PEAKING PINOTAGES HERALDED

I love a good pinotage!

Every year, thanks to the ABSA Top Ten Pinotages, my palate’s bucket list gets refreshed

Congratulations to my  winning friends (and future friends) for 2018, taste you soon:

Allée Bleue Black Series Old Vine Pinotage 2016

Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage 2015

Diemersdal Pinotage Reserve 2017

Fairview Primo Pinotage 2016

Flagstone Writer’s Block Pinotage 2016

Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2015

Kanonkop Pinotage 2013

Lyngrove Platinum Pinotage 2016

Môreson The Widow Maker Pinotage 2015

Rijk’s Reserve Pinotage 2014

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A BREATH OF FRENCH FLAIR

Looking for a red to go with our dinner beef dish, I cast my eyes over my wine collection…my eyes stopped at a rather pretty label with a pink centre – the wine was the Marianne Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.

French-owned, Marianne Estate is a boutique wine estate situated off the R44 between Simondium and Stellenbosch.

My wife and I run many trail runs in the area and I had noticed the sign to Marianne but had never visited it nor tasted their wines. So recently on the way back from a run, we popped in for a brief look around.

Tasting wines after an 11Km run is not the most sensible thing to do (believe me, I’ve tried), so taking a bottle home to try was our sober decision…..

So instead of erring, we took home a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.

 

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Dark ruby red, its nose was of dark stone fruit with some almost eastern spice as well. To me the pink label suggested some delicacy and the first sip confirmed that. Gentle and silky, and despite its relatively low % alcohol (13.5%) for me, it is full-flavoured and sophisticated. Although it went well with our meat, I much preferred drinking it on its own and slowly….aaah, I liked it!

 

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Phone: 021 875 5040

 

THERE’S MORE TO DARLING THAN EVITA, SWEETHEART

Wine, yes, food yes, but toffees? I never ever expected that the latter would be a savourite, but here we are.

I recently had the pleasure and indulgence of tasting some of the range of toffees from Darling Sweet and they were absolutely divine, darling.

Darling Sweet started a little over four years ago, and has become the town’s second icon.

Its founders and confectioners are Hentie van der Merwe and Frits van Ryneveld . at the time, Hentie was working at Stellenbosch University and Frits had an antique shop in Darling and was also a medical rep.

It all started when Frits mentioned that he wanted to find someone to provide him with toffee to sell in his  shop. Hentie (being a foodie and loving to cook) created a toffee recipe for Frits – Darling Sweet was born.

 

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In my beautiful box of Darling Sweet Assorted Toffee were six different flavours: Tannie Evita’s Classic, Liquorice, Honey & Salt (my favourite, by far!), and my Runner-up is Bird’s Eye Chili. I really liked the fact that the toffees were firm rather than hard.

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And if that wasn’t enough yumminess, my breakfasts enjoyed dollops of their Honey and Salt Spread and Tannie Evita’s Classic Toffee Spread on toast.

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Thanks to you Frits and Hentie, I had to work harder at gym…but it was worth it!

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AN INTIMATE MEMOIR FROM INSIDE THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE

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The dictionary defines a stenographer as a person whose job is to transcribe speech in shorthand.

A book about a stenographer does not exactly scream the word riveting. But, From the Corner of the Oval Office by Beck Dorey-Stein defies that perception and then some.

In 2012, Beck was just scraping by in Washington DC when a posting on Craigslist landed her, improbably, in the White House as one of President Barack Obama’s stenographers.

She joined the elite team who accompanied the President wherever he went, recorder in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones (including to South Africa), Beck forged friendships with a tight group of fellow travellers – young men and women who, like her, left their real lives to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the President. But as she learned the ropes of protocol, Beck became romantically entangled with a colleague, and suddenly the political became all too personal.

An insiders account about working in the intense travelling bubble of a White House job, would in itself make for interesting reading. But Dorey-Stein’s considerable talent as a writer, coupled with her acute powers of observation and introspection add considerable human texture to this outstanding memoir.

“One a night like this, I wait for the Voice of God.”

“Any minute now, President Obama will deliver remarks in the East Room of the White House.”

