SnoothPVA: Wines of South Africa Lunch at The Institute of Culinary Education
After spending the morning sampling some incredibly refreshing and delightful Austrian Grüner Veltliners with my fellow group of Snooth PVA wine writers, it was time to switch gears for a South African themed lunch at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). With an array of wines from South Africa ranging from a non vintage Brut and a Chenin Blanc to a classic Bordeax blend and a Pinotage (South Africa’s own grape variety), we were about to embark on a food and wine pairing of a different kind.
As a teenager, I lived in Africa for several years when my Dad was a contracted Civil Engineer in the Mediterranean seaside city of Alexandria, Egypt. Living in a location with easy access to Europe and the rest of the expansive African Continent allowed us to take some very adventurous vacations, my favorite being a two week safari through Kenya. During those two weeks, prix fix menus at rural restaurants had interesting game meats, like giraffe, wildebeast, crocodile and ostrich. At 15 years old, I wasn’t willing to go beyond the usual steak or chicken breast (although I loved to eat the freshly caught and opened sea urchins on the beach in Alexandria), so I politely turned down eating some of the main fare in Africa while thoroughly enjoying the regions fruits and vegetables.
Although I’m glad I never tried the giraffe, until my lunch with Wines of South Africa, I had no idea what I was missing by not trying the ostrich. Our entree, just one of several delicious courses prepared by the students of ICE, was Smoked Ostrich with roasted root vegetables, gorgonzola mousse, herb port reduction, homemade sultana/apricot chutney and an oven baked spicy potato chip. And, it was outstanding; especially, with the 2010 Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block (a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Viognier).
During our time in Africa’s northern country of Egypt, we regrettably never visited South Africa. So, I was exceptionally excited to learn about this famed wine region with representatives from the Wines of South Africa (wosa.us), while pairing some of their signature wines with locally inspired fare. One look at our lunch menu, and I instantly knew I would be searching for a favorite wine with each of the four courses – I was delighted and amazed with the savory food and wine pairings I discovered.
“South African Shot” (Peppadew relish in a parmesan cup along with a guava juice shot topped off with ginger foam) with Badenhorst Family White Blend, 2009 ($34): I loved the great depth of character and complexity in the multi-varietal white blend. It was rich, yet remained fresh and fruity with aromas and flavors of Granny Smith apples and Asian pears. The sweet guava flavors of the Amuse Bouche were rounded out by the subtle acidity in the wine, making a great combination.
Curry Mussels (with lychees, shallots, white wine and dry sherry, in a curry emulsion) was equally delicious with both the Raats Family Chenin Blanc, 2009 ($22) and the De Morgenzon Chardonnay, 2012 ($15). The Chenin Blanc displayed tropical fruit and smoky aromas with a round, clean mouthfeel that was really nice with the mussels. The curry emulsion was excellent with the creamy texture of the Chardonnay that had mellow aromas and flavors of lemons, vanilla and honey.
Smoked Ostrich (with roasted root vegetables, gorgonzola mousse, herb port reduction, homemade sultana/apricot chutney and an oven baked spicy potato chip) with the Boekenhoutskloof Chocolate Block, 2010 ($34): As mentioned above, this was an outstanding pairing. Interestingly, ostrich meat looks and tastes similar to filet mignon. It was melt-in-your-mouth tender and cooked to perfection, and its flavors popped when combined with this five varietal blended red. Aromas and flavors of plum, ripe red berries and meat were quite prominent, but the solid acidic backbone was what really caught my attention – it called for food and held up well to the strong flavors of the gorgonzola mousse and apricot chutney.
Tipsy Tart (soaked in rooibos infused brandy, vanilla ice cream and brandy date syrup) with Ken Forrester ‘T’ Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, 2010 ($55): This had to be the best food and wine pairing I experienced during the entire SnoothPVA weekend, and we had many delicious and memorable pairings. Intense and alluring tropical fruit aromas of pineapple, pears and apricots flow on to the palate in clean, juicy, lush waves consisting mainly of pineapple and melon notes highlighted by woodsy notes with a tangy, delicious finish. Combine these characteristics with the unique flavor of rooibos in the bread pudding-like Tipsy Tart, add in a few crunchy pecans, and it’s a pairing like none other.
While we savored our South African lunch and wines, we learned a bit about the region. Geographically, there are many smaller wine regions within the two main regions of South Africa, the Western Cape and Northern Cape – located west and north of Cape Town. Numerous micro-climates offer suitable conditions for multi-varietals, and the majority of the vineyards are located in the Western Cape, near the Coast. Although many wine enthusiasts consider South African wines as being “New World” produced, the first vines were actually planted in 1655, with the first vintage being produced in 1659. After several wine industry booms and collapses, including the devastation of Phylloxera in the late 1800s, a group was formed in 1918 that saved the industry from disaster. By 1925, a professor successfully cross-pollinated Pinot Noir with Hermitage (Cinsault) to create the regions own varietal, named Pinotage. The South African wine industry has continued to climb since the early 1900s, and in the past two decades, the region’s motto is, “There is not one story about South African wine over the past two decades, but rather two. The one story is about our making better wine. The other story is about our making wine better.”
Read about the wins of South Africa from my wine writing friends who also attended this event:
Snooth PVA: Wines of South Africa (Benito’s Wine Reviews)
New World Wines: South African Wines Continue to Excite Me (avvinare.com)
#SnoothPVA: South African Wines Lunch (My Vine Spot)
Note: The SnoothPVA weekend in New York City was provided to me by Snooth