just for it alone!     The main course choice was pork belly, costing R98, served with a generous portion of creamy mash, crispy fresh vegetables, a tangy orange sauce and fine orange rind (and the unwanted chickpeas!).

The menu and winelist are attached onto unattractive clipboards, and could be more attractively presented.  The menu has an eclectic mix and a good number of dishes to choose from.  For Starters one can have beef carpaccio; lamb kidneys; fresh corn, or pear and camembert soup; a “super foods” salad or crunchy Caprese parcels, costing between R 50 – R60.  There are 14 “Light Meals and Main Courses”, in what seems a waste to have all ingredients available for so few people.  One can have a chicken salad; Beef Burger (with all sorts of yummy-sounding additions like wild mushrooms, prosciutto, onion confit, mustard bearnaise, for R70); beef strips; cajun chicken sandwich; farfalle pasta;  mushroom ravioli; lamb medallions; duck breasts; spiced quail; fresh linefish; grainfed sirloin steak;  Moroccan lamb shank, and oxtail braised in red wine.  All of these range from R 59 to R 105 for the last two dishes.   Two specials were also available, kingklip at a reasonable sounding R85, and Springbok at R108.  When speaking to Corli, she told me that preparing venison is one of her food favourites.   I did not have a dessert, but will do so on a next visit, most costing a reasonable R35.  Chocolate fondant, pecan nut praline cheesecake, confit apple tart and malva pudding are some of the options.  There is a Kiddies Menu, with “Foodies”, and “Goodies”(the sweets) to choose from.  The menu is changed every 2 -3 months.

The winelist is disappointing, only having one page of local wines, with unforgivable vintage corrections made by pen (commendably though the vintages have been changed to older rather than younger ones!).  “Riesling” is incorrectly spelt.  The remainder of the five pages lists imported wines, which are the Australian and New Zealand PHD wines.   The Australian wine brands are Hoddles Creek, Kalleske, and Spinifex, and are in line with South African prices, the Spinifex Shiraz Viognier being most expensive at R 435.  The New Zealand wines sold are Craggy Range, Felton Road, Lawsons Dry Hills and Wild Rock, the prices not being unreasonable – the Craggy Range The Quarry Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend the most expensive at R475. No vintages are specified for the PHD wines.   Dombeya wines can be bought from R60 upwards (Sauvignon Blanc), the Shiraz being most pricey at R 96.  The Haskell wines are far more expensive, the Aeon Syrah costing R 290, and the Pillars Syrah R 400, both being 2007 vintages.  The Dombeya wines are marked up by R20 each in the restaurant, the Haskell ones are not.  A glass of Dombeya Sauvignon Blanc costs R25, and the Samara costs R30.

The “Cafe” part of the restaurant name refers to the freshly baked cakes, muffins, scones and tarts that are served before and after lunch.

I will come back in a flash for the Avocado and papaya salad, and was most impressed with Chef Corli’s food, and good value.  I found a number of dissonances between the high quality of the Haskell Vineyards’ brands and the image they are creating, and Long Table’s far more casual decor, the laid back and less than adequate service from the waiter, the lack of table coverings, and the unattractive and unprofessional winelist, making the Long Table feel amateurish in almost all respects, other than in the high quality of Chef Corli’s food.

Long Table Restaurant and Cafe, Haskell Vineyards, Annandale Road, Stellenbosch.  Tel (021)  881-3746. www.longtable.co.za. (The website is a model website for a restaurant – lots of beautiful photographs create appetite appeal and demonstrate Chef Corli’s food presentation skills, winelist and menu available, and I even saw some recipes on the Haskell website.  Beautiful presentation of information – a pity this appetite appeal is not reflected in the actual menu and winelist).   Tuesday – Sunday 8h00 – 17h00.  Breakfast and Lunch.   On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.

POSTSCRIPT 8/8:  I returned to the Long Table for lunch today.  Disappointingly, the winelist still has handwritten changes, and the Avocado & Papaya Salad did not have the salad dressing, which made the salad so tasty on my last visit.   I had a taste of the Mushroom Ravioli, which was outstanding, and I loved the presentation and taste of the Apple Tart, even though the portion was small.  The winelist did have vintages for the imported wines offered today, but the copy I saw on my first visit did not.

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

Paul Cluver top local Riesling

The 2008 Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest from Elgin has been selected as the top South African Riesling at a recent Just Riesling winetasting, with local and German judges on the panel.

Just Riesling has been established to increase the profile of Riesling, and to communicate how suited it is for “the South African way of life, climate and cuisine”, reports the Hermanus Times.

Festival under the influence!

An international Riesling Festival will be held in Cape Town and Johannesburg in February, says the Fine Wine magazine.

Organised by sommelier Joerg Pfuetzner of The Riesling Club, the ‘Under the Influence of Riesling Festival’  will be hosted at the Roundhouse in Camps Bay and at The Hyatt in Johannesburg from 19 – 22 February.  Golf und Wein, the Under the Influence Wine Society and Lexus are the sponsors of the Festival.

Riesling producers from thirteen regions in Germany, as well as from Slovakia, Austria, Portugal, USA and Australia will rub shoulders with the top South African Riesling producers.   The international participants will include Egon Müller, JL Wolf and Dr Loosen Estates, Willi Bründlmayer, Philipp Wittmann, Hermann Dönhoff, Dirk van der Niepoort, Werner Mayer-Näkel, and representatives from Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt and Robert Weil.

The festival will consist of four workshops for wine lovers, the trade and the media, two fine dining tasting events (Cape Town and Johannesburg), a food and wine pairing tasting and exhibition with four of South Africa’s top celebrity chefs and all participating local and international Riesling producers, and a three course degustation picnic accompanied by both international and local Rieslings on the lawns of the Roundhouse, featuring one of Germany’s top live performers, Sven Meyer