Tim James: On food and wine pairing

By , 10 October 2016

alto-choc-and-wineTwice recently I was prompted to consider food and wine pairing. I must admit to some scepticism on the subject – at least compared to the enthusiasm of many. I tend to find that a good wine and good food sort each other out adequately – though some combinations clearly are not good for either food or wine, while others prompt a happy realignment of one’s relationship with one’s tastebuds.

Harald Bresselschmidt of Aubergine in Cape Town is arguably the preeminent local creator of food and wine partnership magic. He understands both factors well, cares about matching them, and has the skill and imagination to do so. So a recent delicious lunch at Aubergine with Elgin Ridge sauvignon blanc and pinot noir was predictably impressive – though I confess I remember the excellent food better than the pretty decent sauvignon and rather rustic pinot.

That was occasion number one for considering food and wine. Occasion two, very different, was at one of my regular luncheons with my lawyer and foodie pal John Smelcer at Chef’s Warehouse in Bree Street, Cape Town. I was early and he was late as usual (well, he’s a hot-shot and I’m an also-ran, so fair enough) which meant that I had the pleasure of chatting to (manager) Jan and (chef) Liam Tomlin: a long-projected Indian tapas restaurant is on track, I’m pleased to report, despite a few complications. And I chose the wine – with the advice of wonderful waiter and thoughtful wine-list supremo Sarah (surnameless to me, I confess shamfacedly).

Cued by Sarah’s enthusiasm, I selected the Snow Mountain The Mistress 2016, a high-altitude, unwooded pinot from James McKenzie of Wellington’s Nabygelegen. It’s not Crystallum, but it is fresh, natural, unpretentious and deliciously fruity and savoury and a fine wine-list buy at (as I recall) about R190. My simple point is that it wasn’t a disaster with any of the 8 lovely “tapas” dishes that comprised the main part of our as always splendid lunch (from salmon to venison). But it undoubtedly sizzled with some more than others. But that’s ok, isn’t it?

If you’re fussier than I, and in search of perfect matches while scooting round the winelands, it is quite extraordinary the range of food and wine tastings you can now do at different estates – and that’s entirely ignoring restaurant pairings. The range of offerings has exploded in recent years. Chocolate and wine (or brandy at Van Ryn and Uitkyk, for example) is now ridiculously common – some wineries offering the pairing include Laborie, La Couronne and Lanzerac, to name just some starting with L. Bilton specifies “dark Belgian chocolate”, Rozendal mentions Lindt.

You can do biltong and droewors wine-pairing at Stellenbosch Hills or Bonnievale, cheese at any number of places – Franschhoek Cellars offers 6 wines with 6 cheeses, 6 with assorted chocolates according to the Platter guide, my prime source for all this info. Laborie will match olives and wine, Alto does it with paté, Brenaissance with pizza, Doolhof with unspecified canapés. Impressively, if you’re a pretentious foodie and want to disprove the scientific evidence that all salt is just sodium chloride, you can do Fleur du Cap wine and salt matching at the Bergkelder.

If your tastes are sweet rather than savoury and you’re bored with chocolate and wine, try cupcakes at Delheim, Turkish Delight at La Bri, or biscotti with De Krans’s lovely ports. Bubbles specialists? Try Simonsig for MCC and cake, Villiera for MCC and nougat. Of course, as well as not noting innumerable places, I’m sure to be missing out some amazing (or merely bizarre) partnerships.

And if you want something not entirely stomach-oriented with your wine, I’m delighted to pass on the intriguing offering of Esona in Robertson, again according to Platter: “fruit preserve/chocolate/music & wine pairing ±55 min, essential to book”.

  • Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.


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