A REFRESHINGLY DIFFERENT WHITE BLEND

Although best known for its fine Pinot Noirs, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley produces many other wines of distinction.

Bouchard Finlayson Vineyard, holds its Pinot Noir flag proudly aloft, and I have long been a fan of it and their other wines.

One of them, for no particular reason, seems to have slipped by my palate – the Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer, a Riesling driven blend. Recently I had the pleasure of remedying this omission.

 

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Their first Blanc de Mer was bottled in 1991 and has evolved to where its current vintage has 60% Riesling, 20% Viognier, 13% Chardonnay, 5% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Semillon.

The 2017 certainly delivers a glorious mouthful – floral on the nose, and stone fruit on the palate. I particularly enjoyed its delicate smoothness.

Personally I think I am leaning towards preferring white blends to their single variety colleagues and the Bouchard Finlayson 2017 Blanc de Mer at a little over R100 a bottle, will certainly be a  visitor to my table again.

 

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ZANDVLIET…. AT LAST!

A few years back, my wife and I decided to spend a few days exploring the Robertson Wine Valley. We’d booked a self-catering as our base and had drawn up a list of things we’d like to do and wineries we’d like to visit. At the time, I was a shiraz only wine drinker.

Well aware of Zandvliet Wine Estate’s reputation for fine shirazes, I had scheduled a visit there for our second afternoon, except we never made it. We had received a call to say that our home had been broken in to, so we immediately headed home to Cape Town.

So no Zandvliet shiraz-tasting for me then…..until recently, when I eagerly accepted a media invitation to visit the Estate

What a wonderful surprise the Zandvliet of 2018 was/is.

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Central to its visitor experience is its beautiful tasting room, the Kalkveld Lounge, the name inspired by the Estate’s Kalkveld Shiraz. Its interior design is quite frankly breath-taking, a tasteful blend of old and new and aesthetically one of the most impressive I’ve seen. It even boasts an underground art gallery, with an atmosphere unlike any other you’re likely to visit.

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I tasted most of the Zandvliet range of wines, but a little like a thirsty dog, I was panting to taste their shirazes. I was not disappointed, both the Zandvliet Shiraz 2015 and the Zandvliet Kalkveld Shiraz 2014 certainly hit the mark for this shiraz fan, I liked both shirazes equally. (Subsequent to our visit, the Zandvliet Shiraz 2015 garnered a prestigious Gold Medal at the 2018 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show).

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Besides their standard wine tasting, they also offer a Cellar Tour and Wine Blending experience, where you blend your own wine and get to take it home and the unique Zandvliet Clemengold Pairing – Spicy panforte, biscotti and smooth dark chocolate – all with elements of zesty citrus – and Clemengold (a special type of mandarin) marmalade complement Zandvliet’s Estate Chardonnay, Kalkveld Shiraz, Vintage Liqueur Wine and Zandvliet Estate Muscat. I absolutely loved the flavour pairings,  wow wow wow!

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Zandvliet is not far from Ashton, and well worth a visit if you are visiting the Robertson Wine Valley.

 

MAY THE MORNING STAR CONTINUE TO SHINE

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Giulio Bertrand – 13 March 1927 – 20 May 2018

 

Today I received the sad news of the passing of Giulio Bertrand, owner of prestigious Somerset-West Wine and Olive Estate, Morgenster.

I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting Signor Bertrand on a number of occasions, most recently towards the end of last year. When we last met, we discussed great things Italian, after I expressed my affection for Morgenster’s Italian varietal wines. I suggested he should consider making gelato on the farm. He smiled and said he didn’t have any cows. I respectfully answered that he came across as a man who enjoyed a challenge..

Signor Bertrand was easy to talk to, charming and gracious.  He will be missed.

Possa la sua anima riposare in pace

 

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WHAT I NOSE AND WHAT I DON’T KNOWS

 

Not everyone has the ability to detect the subtleties of aroma and taste when tasting wine.

The good people from Leopard’s Leap in Franschhoek sent this useful note to me, together with a bottle of their Leopard’s Leap Chardonnay Pinot Noir:

Anyone who has ever been to a wine tasting, knows that there is a lot of ‘nose’ action. Swirling the wine in the glass to open the ‘nose’ and smelling the wine to identify the ‘nose’. This can be quite intimidating for wine novices and those who drink wine purely for the enjoyment it brings.

While identifying the berry flavours – and if you are really good, the specific berry – raspberry, not cherry… – really is not necessary, it can actually be quite a bit of fun! These nuances are what differentiate wine from other drinks – vintage influences, winemaking methods, maturation, serving temperature, food pairing and even stemware all have an influence on what you experience in your glass of wine. With a little bit of guidance, some information and of course practice, one might actually enjoy building a memory bank of flavour associations.

As an example, the Leopard’s Leap Winemaking team has deconstructed the popular Leopard’s Leap Chardonnay Pinot Noir from our Classic Range. The flavours identified are Pink Lady apple (quite different from Golden Delicious or Granny Smith or Top Red…), raspberry, red grape, grapefruit and strawberry.

 

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Taking advantage of some Autumnal warmth, we sat on our stoep the other afternoon, and enjoy a glass or two of the Chardonnay Pinot Noir. I’m not much of a chardonnay fan, but with the pinot noir in the mix, it brought a gentle smile to my palate. At a cellar price of just under R50-00 a bottle, well worth a try.

Now you too knowse about it!

 

CAB FRANC-LY MY DEAR, I DO GIVE A DAMN!

Before attending a media preview at Avontuur Estate of this year’s Cabernet Franc Carnival, I must confess that my palate had given Cab Franc little attention.

At that preview, we had the privilege of enjoying a vertical tasting of Avontuur’s superb Cab Francs. I now appreciate the varietal and it now has my full attention.

If you too are new to Cab Franc and curious….

On Saturday, 19 May 2018 from 11-4, the Cabernet Franc Carnival takes place at Avontuur Estate and 21 wineries will be on hand to show off their 100% Cabernet Francs,  Cab Franc-led blends and in some cases even Cab Franc Rosés.

This year’s participating wineries are: Avontuur Estate, Chamonix, Delaire Graff, Doolhof Estate, Druk My Niet Wine Estate, Hermanuspietersfontein Wines, Holden Manz Wines, Kunjani Wines, Morgenster Wine and Olive Estate,  My Wyn, Onderkloof Wine Estate, Oldenburg Vineyards, Ormonde Vineyards, Raats Family Wines, Rainbow’s End Wine Estate, Snow Mountain Wines – James McKenzie,  Spookfontein Wines, The Garajeest,  Vrede en Lust, Whalehaven, Zevenwacht.

Visitors can taste and buy the wines directly from the wineries and also attend tutored tastings.

In addition to the wine-related activities, food trucks, lawn games, background music and a multitude of delicious dining options courtesy of the Avontuur Estate Restaurant are on offer.

Tickets are R220 pp on-line or R250 at the gate, which includes the tastings, a R50 discount coupon to spend on food and a tasting glass. Tickets from www.plankton.mobi

Avontuur Estate is on the R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West

 

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A TALE OF WINE AND TWO JULIANS

Usually my prime reason for visiting a wine estate on my own, is to try wines that I haven’t tried before. That was certainly the case when I recently visited Vondeling Wines, in the Voor Paardeberg wine region of the Western Cape. Although slightly off the beaten track, it is an easily-accessible 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town.

Although I was well aware of their wines’ fine reputation, there was another reason for my visit, albeit not exactly a mature one. I had discovered that Vondeling’s MD was also a Julian, and we Julians……..

In Julian Richfield’s Savourite Things, I only post about things that are also available for you my readers to enjoy. So in this sposting I will limit the content to the shareable pleasures, the estate and the wines I tasted.

Vondeling is beautifully situated on the southern slopes of the Paardeberg Mountain, and has a gorgeous Cape Dutch manor house and a small country-feel chapel which serves the local community and is also a wedding venue.

We sat in the warm and friendly tasting room before lunch and Julian took me through many of the estate’s wines. I tried their Rose, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, their Baldrick Shiraz and their Rurale 2015 Methode Ancestral (a Brut sparkling wine). All well-balanced, very drinkable and thoroughly enjoyed.

But it was two limited release wines in particular that stood out for me:

The Vondeling Bowwood Pinotage 2014 and their Sweet Carolyn 2017.

 

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I love a good pinotage, the Bowwood is unquestionably “a very good ‘un indeed!”. Full of flavour, it gives a savoury nose and a gentle sweetness from its time in American oak. The wine is a blend from five barrels and shows great intensity of fruit. Does it command enjoying a second glassful? Tick, tick! And if you have the patience – it should age very well. Its cellar door price is R335-00 a bottle, a moderate price for a wine of this stature.

 

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I really enjoy the pleasures that dessert wines offer- generosity on both the nose and the palate. Sweet Carolyn is a Muscat de Frontignan. Moderate in alcohol, its nose is a delight of fruitiness and floral tones. Even a non-drinker would revel in the pleasures of its bouquet. It is not oversweet and a slow sipper, don’t rush the pleasure. It’s my current indulgent personal treat. Shh!! (R225-00 a bottle at the cellar door.)

The added bonus of visiting a wine estate for me is meeting the people. Meeting Julian Johnsen was a huge plus and a privilege.

If you visit Vondeling, you may not necessarily get to meet Julian, unless you too are a Julian and want to join this exclusive fraternity .We Julians found much to talk about and we enjoyed lunch and our time together, and the pleasure of a return visit will hopefully be a case of sooner rather than later.

 

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WINE TASTING  – MONDAYS TO FRIDAYS FROM 10:00 TO 17:00 WEEKENDS AND PUBLIC HOLIDAYS BY APPOINTMENT ONLY

TWO SISTERS LEAVE HOME FOR SYRIA, NEVER TO RETURN

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Best known for her international best seller, The Bookseller of Kabul, Norwegian author, Asne Seierstad has come up with another powerhouse work of non-fiction.

Two Sisters tells the true story of 19 year old, Ayan and her 16 year old sister, Leila. On 17 October, they left their family home near Oslo, seemingly as usual. Later that day, they sent this email to their parents:

Muslims are under attack from all quarters, and we need to do something. We want so much to help Muslims, and the only way we can really do that is by being with them in both suffering and joy. Sitting home and sending money is no longer enough. With this in mind, we have decided to travel to Syria and help out down there as best as we can. We know this sounds absurd but it is haqq and we must go. We fear that ALLAH swt will say to us on the day of judgement. Please try to understand, do not be cross with us.”

The two girls come from a devout but tolerant family who had emigrated to Norway from Somalia, they were educated at a good school and enjoyed a comfortable family life. Their parents Sadiq and Sara, and their sibling Ismael are torn apart by Ayan and Leila’s decision. Sadiq embarks on a dangerous journey to try and bring his girls home.

What follows is a totally engrossing and informative account of that journey, one that takes the reader deep into the heart of the Islamic State, beyond the headlines. Seierstad provides much enlightening contextual information and a useful Islamic glossary

It was the sisters’ father, Sadiq Juma who wanted his daughters’ story told: “I want people to recognize the danger signs. We were blind. We thought it would pass. Now we know better.”

Seierstad started by listening to the Juma family and writing down their stories, interviewing friends and classmates, teachers, principals and other adults whom the girls had been in contact with in early adolescence. She subsequently tried to trace the path that led Ayan and Leila to radical Islam, to try and understand what inspired the two sisters to travel to Syria.

“I offer no explanation, neither of what attracted them to Islamic radicalism nor what propelled them out of Norway. I relate my findings.” She leaves it up to her readers to draw their own conclusions. Of approximately ninety sets of Norwegian parents whose children have travelled to Syria, only a handful came forward. The rest have remained silent.

Sara and Sadiq experienced one of the worst things imaginable to a parent: their children leaving them with no intention of ever returning.

Two Sisters is a powerful work of investigative writing. The Juma family’s heart wrenching story provides a strong core to this extraordinary book, but its real strength is its revelatory insights into aspects of modern Islamic radicalism.

Seierstad cleverly makes no judgement, but such is the strength and topicality of the narrative, the reader will be challenged not to have strong views on the book’s controversial subject matter.

Not an easy read, but a compelling and dare I say, an important look at how society can surrender to unquestioning, fanatical belief.

A REMARKABLE TRUE STORY

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The year was 1899, as the old people told the story; the place a sweltering tobacco farm in Truevine, Virginia in the United States of America, the heart of the “Jim Crow” South where everybody the Muse brothers knew was either a former slave, or a child or grandchild of slaves.

George and Willie Muse were black albino brothers, just six and nine years old, but they worked in the fields from dawn to dark. Until a white man offered them candy and stole them away to become circus freaks. For the next twenty-eight years, their distraught mother struggled to get them back.

But were they really kidnapped? And how did their mother, a barely literate black woman in the segregated South, manage to bring them home? And why, after coming home, did they want to go back to the circus?

At the height of their fame, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success was in the colour of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even ‘Ambassadors from Mars.’

This story line might sound like a work of fiction, but is the subject matter of a truly remarkable work of non-fiction, Truevine by Beth Macy. Macy writes about outsiders and underdogs, and she is the author of the New York Times bestseller Factory Man. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers and has won more than a dozen national awards.

The path to writing Truevine is an astonishing example of extensive research, commitment and dogged determination. The book is the result of hundreds of interviews and decades of research.

“Harriet Muse has already been robbed of dignified work, of monetary pay, of basic human rights, all because of the colour of her skin. Now someone had come along and taken the only thing she had left, her children.”

“For more than a century, that was the story Willie Muse and his relatives told. Their descendants had heard it, all of them, since the age of comprehension, then handed it down themselves, the way families do, stamping the memory with a kind of shared notarization. The story was practically seared into the Muse family DNA.”

“And although it wasn’t entirely accurate, not to the letter, the spirit of it certainly was. The truth was actually far more surprising and, as it usually is, far more tangled.”

There is much in Truevine that will resonate with its South African readers.

Those who saw the film, “The Greatest Showman”, will have a good background to the parts of the book that deal with PT Barnum collection of oddities, the side show era and the times in which the Muse story takes place.

Racism and assault on human dignity and rights permeate much of the early narrative. And even today here in South Africa, people living with Albinism often face discrimination and ridicule.

Beth Macy was forced to play detective with finding the “truth” as it came together, piece by piece. The task started when, thirty years ago, she learned about the Muses when she began worked at the Roanoke Times in Virginia. She was told that it was “the best story in town” but that no one had been able to get the complete story due to the protectiveness of the Muse family.  She wrote a series of news articles about the two brothers died in 2001 and many years later, revisited the story and developed it further until Truevine was the result.

Beth Mace reveals that driving into Truevine today, you will still see hints of the hopelessness that hung over the tiny enclave a century before. Chestnut Mountain stands sentinel to the west, and farm plots give way to sagging trailers and tidy brick ranch houses. Joe-pye and pokeweeds wave along the roadside and sagging tobacco-curing barns, most of the logs hand-chinked by Franklin County slaves and their descendants. They are a decaying nod to the cash crop that has long driven the economy of the region, most of it farmed on the backs of minority labour.

But year after year, the past grows fainter. From slavery to segregation, from integration to globalisation, the economic history of the American South intersects in these unincorporated crossroads. Truevine is a speck of land where slaves and their descendants became sharecroppers, then sewing machine operators, then unemployed workers, finally, those who could afford to, fled…

The process of writing the book is as engrossing a read as is the Muse narrative itself. After so many decades, the extraordinary story of what really happened to the brothers has been told for the first time.

The brothers never married and retired in 1961 and lived the rest of their lives in Roanoke, Virginia. George, the oldest of the Muse brothers died in 1971 and Willie lived until the remarkable age of 108, passing away in 2001.

Mace relates that: “More than a decade later, mourners are still talking about the burial of Willie Muse, and not just because of the wind or the snow but mainly because of what happened next. The nurse, Diane Rhodes said that it had been so warm that morning and then so cold. And then, just like that, a rainbow appeared and everyone just stood there stunned. ‘And we were all of one accord. Heaven was opening the gates to welcome Uncle Willie home.’”

As can be expected, there are holes in the narrative, unable to be filled, but Beth Macy’s achievement is an outstanding one.

Truevine is written with great style, compassion and sensitivity. Some remarkable old photographs provide a vivid visual reminder of the Muse Brothers themselves and an era long past. The book is rich in detail and works on so many levels and I for one, will certainly enjoy giving this quite remarkable book a second read.

 

ENJOY SOUTH AFRICAN BLISS THIS WEEKEND – PINOTAGE AND BILTONG

Pinotage.

Biltong.

On their own, the one an iconic South African wine and the other an iconic South African foodstuff, but together a match made in pleasure heaven.

I recently thoroughly enjoyed a preview of this year’s Pinotage and Biltong Festival which takes place this weekend on Saturday 14 April and Sunday 15 April, 2018 at Perdeberg Cellar.

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This year, eighteen wineries will offer nearly 50 Pinotages for tasting and for sale, some of which are paired with specific biltong flavours, each chosen to highlight the best qualities of both. The wines range from traditional red Pinotage right up to Rosés, sparkling wine, MCC, blends and even a white Pinotage.

Also at the Festival, there will be food trucks, an Oyster & MCC bar, Perdeberg’s own craft beer range, a kiddies play area and music by the popular Guy Feldman and his band.

And the Perdeberg Tapas Picnic, which we enjoyed at the preview, is enough for 2 people and includes a bottle of their Dryland Collection Pioneer Pinot Noir/Chardonnay 2017.  Another very worthwhile and fun Perdeberg experience at the Festival is the opportunity to bottle your own Cape Blend of wines, mine was delicious.

Participating wineries at this year’s Pinotage & Biltong Festival are: Badsberg Winery, Beyerskloof, Boland Cellar, Bonnievale Wines, Delheim Wines,  Flagstone Winery, Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate, Idiom Collection, Knorhoek  Wines, Lanzerac Wines, Mellasat Vineyards, Overhex Wines International,  Perdeberg Cellar , Rhebokskloof  Wine Estate,  Simonsvlei Winery,  Stellenbosch Hills Wines,  Van Loveren Vineyards and Wellington Wines.

My first experience of pairing a variety of biltongs with a variety of pinotage styles was a wonderfully pleasant surprise. With each combination, I sipped the pinotage, then nibbled the biltong, then sipped again and if I hadn’t had to drive home afterwards, I would happily have overindulged on both…..

Pinotage and Biltong Festival promises to be lots of fun. Tickets are R200 pp at www.plankton.mobi or www.computicket.com or R230 at the gate. This includes access to the venue, a branded wine glass, a curated selection of 18 Pinotage and Biltong pairings and free tastings of the other Pinotages on show.  Perdeberg Winery is between Paarl and Durbanville and easily accessible from the N1.