Grande Provence Collaboration Dinner a sparkling and bubbly affair!


imageI have attended many Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festivals in the past. When I saw the media release about the last Wine & Dine Collaboration Dinner for this year, at R1500 per person, I booked it immediately.

The notice for the Dinner indicated that the four course dinner prepared by Grande Provence Chef Darren Badenhorst and his team would be paired with two local sparkling wines (Grand Provence Brut 2009 and Silverthorn Jewel Box 2012) as well as two Champagnes (Lanson and Jacquart).

We arrived at 19hoo on a beautiful summer evening, and it was still imagelight enough to appreciate the beautiful garden and the fairy lights that had been hung in the imagetrees.  Grande Provence GM Karl Lambour was in jocular mode, so when he told me that I would be having Dinner for One, I laughed. He took me inside, and sure enough there was my table set for one person only. I have no problem sitting on my own, but usually I am added to another table. Karl showed me the new decor touches, green cushions having been added to the seats against the far wall seating, and matching green crockery having been placed on both sides of the chimney.

The tables were very close to each other, and soon a couple from London started chatting. They asked me if I knew British wines, and I said I hadn’t tried any yet, but that I had heard that their sparkling wines are excellent. Matt Penny told me that Sussex has the same terroir as does the Champagne region in France, and that is why their sparkling wines are so good. We talked restaurants, and I made a booking for them at a Franschhoek restaurant for the following evening. They were so grateful that they promised to send me a bottle of  Nyetimber, the best British sparkling wine, in their opinion. On my other side was a Belgian mother and son, and it is a shame that we only connected right at the end.

The highlight of the evening was that Karl, ever the gentleman host, had instructed all the men at his table to take turns in taking a seat at my table to come and chat, including himself, John Loubser, Neil Grant, and Khuselo Mputa, allowing a ‘speedchatting’ interaction with each of them!

Our welcome drink was the new Grande Provence Brut 2009, with imagezero dosage, which had spent 5 years on the lees. The bread plate was an interesting mix of lavash, seed loaf, sesame seed bread, with Brut butter, mustard aioli, and rocket and spinach pesto. Karl welcomed the guests, and told us which sparkling wines would be paired with which dish. He told us that it was the eighth collaboration dinner that Grande Provence had hosted this year.

imageChef Darren went through the four course menu, describing the dishes as ‘light and summery’. It was interesting that three of the four courses were fish-based, but this will have reflected the uniqueness of offering a dinner paired with sparkling wines for each course. As the lighting was set on low as we sat down, I was grateful to be allowed to photograph the dishes in the kitchen.

The first course was paired with Silverthorn Jewel Box 2012, made by imageKaren and John Loubser. John introduced his private label (he is also the GM at Steenberg). He told us that it was sheer coincidence that they had recently visited the Jacquart and Lanson estates in Champagne. He shared the sparkling wine production numbers, being 7 million in our country compared to there being 1,2 billion bottles of Champagne in storage at any time in that region in France. If one measured the space taken by the Moët et Chandon bottles stored in imageunderground tunnels it would be 28 km. Methode Cap Classique was first produced 43 years ago, and now there are 170 producers. He said that they support ‘homegrown’. John said that he and Karen come from Namibia,  and that they looked to the starry skies of that country for a name for their MCC. They found it in one of two little stars of the Southern Cross, a star imagecluster called the Jewelbox. It spent 42 months on the lees and 10 months on cork. The first course was griddled marron ceviche served with Alaskan crab, charred corn, citrus elements, and aioli, a colorful dish.

The dinner was the last for outgoing Restaurant Manager and Sommelier Khuselo Mputa, who is joining Four Seasons (The Westcliff) in Johannesburg. He has been replaced with new co-Managers Jacobus Lochner and Daniel Yarrington. Khuselo was tasked imagewith introducing the second wine, being Jacquart Blanc de Blanc 2006. He explained that it is rare for a Champagne vintage to be declared. If it is done, then all the Champagne producers must do so by agreement. There are 1800 growers supplying grapes to Jacquart. The champagne spent five years on the lees, imageand was barrel fermented, he told us. The Champagne was paired with 12 hour Franschhoek trout gravlax, a mosaic of beetroot scales, iced baby radish, and vineyard alfalfa.

John Loubser came to join my table, and told me how successful their new Chef Kerry Kilpin is, Bistro Sixteen82 having done 1200 more covers than last November. A new self-managed Spa has opened at the Steenberg Hotel.

imageKarl introduced his Grande Provence Brut 2009, a blend of 50% each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. He shared that 2009 was one of the best vintages, with a long summer, ‘exquisite grapes‘, and his MCC is a ‘labour of love’, having spent five years in the cellar. He imagedescribed it as an ‘investment‘ to leave it to one side for such a long period. The third course was described by Chef Darren as a deconstructed Salad Niçoise, with cold smoked tuna, seared tuna, saffron tomato, quail egg, and anchovy crème.

The last course was an unusual dessert of frozen mulberry yoghurt parfait, liquorish-glazed beetroot, basil custard, and port syrup, which was paired with Lanson Black Label 2014 Champagne. Karen Visser works for Great Domaines, the local distributor of imagethe brand, and she introduced us to it. It is the fifth oldest champagne house, having been established in 1760. It carries the family crest with the Maltese Cross in its label design, an honour which a family member had earned. In 1860 the champagne received the Royal Warrant imagefrom Queen Victoria, and is the longest-standing brand approved by the British royalty. The champagne spent three years on the lees, and is a blend of 50% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier.

Khuselo came to join my table, and talked like never before, both of us having been weary of each other in the past. He is excited about his new Sommelier job, and has an unlimited budget in purchasing wines for the hotel when he starts next week.  He is aiming to offer at least three wines per region, and wants the restaurant goers to experience new wines. He praised the good relationship he had with Chef Darren in running the restaurant, and in working on food and wine pairings together.

I and some of the other guests were the last to leave, and we could have stayed longer had it not been close to midnight, having had a most enjoyable evening in every respect!

The Restaurant at Grande Provence, R45, Franschhoek. Tel (021) Twitter: @Grande_Provence

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog:  Tel 082 55 11 323  Twitter:@WhaleCottage  Facebook:  click here


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