“Across one parking lot, down three hallways, and up five flights of stairs in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, I lie on the couch in my little office as the setting sun drenches the room in flammable orange. The Voice of God is the anonymous person who announces the president. “

“I’ve become so good at waiting. Finally I hear the Voice and walk over to the closed-circuit television to turn up the volume.”

“A minute later, the president appears on the screen, cracks jokes, and takes his characteristic pauses before addressing the topic of the evening.”

It is no surprise that the White House working lifestyle was an extremely demanding one, but Dorey-Stein and her colleagues worked hard and also played hard.

The reader who enjoys reading about those Obama ‘moments’ (and who doesn’t? Well the incumbent POTUS obviously doesn’t) will be well fed by this book. Yes, From the Corner of the Oval Office is about politics, and working at the White House, but it is also about life and is enriched by the sometimes dramatic personal journey of its young author.

She ends the book thanking President and Mrs Obama: “for the tireless work you did and continue to do. You demonstrate what grace and leadership look like, especially when the cameras are off and the crowds are elsewhere. You are simply the best, and the funniest, and the coolest. It was the honour and the privilege of a lifetime. Thank you.” Amen.

Beck Dorey-Stein has certainly ‘slam dunked’ her debut book. It is a really superb and entertaining read.

 

MARVELLOUS ROBIN WILLIAMS BIOGRAPHY

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Even in an age of instantaneous information, the news of Robin William’s death was absorbed and circulated with bewildering speed. The example of a public figure who was recognised in every part of the globe and whose reputation for joyfulness and humour stood in stark opposition to the shocking and solitary manner in which his life came to an end.

Robin by Dave Itzkoff is the definitive biography of one of the world’s most loved comedic talents, Robin Williams. His career highlights are well known, but the person behind the many voices and characters may be less familiar.

From his rapid-fire stand-up comedy to his breakthrough television role in Mork and Mindy and his powerful Academy Award winning performance in Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams was a singularly innovative actor and comedian. He often came across as a man possessed holding forth on culture, politics and personal revelation – all with mercurial, tongue-twisting intensity as he inhabited and shed one character after another.

But as Itzkoff shows, Williams’s brilliance masked a deep well of conflicting emotions and self-doubt. In his comedy and in celebrated films such as Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam, The Fisher King, Aladdin and Mrs Doubtfire he showcased his limitless gift for improvisation, bringing his characters to life and using humour to seek deeper truths. Williams also struggled mightily with addiction and depression and with a debilitating condition at the end of his life that affected him in ways his fans never new.

With his own particular torment, Williams suffered greatly. The final blow was his being diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, it broke the camel’s back. Robin could take no more and alone behind a closed bedroom door, he hung himself.

“Everyone felt as if they knew him, even if they did not always admire the work he did. Millions of people loved him for his generosity of spirit, his quickness of mind, and the hopefulness he inspired. Some lost their affection for him in later years, as the quality of his work declined, even as they held out hope that he’d find the thing – the project, the character, the spark – that had made him great before, as great as he was when he first burst into the cultural consciousness. And when he was gone, we all wished we’d had him just a little bit longer.”

“People expected too much of him,” his longtime friend Billy Crystal explains. “They wanted him to plug that burst, that comet, into every movie, and it just wasn’t fair. Then, when he would do a more sentimental piece, they would just crucify him as sappy, and it would crush him.”

Robin is an honest but sensitive biography of a comedic genius. Not all his fans will be comfortable reading about the Williams “behind the laughter” curtain. But Itzkoff’s sensitive and perceptive portrayal of his subject’s inner torment and gradual decline of his powers, provide a harrowing but necessary climactic detailing of the complex and complicated Robin Williams whole.

Robin is a superbly nuanced, highly absorbing biography.

 

 

A POWERFUL BOOK ABOUT AN EXTRORDINARY IRANIAN WOMAN

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Most of us know very little about life in Iran, a new book, The Wind In My Hair by Iranian journalist, Masih Alinejad is a tremendous memoir and takes us into the heartbeat of that country.

Alinejad was born in 1976 in rural Iran and she now lives in exile in New York. She is an author and an advocate for women’s rights. She is a presenter on VOA Persian Service, a correspondent for Radio Farda , and a contributing editor to IranWire.

