Wines: Not applicable
Hotel 33, the Private Hotel School, Stellenbosch was just North of Spier Wine Farm, on the Vlottenburg Road, my course instructions said. It was an easy find and, keen to miss the afternoon rush hour traffic exiting Cape Town, I arrived early. The Cape Wine Academy Wine & Food Workshop filled up soon enough though with some 16 eager participants.
We came from many backgrounds which is always interesting: chef, sommelier, vineyard employee, restaurateur, business owner, foodie, student and wine enthusiast. I chose to go as a wine student and enthusiast and to learn for the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society Food and Wine Pairing evening tasting on 15 June.
Wanda Cronje was our Instructor. She taught me for the introductory Cape Wine Academy ‘South African Wine’ Course and so it was good to see her again. More than that, she is one of the very best instructors I have been privileged to learn from. Wanda’s knowledge is immense and she imparts it in a fun and enjoyable way, ideal for all who attended who ranged from advanced wine student to interested beginner.
We began with an exercise I had done before, though it was no less revealing or intriguing for that. Each of us had a little tray containing a piece of apple (sweet), lemon slice (sour), salty-crax biscuit (salty), walnut (bitter) and bowl of soy sauce (umami). These equate to the 5 major taste sensations. ‘Take a bite and then taste Wine 1’, Wanda said. Wine 1 was the Graça, an off-dry white blend of mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. The effect of each taster food on the wine fascinated. There were unexpected affects too. The apple was neutral; the lemon enhanced the sweetness in the wine; the salty-crax made the wine crisper as it enhanced some of the wine flavours; the walnut made the wine bitter; and the soy sauce confused the palate between salty and sweet with the wine.
Wanda told us the theory between successfully pairing wine with food. The weight of the wine needs match the weight of the food. Flavour intensity is important too. We then savoured a little of each of the 8 white, rosé and red wines before us. She explained the characteristics of each wine style.
The chefs at the Private Hotel School had prepared 6 mini food tastings. Each was focused on a particular food type. There was acidity (a rocket, radish and cucumber salad with a red wine vinegar reduction); earthy (roast butternut salad with yoghurt and dukkah); fish (hake goujons, pea purée and sweet potato crisps); spicy (chickpea and lentil curry, coriander and fried onion); tomatoes (tomato braised beef, pommes purée and charred onion); and sweet (frozen chocolate mousse, honeycomb, and strawberry compote).
Our task for this exercise was to try a mixture of the wines with each dish as it was served to us in turn. Wanda told us to experiment and not be put off from trying unusual parings such as a red wine with the salad or dessert. The pace was quick and I had barely enough time to sample 3-4 wines with each dish.
One thing I learned was to consider what food to pair with the wine. It seems like a stupid question but it is not. It made me think of what the major element in a dish is in a way that I had not done before. Was it the sweet butternut in the butternut salad? Or should I pair with the spicy dukkah? Each wine brought out a different flavour, even the yoghurt dressing or the fennel garnish. Some wines worked well, for example the Bellingham chenin blanc/viognier and the Lomond SMV. The La Motte Bordeaux blend highlighted the cumin flavours in the dukkah. I liked it but then I like spicy food. Others did not agree.
Wanda suggested one should buy wine by the glass in restaurants to be able to match each course with the right wine. It very soon became a statement of the obvious but how often do we dine out with friends and a bottle of red or white wine is selected by consensus for all course and all dishes? I like to choose by the glass but I have been caught out with wines that have been open for too long and not at their best compared with a bottle just opened. I have learned to check beforehand with the sommelier and even ask to taste before selecting.
The evening was fun and pacy and interesting. Wanda made it so. I would have liked much more time to have digested the food and wine interaction with each tasting course. A simple handout too that showed the impact of each food taste sensation on the differing style of wines would also have been helpful. These would have been the icing on the cake. They did not detract from a fun and relaxing evening. It was well worth the R480 fee and I recommend to all. You do not need to have any prior knowledge to participate and enjoy. If ever you are stuck for a birthday or Xmas present for the person who has all, then you could do not better than this. Oh, and never drink Sauvignon Blanc with sushi – far better to choose an unwooded Chardonnay or even a beer or warm Japanese sake wine.
2010 Laborie Chardonnay Sparkling (MCC) – R120
NV Cause & Effect Graça (50% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Sémillon, 20% Colombar) – R40
2014 Niederburg Riesling – R65
2015 Bellingham Pear Tree (80% Chenin, 20% Viognier) – R40
2016 Drostdy-Hof Special Late Harvest (Sweet) Chenin Blanc Adelpracht – R45
2016 Durbanville Hills Merlot Rosé – R60
2014 Lomond (72% Syrah, 20% Mouvèdre, 8% Viognier) – R115
2014 La Motte Millenium (24% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 16% Shiraz, 11% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot) – R95
2014 Brampton Pinotage – R75