This week Delheim wine estate is focusing on the delectable exotic mushroom, in running a Mushroom Week in its restaurant in conjunction with Nouvelle Mushrooms, the only commercial producer of exotic mushrooms in South Africa, and sole supplier of this delicacy to Woolworths.
I was part of a group of journalists (those from The Star and the Sunday Times flying down from Johannesburg especially for the event) and bloggers that was invited by Erica Meles Public Relations to attend an outing to Delheim yesterday, which kicked off with an interesting talk by Dr Adriaan Smit of the University of Stellenbosch, a mycologist and MD of the SA Gourmet Mushroom Academy. He impressed with his knowledge of poisonous and edible mushrooms, giving tips about how one ensures that one only picks and eats edible mushrooms. There are about 1,5 million mushrooms species, and Dr Smit recommended a number of steps for aspirant mushroom gatherers: read every book on the topic (he had five local books), join the Edible Fungi Association, collect with an expert, don’t rely on photograph matching with books only, smell the mushrooms, scratch the stem for colour changes, rub the flesh to check the texture, taste only a tiny piece and spit it out without swallowing the juices, make a spore print on a sheet of white and black paper or on aluminium foil, use chemical tests, eat only one variety at a time, never eat wild mushrooms raw, and always keep some uncooked mushrooms on the side, for a test in case one gets ill.
For successful foraging his first recommendation is to take along a magnifying glass, to check the mushroom for spores, gills and teeth. So, for example, the pine ring mushroom must emit an orange-coloured milk to confirm that it is not its poisonous look-alike. Mushrooms with a white cap, white gills, free unattached gills, a white spore print, with a ring on the stalk, that are small and brown, and/or have a swollen stalk base could be poisonous. If one has signs of mushroom poisoning, call the Tygerberg Poison Information Center at tel (021) 931-6129. Dr Smit loves mushrooms so much that his boutique hotel outside Stellenbosch is called The Wild Mushroom, and each of the six suites is inspired by and decorated in the theme of a mushroom variety.
After the talk, guests were taken on a walk to the pine forest on the farm, to look for wild mushrooms (mainly Boletus Edulis, or better known as cep or porcini, and pine ring) with Dr Smit and Nora Sperling-Thiel, daughter of farm owner Spatz Sperling, who is knowledgeable about mushrooms too. I had a long chat to son Victor Sperling, who told me that about half of the 365 hectare farm is planted under vine and the balance has pine forests. The pines were planted by Spatz Sperling, possibly as a reminder of his country of origin, on slopes that are too steep to plant vines. Victor told me that the pine forestry is not really economically viable, but it is a good way for the farm to meet the requirements of the Biodiversity Wine Initiative, in that the shade created by the trees prevents the reseeding of alien plants. The Delheim focus is on ‘unpretentious winemaking’, says its flyer, and Victor told me they try to change little as their customers like their wines as they are. They try to make 100% cultivars such as Merlot, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon, a much bigger challenge, he said, but they do make some blends too. Brenda van Niekerk is the winemaker, while Victor is the viticulturist and production manager. His sister Nora heads sales. Victor deplored that restaurants do not support the Stellenbosch Wine Route and its wines.
Fresh out of the forest, we were taken to the cellar meeting room, in which Schalk de Beer, MD of Nouvelle Mushrooms, took us through a presentation on exotic mushrooms and their nutritional benefits. The company was started in 2006, and currently it produces 2 tons of exotic mushrooms per week, using 10 tons of woody substrates. About 60 % of the mushrooms are sold through Woolworths, and the balance to restaurants and hotels. Woolworths currently has a special offer of two punnets of exotic mushrooms for R30. It has a production facility in the Hemel en Aarde Valley outside Hermanus, and prides itself on its distribution efficiency, given the perishability of its products. Not known to all is the health benefits of mushrooms, Schalk told us, generically being high in protein. The exotic mushroom varieties that the company supplies are the following:
* Shiitake mushrooms are rich in cholesterol-lowering properties, and contain anti-oxidants. This variety enhances the flavour of the foods that it is served with. It is the biggest seller in the East.
* King oyster mushrooms contain anti-oxidants. They are ideal for Italian dishes.
* Enoki mushrooms are mainly used in soups in Japan, and look attractive when used in salads.
* Shimeji mushrooms can be used as antipasto, or for a pasta sauce, due to their aroma.
