Tag Archives: Spit or Swallow

Compass Box Whisky Co: the ‘untraditional’ traditional whisky blenders!

I spent a most enjoyable afternoon yesterday as the guest of Liquidity, marketers and distributors of Compass Box Whisky Co, at the Bascule Whisky and Wine Bar at the Cape Grace Hotel, in a small group of such esteemed bloggers and writers as Neil Pendock, Siraj Savage (Life is Savage), Dan Nash (Bangers & Nash), Anel Grobler (Spit or Swallow), Paul Snodgrass (Heart FM), and Shayne Dowling (publisher of Whisky).   The whisky tasting and blending competition, led by Liquidity’s Emil den Dulk, was a run-up to the Whisky Live Festival, which takes place in the Cape Town International Convention Centre from tomorrow until Friday, and in Johannesburg from 9 – 11 November.

I felt out of my depth initially, rarely drinking whisky, but gained a lot of interesting information, and learnt a lot about the whisky company I had never heard of before, and its unusual take on whisky blending. Its owner John Glaser has a wine-making background, and he has used the principles of wine-making and blending in the making of the whiskies at Compass Box too, striving for complexity and balance.  Starting the company in 2000, having headed marketing at Johnnie Walker, Glaser tried to address whisky conventions, such as drinking it with or without ice, that it is a drink only for older persons, and that it can only be drunk at certain times of the day.  Glaser wanted drinkers of his brands to enjoy whisky in whichever way they want to drink it, at whatever time of the day, and to appeal more broadly, especially to younger drinkers.  He worked with a bar in London, called Milk & Honey, and they developed a number of cocktails, pushing the mixability of whisky.  Glaser developed a reputation, by asking questions of whisky making, questioning the current ‘traditions’ which are so different to original whisky-making.  He asked, for example, why caramel colouring is added to whisky.  He asked why sherry casks are used for ageing.  He questioned why new oak is not used.  The company has gone back to the traditional and artisanal roots of whisky-making. The first blend of the Compass Box was called The Hedonism.  The company’s original The Spice Tree blend was banned by the Scottish Whisky Council, but is now commercially available.  The company name comes from the care and precision that goes into the making of ships’ compass boxes, which Glaser wants to reflect in the making of his products too. They add no caramel colouring and do not use chill filtration.

We not only tasted four Compass Box Whisky Co products, but were also served four food items, paired to each whisky by the Cape Grace sommelier George Novitskas.  Great King Street is the entry level whisky, consisting of a blend of 50 % grain whisky, and 50 % malt whisky, of which half each of the latter was aged in American bourbon oak, and in new French oak. It derives its name from the address of the company. This whisky costs about R280, and is an everyday, easy-drinking whisky, with hints of toasty oak, vanilla and spice.  It has just been launched in South Africa.  It was paired with a roast lamb and sun-dried tomato crostini, a good marriage.

Oak Cross is aged in American bourbon barrels, with new French oak barrel heads, giving the whisky more complexity, and an aroma of spiciness and nuttiness, with clove, toffee and ginger notes. We tried it neat, and then with a few drops of water added, making it softer and creamier.  It costs R400. It was paired with a goat’s cheese and onion marmalade vol au vent.  The Spice Tree costs R450, and is darker in colour, coming from the barrelheads being charred more heavily, and having been aged for 12 – 14 years. It is more complex. It has aromas of clove, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla. It was paired with beef fillet and a bearnaise sauce, and Shayne thought that the pairing was equally successful with the vol au vent we had with the Oak Tree.

The Peat Monster is an acquired taste, being the only whisky in the range that contains peat, giving it a ‘burnt braai’ or ‘dirty ashtray’ taste.  It has sweetness, richness, and due to the burnt taste, it is not popular amongst women whisky drinkers.  It is heavier, and not something one can drink all night. This is the company’s biggest seller, and costs R450.  We felt that the smoked salmon paired with this whisky was too light in taste for the dominant whisky taste.

The intimidating but fun part of the afternoon was blending our own whisky in teams of two, and I was lucky to have Shayne as my ‘blending master‘.  We were giving measuring cups and pipettes, and four ingredients.  We chose to make a blend of 50 % Heavy toasted French oak malt, 20 % Highland malt American oak, 10% Lowland grain, and 20 % water, not adding any peated malt, and chose the name ‘French Toast’ for it.  But it was the ‘Equilibrium’ blend by Neil Pendock and Siraj Savage that the judges chose as the winner, having a long finish and a good nose, the judges said.  The blending exercise was a good way to get one involved with the product, and to understand the blending decisions of whisky-makers in general, and of Compass Box Wine Co in particular.

Compass Box Whisky Co is inviting attendees to enjoy a whisky blending at the Whisky Live Festival. Bookings can be made at Tel (021) 905-9066.

Disclosure: We received a bottle of Great King Street as a gift. www.compassbox.com www.liq.co.za

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

Blogging Burn-Out? Where have all the bloggers gone?

Has blogging lost its charm and appeal, three years after taking off in a big way?  It would appear so, if the blogging habits of some of the longer-standing food and wine bloggers are analysed.  I have observed, for example:

*   Dax Villanueva, of Relax-with-Dax Blog, recently Tweeted about taking a blogging break.  Some food bloggers identified with the sentiment of the ‘blogging holiday’, but Dax does not appear to have reduced his frequency of blogging.

*   Spill Blog has reduced from one blogpost a day at its start last year, to infrequent blogging on weekdays, and does not blog on weekends.  Their infrequent Tweeting (@MackSpill) has rendered them almost invisible.  One wonders how advertisers view the reduced Blogging activity.

*   David Cope’s The Foodie Blog now sees one blogpost a month, compared to many more when he first started blogging.  He almost exclusively Tweets.

*   The Jamie Who? Blog is interesting, as blogger Andy Fenner closed down his blog by this name last year, and incorporated it into a joint lifestyle blog called Aficionado, with two other bloggers.  Its clean and neat design, and top level brand endorsements, did not attract enough advertising revenue for the three partners to live from, Fenner blogged honestly, and therefore it was closed down last week.  Now Fenner will have to start from scratch in building readership, an expensive price to pay.  Even Fenner’s blogging frequency on Aficionado dropped significantly, only blogging once in the past month.  Fenner may have lost interest in blogging generally, announcing that he is opening Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants in the next month.

*   Matt Allison of I’m No Jamie Oliver Blog has not Blogged since the beginning of this month, and will be moving to a new blog he will call ‘Planting Thoughts’, reflecting his new passion for urban farming.

It would appear that Blogging Burn-out may be occurring amongst more established bloggers.  Either they are making good money out of their blogs (or not), or they are making money from other sources.  Those bloggers who do not accept advertising on their blogs, blogging for the love of it, appear to be more frequent bloggers.  Serious bloggers spend a good two hours in writing a post, and it is the posting of the photographs that is time-consuming, especially those taken with a better quality camera.  Attending the function that one blogs about, driving there, and then writing about it, can take almost a full day, a luxury for bloggers who have a ‘day job’.

Recently a ranked list of lifestyle blogs and websites, some incorporating food and/or wine, and almost all accepting advertising, was published by Wyncc (linked to Spit or Swallow and Winetimes), based on daily page views (on 17/10):

  1. food24.com126 592
  2. 2oceansvibe.com104 158
  3. winetimes.co.za47 539
  4. watkykjy.co.za – 25 105
  5. capetownmagazine.com19 763
  6. imod.co.za16 558
  7. wine.co.za14 956
  8. bangersandnash.com14 422
  9. lifeissavage.com8 546
  10. jhblive.com6 944
  11. missmoss.co.za – 6410
  12. cooksister.com5 341
  13. capetowngirl.co.za4 807
  14. winemag.co.za – 3 739
  15. aficionado.co.za3 205
  16. relax-with-dax.co.za – 2 671
  17. whalecottage.com2 671
  18. kimgray.co.za2 671
  19. whatsforsupper-juno.blogspot.com 1 068
  20. spill.co.za1 068

Using The South African Food & Wine Blogger Directory as a guideline, I checked the Blogging frequency of a number of blogs.  Pendock Uncorked and Sommelier Miguel Chan Wine Journal Blogs post daily or even more frequent blogposts in general, while Cook Sister, Just Food Now, Food & the Fabulous, Hein on Wine, Batonage, Cape Town by Mouth, Betty Bake, and Scrumptious South Africa blogposts appear more than once a week, on average. It is a shame that Sardines on Toast blogger Kobus van der Merwe last blogged in August, and that Pete Goffe-Wood, with a sharp wit, only blogs once in six months on the Kitchen Cowboys Blog.

