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Thursday, 20 October 2016

Stellenbosch Wines and Nikkei Cuisine - A Marriage Made in Heaven

Words and Photography by Greg Klerkx and Marcel Baumhauer da Silva

South African wine is not exactly a new phenomenon here on our sceptred isle; if anything, that country’s heady, fruit-rich whites and mighty, muscly reds have become part of the vinocultural furniture, to such an extent that it’s easy to think that if you’ve had one KIND, you’ve had them all.


It’s partly with that kind of overfamiliarity in mind that the fine folks of Stellenbosch – a venerable region that’s been producing first-class wine for centuries – set out on a mission: to show the subtlety, versatility and sheer class of wines from the land of the Springbok.


Stellenbosch is a town and a region, located at the most southwestern reach of South Africa. The land is hilly, and the vineyards that roll across the idyllic landscape are sheltered in pocket valleys that dip and roll across the region. The nearby ocean tempers the often-ferocious heat; add to this copious, almost Mediterranean sunshine and exceptionally well-draining soil, and Stellenbosch earns glowing comparisons to California’s Napa Valley.


But therein lay a point of frustration: they were making beautiful wine in Stellenbosch when the Napa Valley was still the land of the Wappo Indians, with nary a European (let alone a winemaking one) in sight. Stellenbosch is the country’s second-oldest wine growing region, with the first recorded planting in 1679. The region accounts for a full 14% of the country’s wine production. Yet while Stellenbosch wines are deservedly legendary in South Africa, the man on the UK high street remains largely in the proverbial dark.


And so it was that six of Stellenbosch’s finest winemakers brought their finest wares to the London Foodie Supper Club. We began with L’Avenir MCC Blanc de Blanc 2011, a clean and true version of this classic bubbler made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. Slightly paler than one might expect even from a blanc de blanc, the L’Avenir was hardly pale on the palate, with distinctive nut and citrus notes and a light, mildly acidic finish that paired beautifully with Pan-fried Leek & Tofu Gyoza with Home-made Garlic Teriyaki Sauce and the London Foodie’s signature Wasabi & Butter Flavoured Popcorn.



Next up was a brace of Chenin Blancs from Kleine Zalze. We began with the Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2015 (£7.33, matthewclark.co.uk), 2015 being a particularly outstanding vintage in South Africa. Selected from old bush vines (25-40 years old), one enjoys the concentrated, deep notes of ripe summer fruit – guava and melon particularly – and revels in the subtle oaky finish. A great if not obvious choice with Salmon, Sicilian Prawn & Fennel Nikkei Ceviche in a Passion Fruit & Aji Amarillo Tiger’s Milk.




The second Chenin Blanc – Kleine Zalze Family Reserve 2015 (£18.45, winedirect.co.uk) had a lot to live up to, and it mostly did. A strong seller in the UK, one can see why: just that much more subtle than its sibling, slightly less oaked (though whether that’s a bonus depends on taste), yet with a kaleidoscopic nose of pear, white peach, and a wafting hints of honeysuckle…a real summer wine, or a wine to have in winter to bring summer right back (yet firm enough to stand up to the rich wonderfulness of “Deconstructing Sushi”: Grilled Scallops on Rice, Tobiko Caviar, Nori Seaweed and a Spicy Creamy Sauce).




After such heights, we moved on to my favourite white of the evening, the marvellous Jordan Nine Yards Chardonnay 2014 (£25.99, sawinesonline.co.uk). The Jordans, Gary and Kathy (both on hand for our event), are legends not only on the South African wine scene but here in London, too, where they own the well-regarded High Timber restaurant, not far from the Millennium Bridge. It’s worth a visit just for their wines: Nine Yards was a stunner, the sort of creamy, oaky (but not too oaky), deep-as-the-sea Chardonnay the Napa Valley used to be regularly praised for.





Sparkling with citrus and chewy with notes of toffee and butterscotch, it was delicious accompaniment to "Chilled Green Tea Soba Noodles with Fried Aubergines in a Cold Dashi Broth”, where the wine managed to shine while giving enough space to the dish’s delicate flavours. Well worth hunting down for your own cellar.


Our main dish – Iberico Pork Cheeks, Daikon Fondant & Foie Gras, with accompaniments – was accompanied by an intriguing trio of wines from three different Stellenbosch winemakers. Spier Creative Block 5 2012 (£18, sawinesonline.co.uk) was a hearty Bordeaux-style blend (mostly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cab Franc) that had powerful blackcurrant overtones yet was surprisingly light with a nice peppery kick.




Waterford Estate The Jem 2010 was, for me, the least exciting wine of the night, though this is probably a function of timing. A blend dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, one felt certain that with some cellar time, The Jem’s currently restrained chocolate and dark berry notes would explode into life, making for a rich and very satisfying tipple. The Jem worked now, but it’ll work better in a year or two.


On the other hand, there’s no doubting that Stellenbosch Vineyards The Flagship Cabernet Franc 2010 is ready to quaff right now. Pure Cab Franc in all the ways that count – spicy, punchy, deep with dark berry fruit – The Flagship is almost Port-dark, with strong chocolate and cardamom notes that hug the palate like a warm winter blanket. Delicious stuff, well worth seeking out, and my top red of the night.


We finished the evening with another Jordan wine, the Mellifera Noble Late Harvest 2013, a lightly alcoholic (11%) sweet wine made from 100% Riesling. Lovely notes of apricot and elderflower made it a great match with Tarte Tatin with Star Anise, Rosemary, Almonds & Sarawakan Cinnamon, Served with Vanilla Crème Fraiche.


If the mission of Stellenbosch winemakers was to make a lasting impression on the London Foodie crowd, then job done. I’ll be adding more than a few of these to my must-have list…perhaps displacing a few Napa favourites in the process!


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