Lunch was served and not unsurprisingly the three-course menu only consisted of mushrooms, paired with Delheim wines, reflecting the menu which Delheim is offering for Mushroom Week running until Sunday 10 July, at R120, inclusive of three glasses of wine, and coffee, offering exceptional value. I loved the refreshing Paw Paw and Shimeji mushroom salad, an unusual combination served with a light lemon dressing. The alternative starter offered is Baby spinach salad with seared King oyster mushrooms. Both starters were paired with Delheim’s Sauvignon Blanc 2010.
The main course was a choice of Risotto with dried Boletus mushrooms, and Tagliatelle with Nouvelle Exotic Mix mushrooms, and guests were offered a choice of Delheim’s Merlot 2007 or the lightly-wooded Chardonnay Sur Lie 2010. Coffee was served with a Shiitake mushroom and chocolate cookie, paired with the Delheim Gewürztraminer.
I was lucky to sit at the same table as Schalk de Beer, and Spatz Sperling and his wife Vera. Spatz Sperling is 81 years old, and is an icon in the wine industry, making his first wines 60 years ago on the farm which was originally owned by Hans Hoheisen since 1938, married to his aunt Adele, after whom the farm was named, and having created the country’s first wine route, being the Stellenbosch Wine Route with Frans Malan and Neil Joubert 40 years ago. When asked what changes he has seen in the wine industry over the years, he laughed, and said that it has just got better, and cellar buildings have become more attractive. Vera Sperling told us about the laws that governed wine tasting in early days – a minimum of 12 wines had to be bought, one had to receive a KC6 form as proof of a legal sale if one was stopped by the police, no wine was allowed to be bottled without a ‘white’ person present, and one had to buy wine from the cellar and bring it to the restaurant on a wine estate, as restaurants on wine estates were not allowed to sell wine. Delheim was the first wine estate to serve food almost 38 years ago, serving a choice of cheeses and patés initially. A year later Blaauwklippen and Hartenberg followed suit.
Delheim, Knorhoek Road, off R45, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 888-4607. www.delheim.com. Monday – Sunday.
Nouvelle Mushrooms, Tel (021) 887-5593. www.nouvelle.za.net
Mushroom Academy, Tel (021) 881-3586. www.mushroomacademy.com
Disclosure: All guests received an information pack, which also contained a bottle of Delheim Merlot 2007, and a punnet of Nouvelle Mushrooms, with a collection of pine needles and oak leaves from the farm.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
On Friday I was fortunate to experience a tasting of some of the wines in the Overhex Wines International range, and specifically their new additions to the two year old Balance range, which was held at one of the most popular restaurants in Cape Town, namely Luke Dale-Roberts’ The Test Kitchen.
The Test Kitchen in the Old Biscuit Mill premises in Woodstock is a small space, and we must have been about thirty journalists and bloggers who were lucky enough to be invited by charming PR consultant Nicolette Waterford. The stature of the event was reflected by the attendance of Sunday Times wine writer Neil Pendock, Cape Wine Master Christine Rudman, Cape Times wine writer Cathy Marston, Christian Eedes, Wade Bales, Spit or Swallow’s Anel Grobler, Joanne Gibson, Greg Landman, and more, and the restaurant venue must have been an important attendance drawcard. Spread over the two tables were staff of Overhex, including the co-owner Gerhard van der Wath, who manages the company, in close co-operation with JC (for Jean Claude) Martin, who is the Production Director, and is responsible for the wine styles and blends, assisted by Jandre Human, the cellar master. Being private-owned means that Gerhard and JC can make quick decisions. They are not restricted to only the grapes of their region, but can buy in the best grapes to suit their requirements, including from the Swartland, West Coast, Franschhoek, and Stellenbosch, allowing them to make wines at different price points. The Overhex farm in the Breede River Valley outside Worcester produces about 10 000 tons of grapes, and about 5 million litres are bought in, JC told us.