The annual S A Blog Awards entries closed at midnight, and appears to be a non-event this year, if the low-key Tweeting about it, and the large number of Bloggers who could not be bothered to enter, is an indicator.  Every year the SA Blog Awards attracts criticism, and this year is no exception.  The biggest surprise is that only ten Blog categories will be contested, compared to 24 categories last year, benefiting more focused Bloggers, and not those writing more generally about a diversity of topics:

  • Best Business / Political Blog
  • Best Entertainment / Lifetstyle (sic) Blog
  • Best Environmental Blog
  • Best Fashion Blog
  • Best Food & Wine Blog
  • Best Music Blog
  • Best Photographic Blog
  • Best Science and Technology Blog
  • Best Sport Blog
  • Best Travel Blog

There is very little consistency and comparability with the SA Blog Awards of 2010. Noticeable by their absence this year are the Most Controversial Blog, Best New Blog, and Micro-Blogging (Tweet) categories. The rules have changed too, and for the first time the Blog entries are limited to Bloggers residing in South Africa, automatically excluding regular past-winner in the Food & Wine category, London-based Cook Sister Blog, and the Indieberries Blog winner of last year. Only two categories may be entered per Blogger.  Voting will be limited to one vote per Blog, and closes on 9 November.  Judges will only evaluate the top three publicly-voted Blogs per category.  Judges will choose the Blog ranking in each category.  The judges vote will decide the overall winner of the SA Blog Awards.  Radio sport presenter JP Naude will be running the organisation, not being a blogger himself, with support of last year’s Award’s organiser Chris Rawlinson.

It will be interesting to see how Blogging evolves over time, and whether the rate of new Blog start-ups will reach saturation.   Loyal Blog readership remains at a high level, readers being more active supporters of Blogs than their writers, it would appear.

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

La Motte ‘Cape Winelands Cuisine’ cookbook a winning recipe!

The launch of the new cookbook ‘Cape Winelands Cuisine’ at La Motte wine estate yesterday was characterised by the professionalism and excellence that this Franschhoek wine estate has become known for, and demonstrated the leadership of La Motte in proudly promoting the cuisine heritage of the Cape Winelands.

From the time that the restaurant Pierneef à La Motte opened over a year ago, Cape Winelands cuisine has formed the foundation of its menu, its Culinary Manager Hetta van Deventer-Terblanche having researched a collection of recipes that originated from the Dutch, German, French, Flemish, and British settlers that came to the Cape more than 300 years ago, and a selection presented in the restaurant, with a modern twist.  The collection of recipes has been captured in the new book, which La Motte CEO Hein Koegelenberg describes as follows: “What really makes this book so special is that it is the first time in the history of South Africa that such a complete and detailed traditional recipe book with historical, scientifically based recipes is published”. The book ‘unlocks the history of food in South Africa and serves as a valuable guide to treasured food knowledge that was almost lost by our generation’, said the La Motte media release.

The 288-page book, with photography by Micky Hoyle, contains more than a hundred recipes.  A limited number of copies of the book was flown in from overseas for the launch function, so we were not able to page through the book.  The book should be widely available from November.  An unusual launch approach was used, by having a panel discussion with Hein and Hanlie Koegelenberg, Chef Chris Erasmus, and Hetta about the book, led by Rooi Rose food journalist and cookbook writer Mariette Crafford, asking interesting and challenging questions about the book, the history of Cape Winelands cuisine, and the cuisine policy of Pierneef à La Motte.  Chef Chris said his ‘roots are here‘ (in the Winelands), and highlighted that it is important to go back to celebrating South African food. There is a move away from deconstruction, to go back to serving food that reflects the season and the region.  People want food like they had at home, like mother used to make, which was like a ‘liefdesbrief’, often the favourite dish of each family member being made for Sunday lunches.  So the book contains something for everyone, it was said. Pairing the flavours in wines with those in foods makes the eating and drinking experience special, said Hein.  La Motte has started planting trees with traditional fruits, to harvest from in future, including guavas, figs and quinces, and they have started planting herbs and vegetables, for use in the restaurant kitchen. All chefs seek to be self-sustaining as far as supplies go, but there are some limitations, such as the local supply of venison and ‘heirloom vegetables’, Chef Chris mentioned.  Hein emphasised that La Motte is a family business, with family values.