Masih grew up in a traditional Iranian village where her mother, a tailor and respected figure was the exception to the rule.

As a teenager, Masih was arrested for political activism and while in police custody, discovered she was pregnant. She was released and married quickly, following her husband to Teheran, where she was served with divorce papers. Masih spent nine years struggling to regain custody of her beloved son and remains in forced exile from her homeland.

She says that: “The Wind In My Hair” is about my journey from a village in northern Iran to the metropolis that is New York City, a journey of self-discovery in which I forged my identity after I learned to say NO. It is a tale that may be familiar to many women.”

Every time Masih wanted to do something that the boys were already doing, she heard the same refrain: ”You can’t do that.” Her father expected girls to stay indoors and out of sight. He wasn’t alone in his thinking. No other girls were allowed to run around and play outside the house. Boys had freedom and girls were kept indoors.

Her mother gave her this advice: “Open your eyes wide, as wide as possible. Stare into the darkness and the shadows will disappear. Never be afraid of darkness, but stare it down.”

Masih paints a vivid and fascinating picture of growing up in a Ghomikola, a village of only 650 people. She says at that time she couldn’t imagine a better place anywhere in the world. It was when she reached her teens that she began to realise just how small the village was.

Even to this day almost forty years after Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Masih says that there are debates within Iranian families about whether her father’s generation made a mistake in overthrowing the Shah and his Western-inspired ideas to modernise Iran to bring in a regime that looked to the seventh century for moral and legal guidance.

The events of that Revolution are: “the most dramatic in the history of modern Iran. I am a child of that Islamic Revolution and have lived nearly all my life under its shadow. My story is the story of modern Iran, the tension between the secular tendencies of its population and the forced Islamification of the society, and the struggle of women, especially young women, for their rights against the introduction of Sharia law, against violations of human rights and civil liberties.”

“The revolution changed much, but for the women it was many steps backward. In the Islamic Republic, being born a woman is like having a disability.” In her family, politics was talked about politics all the time and there were two distinct sides to most of the family’s discussions.

All the women in the Alinejad household slept with their head scarves on, but Masih felt that her hair was part of her identity, but you couldn’t see it. “When I was growing up, my hair was no longer part of my body. It had been hijacked and replaced with a head scarf.”

Before the Islamic Revolution, Iran was a country in which a law was passed forbidding women from wearing the hijab. Masih writes that were she around at the time: “I’d have opposed it, not because I believe in the hijab but because I believe in the freedom of choice.”

A photo on Masih’s Facebook page of a woman standing proudly, face bare, hair blowing in the wind. Her crime: removing her veil, or hijab, which is compulsory for women in Iran. This is the iconic self-portrait that sparked ‘My Stealthy Freedom,’ a social media campaign that went viral.

Masih has paid the price for her outspoken bravery and activism. “I am a child of an Iran that carries many scars – the scar of the revolution, the wounds of an eight year war, the lacerations of mass executions, the daily nicks and slashes of discrimination that women face daily. I now carry the scar of exile. “

“There are periods when darkness prevails and threatens to swallow you whole. To overcome the despair and the country’s dark era, I think about my mother’s words and open my eyes as wide as I can and stare out the darkness. The women of Iran want to be free to make their own choices. That’s why the struggle will continue….until we all feel the wind in our hair.

In The Wind In My Hair, Masih Alinejad’s voice is courageous, spirited, inspiring and passionate. Her personal story is an extraordinary one. The book is a tour de force of a memoir. Its balancing of personal account with an even insight into the little known world that is Iran, makes for an astonishing, powerful read

The questioning voice that started in her school years continues today in a woman who is undeterred and continues to fight for what she believes in.

Like I did after reading the book, I recommend watching Masih’s television interview with Tina Brown on stage during the 2016 Women in the World Summit in New York City. It makes for inspiring viewing and brings the power and commitment of seeing and hearing this extraordinary Iranian “in the flesh.”

The Wind In My Hair is a powerhouse of a book, one that should particularly appeal to feminists but also to a broad readership as well. It is one of my top reads of the last few years.

A TOPICAL AND FASCINATING READ

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South Africa is undergoing yet another spate of daring Cash-In-Transit Heists (CIT). If ever the publication date of a book was fortuitously timed, Heist! by Anneliese Burgess is it.

When Burgess started writing the book at the end of 2016, the perception then was that the phenomenon of CIT heists had been brought under control and was no longer a significant crime issue. (As at 6 June, there have been 159 cash-in-transit heists (CIT) in 2018, a marked increase over the same period last year).

She suggests that: “CIT heists have been commonplace for so long, that they mostly don’t even make a blip on our collective radar. They happen. They are noted. And then they silently slide into some or other statistical crime bucket.”

From the horror of the 2006 Villa Nora heist, in which four security guards were burnt alive in their armoured vehicle after a ferocious fight-back against highly trained mercenaries, to the 2014 robbery of a cash centre in Witbank, where a gang made off with almost R104 million after impersonating police officers – the book provides a richly-detailed expose of a topical crime phenomenon.

Using the information gleaned from thousands of pages of court documents and press reports, as well as interviews with police officers, crime intelligence agents, prosecutors, defence lawyers, researchers, journalists, security guards and the criminals themselves, Heist! Provides unprecedented insight into a crime that increased by a staggering 49% in the first eight months of 2017 alone.

She has broken the big issue down into series of interlinking, smaller stories looking at ten individual heists over two decades – a tiny but carefully selected sample from a sea of cases.

With the huge amounts of cash involved, CIT is a crime ‘that is planned and perpetrated by networks of experienced and hardened criminals, aided and abetted by law enforcement officers and security company employees. It shows an astonishing brazenness: how criminals operate without fear of being caught; how they solicit investments to buy in expertise, and pay off lawyers, court officials and high-ranking police officers. Cash heists are about greed, not need and avarice turns people into monsters.’

Heist! is not the most pleasant of reads, nor because of its subject matter should it be. The book makes for a disturbing, engrossing and important read. CIT crime is a complex issue with “more than its share of unpleasant truths.” The narrative that takes one into the engine-room of a CIT heist gang, is fascinating in its detail and mind-blowing. For me it is the most powerful part of Heist! and huge praise must go to Anneliese Burgess for this privileged insight.

The book’s final chapter, Dirty little secrets, is a fitting climax to an extraordinary book, it is eye-opening, gasp-inducing stuff and it ends with a glimmer of hope…personnel changes that have been made at Crime Intelligence and at SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority ‘starting to make gurgling noises – a sign that it might come out of its politics-induced coma. All this is good news, because, without a new approach to organised crime, the gangs will keep on winning.’

 

I SNIFFED A LINE-UP OF OAKS AT NEDERBURG

A visit to Nederburg is always a pleasure, but my most recent visit was a rather special one. We were invited to experience The Wood Diaries and to learn how different types of oak interact with cabernet sauvignon.

The tasting and blending experience was hosted by Nederburg’s red wine maker, Samuel Viljoen, in the Manor House, which is home to the Red Table Restaurant..

We were divided up into groups of five and given the task of blending cabernet sauvignons, each matured in a different kind of oak.

Samuel presented us with a line-up of four glass jars – one with pieces of American oak, the next with moderately toasted French Oak, then one with intensely toasted French oak and the fourth with Eastern European oak.

We sniffed then all before deciding on our blend which was moderate French oak dominant with equal portions of French intense and American oak.

The moderate French oak we liked for its mocha and caramel flavour, the intense for its spicy, smoky notes and for the majority of our team, some American oak to add a little sweet vanilla character.

We were delighted with our resulting blend and named it Nederburg Quintet, had our blend been deemed the best, we would have to have renamed it the Famous Five……

After the blending experience we got to taste a wide range of Nederburg’s wines. I may not be blessed with the most learned palate on the planet, but it is amazing how my taste buds lock in the more expensive wines. In this case two in particular:  The Nederburg Ingenuity, a red blend and the Nederburg Ingenuity white blend.

 

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Over the last couple of years, I have developed a liking for wines made from Italian varietals, so the Ingenuity Red Italian blend was right up my street – it’s a blend of sangiovese (49%), barbera (40%) and nebbiolo (11%). It has a gorgeous nose of dark berries and some spice and strong fruity, and spicy on the palate. I like a red wine with muscles and the Ingenuity Italian blend certainly doesn’t just lie there meekly….and its bottle-shape and labelling are very classy.