JC (on the right, chatting to Greg Landman) has a Swiss German lilt when he speaks, and arrived in South Africa six years ago, having met his wife Carolyn (daughter of Walter Finlayson) on the wine estate in Switzerland on which he worked at the time, where she came to present label designs on behalf of the London design agency she worked for. His association with Overhex started in 2005. Alongside the Overhex wine involvement, JC makes his own Creation wines in the Hemel en Aarde valley outside Hermanus. While this was not a Creation function at all, we did discuss the wines and the marketing of them, which JC does on the side when he represents Overhex wines overseas. His wife does the marketing of Creation wines locally, and they had an average of 300 visitors per day in their tasting room over the festive season, he said. They are very excited about the fact that the Western Cape province has placed the Caledon – Hermanus gravel road going through their valley as number one priority on the list of roads to be tarred in the province, and they see this as being of huge future benefit to themselves and their colleagues on the recently created Hemel en Aarde Valley wine route. I sat opposite JC, and asked him questions abouit Creation – he did not talk about Creation when he addressed the guests. JC told me he studied winemaking in the French part of Switzerland. Switzerland is not generally known as a wine producer, but JC told me that the Swiss drink all the wine produced in the total area of 25000 ha, and therefore it is not exported. Whalepod is a new Creation brand, and we have started stocking it in our Whale Cottages. JC told me that they are launching a new Syrah/Malbec Whalepod blend. Tasting rooms on wine farms are unique to South Africa, in that one can visit most wine farms without making an appointment, making this wine tourism valuable to wine farms selling their wines from the cellar door – for Creation it represents 30 % of their sales.
In 2003 Overhex was started as a co-operative, and was bought by Gerhard and a partner in 2005. Initially their focus was on the international market, and they now export to 25 countries. JC told us that they export to supermarket and liquor groups such as Marks & Spencer, CO-OP UK, and Fosters, making own label wines for them. Most of the wine is made to the specific requirements of each of these chains, and exported in bulk, and bottled in the UK and in Germany. Ten Overhex brands are exported, being 3,5 million bottles in total.
The reason for the launch function was to introduce the new additions to the Balance range, being the Winemaker’s Selection Shiraz 2010 and Winemaker’s Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2010. They complement the existing Balance range of Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (won a gold medal at Michelangelo 2010), Shiraz Merlot 2010, Pinotage Shiraz 2009, Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2010, Chenin Blanc Colombar, Reserve Unwooded Chardonnay, Sparkling Vin Sec, Sparkling Vin Doux, Shiraz Rosé and a sweet Rosé, aiming them at the domestic market for the first time. Balance has been shaped for local wine drinkers, and the range is designed to be easy drinking wines with a shorter life span. We were asked to evaluate the wines relative to their price point, the Winemaker’s Selection Sauvignon Blanc costing R40 and the Winemaker’s Selection Shiraz costing R45, representing incredible value, as none of the white and red Balance wines are more expensive than these two prices. JC said that the Balance wines should not be judged on price alone, in that a cheaper wine does not mean that it is a bad wine. Overhex operates ethically and cares about its supplier farmers, in that they offer them a price for their grapes that allows the farmers to survive. The Balance wines are available at ULTRA intitally, and they are working on expanding the distribution at local outlets. I asked about the elephant on the label, and the designer was at the function, but she could not explain it, other than that it was on the first Balance labels. The Balance pay-off line is “for life’s lighter moments”. The Overhex cellar now has a tasting room and Bistro, and locals are invited to visit the wine estate. “Our goal with Balance is to get the wine lover to celebrate everyday wine culture, making it easy to enjoy delicious wines from a varied range at an affordable price point”, said Gerhard.
The Test Kitchen food was outstanding, and deep fried sushi was served before we started. I chose a Trout tartar starter, which was light and perfect for the hot summer’s day. As I had the kingklip when I had dinner at the restaurant in December, I ordered the beef fillet, and it is the softest I remember ever having, simply presented with green beans. For dessert the choice was a cheese platter and lemon tart.
The launch and tasting of the Overhex Wines International Balance range of wines, ‘paired’ with the wonderful food by Chef Luke-Dale Roberts of The Test Kitchen, and the gift pack of Balance wines, was the start to an exceptional day, which ended with the attendance at the U2 360° concert at the Cape Town Stadium for many attending the function.
Overhex Wines International, 71 Stockenström Street, Worcester. Tel (023) 347-6838. www.overhex.com Tuesday – Thursday 10h00 – 17h00, Friday and Saturday 10h00 – 16h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
One of the specials on the Whale Cottage Spring/Summer specials list is OYO’s Crayfish special. Yesterday a group of food and wine bloggers and journalists was invited by Manley Communications, on behalf of their client Newmark Hotels, to enjoy a taste of the Crayfish Special at OYO Restaurant and Cocktail Bar at the V&A Hotel, which costs R185 for 500 gram. The lunch was perfect for the lovely summer’s day.