The most impressive part of the launch function, over and above the lovely lunch at which we tasted some of the recipes contained in the book, was the recognition that all restaurants in the area should stand for and support Cape Winelands Cuisine, an unselfish promotion of the cuisine wealth of the region. A number of chefs were invited, including Margot Janse from The Tasting Room, Ryan Shell from Haute Cabriere, Topsi Venter, Neil Jewell from Bread & Wine, Christophe De Hosse from Joostenberg Deli, Neethling du Toit from La Petite Ferme, Marianna Esterhuizen from Marianna’s, Abie Conradie from Noop, Leana Schoeman from the Salmon Bar, and Simone Rossouw from Babel at Babylonstoren. Suppliers of Pierneef à La Motte were invited too, a nice touch, as were a number of bloggers and print media food journalists.  Restaurants and wineries from the area were encouraged to help market the book.

The lunch menu detailed the background to the items we were served, which has become characteristic of the menu at Pierneef à La Motte.  Each table was served a selection of starter dishes on a wooden board, to be shared, reflecting the ‘family’ feel one gets when one visits the restaurant.   The selection consisted of the signature Cape Bokkom salad (predicted by the restaurant to become a classic such as the Waldorf salad, Caeser salad, and Salad Niçoise), pickled fish with capers (its origin being Arabia), offal brawn (introduced by the French Huguenots), Rolpens (stuffed stomach, introduced by the Dutch), and pickled tongue, served with wholewheat farm bread from the La Motte Farm Kitchen.  This was paired with La Motte Pierneef Sauvignon Blanc 2011.  For the main course, the menu listed sweet and sour pumpkin and lamb stew, and pan-fried Franschhoek trout on a sweetcorn fritter with red wine sauce and turnip dauphinoise.  Interestingly, we were not asked our preference, and every alternate guest was served one of the two main courses.  Again, as a ‘family’ of guests Spit or Swallow’s Anel Grobler and I shared our main courses.  I had the trout, and the menu stated that serving fish with a red wine sauce will have originated from the Dutch, but had been found in historic German and French cookbooks too.  It was paired with the La Motte Chardonnay 2009.  The stew recipe, paired with La Motte Pierneef Shiraz Viognier 2008, has its origin in Arabia, and was written about by a Cape traveller venturing into the African interior.

The dessert was a refreshing summer sweet soup with fresh berries, and a ball of fruit sorbet delicately balanced on two biscuit sticks over the bowl.  Sweet soups came from Holland, but probably have their origin in Italy.  A lovely pairing with this dish was the La Motte Méthode Cap Classique 2008.  More treats were served with the coffee, a collection of biscuits, Cape fruit tartlets, macaroons (not a modern dish, but one that was originally called ‘makrolletjies’, made then with desiccated coconut, or almonds), apple marmalade, ‘kwartiertertjies’ (‘samoosa’ triangles, with an origin in Persia), ‘oblietjies’ (waffles) with cream, and cheese-tart with preserves.

The interesting and unusual launch of the book via the panel discussion in the historic wine cellar, the lovely lunch at Pierneef à La Motte paired with excellent La Motte wines, the friendly ‘family’ collection of guests, and the professional packaging of media information, with recipe postcards presented in a wax-sealed envelope with the La Motte emblem, is a recipe for success for the new cookery book, and for Pierneef à La Motte, which has been nominated as an Eat Out Top 20 restaurant, and is certain to make the Top 10 list on 20 November.

‘Cape Winelands Cuisine’, Human & Rousseau, R450. Available at bookshops from November, and at the La Motte Farm Shop already.  Tel (021) 876-8000. www.la-motte.com

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

Overhex Balance wines are good balance between quality and price!

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