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The Ingenuity White blend is sauvignon blanc dominated (38%) with chardonnay, semillion, chenin blanc, rousanne, alvarinho, weisser riesling and gewurtztraminer making the rest of the blend. My first sip of it initially revealed the sauvi characteristics and then the softer floral and spicy tones. Because of its taste detail, it should pair very well with a spectrum of meat and poultry dishes.

Two thoughts came to mind on the way home:

There are many fine Nederburg wines I have yet to taste…

The Red Table restaurant beckoned the foodie in me.

Watch this space…

 

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A BOLD ENTRY INTO MY WINE PLEASURE MEMORY

In May this year, shortly before the sad passing of Guilio Bertrand its owner, I visited Morgenster Wine and Olive Estate in Somerset West for the annual tasting of their new releases.

Morgenster new releases event is always a special event and an enjoyable one, and 2018 was no exception.

The tasting was led, as is befitting, by cellar master, Henry Kotzé.

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Henry Kotze, Morgenster cellar master, and I discussing his wines and more

We started with the Estate’s new bubbly, Morgenster Cuvee Alessandra 2016; then a wine that really surprised me, the Morgenster Sauvignon Blanc 2018; the Morgenster Caruso 2018, the Morgenster White Reserve; the Morgenster Tosca 2015; the Morgenster Nabucco 2015; Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2014; and then the climax, the Morgenster Estate Reserve 2014.

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The Estate Reserve 2014 is a big wine with the Cabernet Sauvignon 36%, Merlot 36%, Cabernet Franc and 14% Petit Verdot. With a smorgasbord of aromas and a smooth palate with just a hint of dark berry sweetness. Unlike the other wines in the tasting which I sipped and spat, I eagerly sipped and sipped every drop of it.

Another of this year’s releases particularly stood out for me was the Sauvignon Blanc 2018.Its nose was an explosion of tropical fruits and it drank with gentle acidity and just a touch of fruity sweetness. It was very new in the bottle and I can only imagine what a little bottle aging will do to it. It is already drinking very well. I can’t wait to try it again, definitely a Sauvi to savour.

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After the tasting, the group headed to the Morgenster Olive Cellar. As I had visited it just a few weeks back, I stayed behind in the tasting room. While the room was beings set up for a tasting with snacks, I unashamedly poured myself a large glass of the Morgenster Estate Reserve while I awaited the group’s return. I unashamedly savoured every sip of it.

Blissful indeed and my favourite red, so far this year.

Saluti!

 

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CHARDONNAY – SERVED MY WAY

On my recent trip to Bonnievale, we popped in to Weltevrede to taste some of their famous MCCs.

Now two things in particular made this visit special: the tasting was conducted by Weltevrede cellarmaster, Philip Jonker himself and it took place in their hugely atmospheric, underground cellars.

“In the early days of winemaking, farmers would create underground cooling vaults for their wine. On Weltevrede, large areas were dug underground, river stones were brought up from the Breede River by donkey and cart and then cement cisterns were cast. These cisterns would annually be rubbed with molten beeswax to seal each hole and crack and prevent the wine from coming into contact with the raw cement. Until recently, these cisterns had been forgotten about…..”

Phlip Jonker MCC cork

We tasted two of Philip’s MCCs, the Philip Jonker Brut Entheos and the Philip Jonker The Ring. The Entheos is certainly a good bubbly, but it was The Ring that totally had bells ringing in my palate, and is the first MCC to write itself indelibly into my wine memory bank.

Its nose is sublime, honey, melon and I even picked up some lemongrass (maybe that was what won me over?) and citrus and apple on the palate.

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Chardonnay is not my favourite grape, but if it is served to me as Philip Jonker’s The Ring, I will say thank you thank you thank you. It is seriously delicious.

By the way, you too can enjoy this eerie underground tasting experience at Weltevrede, you will walk through the candle lit, damp tunnels to the tasting – albeit without the bonus of Philip Jonker at the end (sorry).