OYO means ‘whoa’ in Chinese, a reaction to the food and lovely view from the restaurant onto Table Mountain from the inside tables, and those outside along the quay. It is also a visual representation of two plates and a glass of wine. The chef at OYO is Sanel Esterhuizen, relatively unknown, but who has been with the hotel for almost 2 years, and has a wonderful way with the presentation of food.
Newmark Hotels was previously known as the Ambassador Group, and owns the V&A Hotel, the Ambassador Hotel, the Salt Restaurant, Salt Deli, Salt Vodka Bar, Dock House and the Villa Collection. The Group is on an expansion trail, having bought the old Splendida Hotel on Beach Road in Mouille Point, and is busy renovating the accommodation and restaurant. The restaurant will be run by Caveau. In addition, the Queen Victoria hotel, in a building which has housed the management of the V&A Waterfront, is being renovated and will open for business next year.
For the second year running OYO has obtained a “7 ton pre-allocation of crayfish”, translating into 14 000 crayfish tails, which will be served throughout summer. It is unclear how the allocation works, and whether the crayfish served is fresh or has been frozen before preparation.
The wines for the lunch were sponsored by Hartenberg, a wine estate in Stellenbosch that is over 300 years old, and is a founder signatory of the South African Biodiversity in Wine Initiative, expressing its care for the environment. Its product portfolio includes The Gravel Hill, The MacKenzie Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, The Stork Shiraz, Weisser Riesling, ‘The Eleanor’ Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, Pinotage, Shiraz and Merlot. The Shiraz has voted the third best in the world at Syrah du Monde, while its Merlot was judged the world’s best in the International Wine & Spirit Competiton in London. Earlier this year the Shiraz was named the Best New World wine at the ZÃ¼rich International Wine Competition.
The winelist on the website contains some typing errors, the only flaw about this good restaurant. What is most impressive is that almost each of the wines offered is available by the glass and by the bottle, 70 wines-by-the-glass in total, which is most commendable. More champagnes than local sparkling wines are available, the imported ones costing between R 425 for Moet et Chandon Brut to R 2595 for Dom Perignon. Local bubblies range from R37/R190 for Villiera to R 52/R275 for Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose. Four Shiraz wines are offered – De Meye costs R35/R125 – Bon Courage Inkara costs R79/R295.
The starter was the highlight for me, in its beautiful presentation, being a Shellfish Cocktail, consisting of langoustines, prawns, crab, shrimps, mussels and clams, with a brandy crÃ¨me fraiche served on the side, an unexpected but interesting combination. It was served with “The Eleanor” Hartenberg Chardonnay 2007. Other starters range widely in price, from R40 for a vegetable soup to R175 for a delicious-sounding abalone risotto.
The OYO special allows one to order the West Coast crayfish in one of two ways. The grilled crayfish is served with Malay pilaf rice, roasted vine tomatoes and a selection of three sauces – lemon butter, garlic and peri-peri. The steamed and then cooled down crayfish is served with a summer melon and herb salad and avocado mayonnaise, which was the option I chose. The crayfish was perfect, and the avocado mayonnaise a most unusual but lovely combination. The salad was served in a glass, with tiny balls of orange and green melon, slivers of cucumber, radish slices and herbs, making a lovely accompaniment to the crayfish. It was served with Hartenberg Sauvignon Blanc 2009. The menu on the website lists the warm crayfish dish at the usual price of R 275, and a seafood platter for two costs R495. Other main courses are well-priced between R 100 – R120, for steak, duck, springbok, pork belly, lamb and kingklip.
I did not have the dessert, but it looked beautiful too, being a slice of chocolate tart with mulberry (what a unique ingredient!) sorbet and almond rocks, which was paired with the Hartenberg Merlot 2008. Desserts range from R45 for bread and butter pudding to R75 for Chocolate nemesis.
The service of the staff was attentive, efficient and professional, constantly topping up the water and the wines. I was impressed when I was greeted by name on arrival outside the hotel at the drop-off zone, by Manager Mark Gers, a most friendly welcome.
The Crayfish special is excellent value for money for crayfish lovers, and also for tourists who would like to try this South African delicacy.
Disclosure: Guests attending the lunch received a hamper of Hartenberg wines, as well as a voucher to stay in the new Queen Victoria Hotel, opening next year.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage