Some thoughts on Sauvignon Blanc

October 15, 2014 2 comments

white_lace2011_largeIMG_1582We dined last night at one of my current favourite restaurants, De Brasserie on Beach Road, Strand. The evening commenced on the terrace, in the cooling evening air, overlooking False Bay and the setting sun.

No such experience would be complete without a glass of wine from which to sip, so after perusing the wine list, I settled on a bottle of Almenkerk 2013 Lace Sauvignon Blanc, suitably chilled. I’d have been more inclined to go for a Chenin Blanc, but I deferred to the company: dear wife Eppie, Bolander editor and friend Carolyn Frost, and fellow journo and friend Andrea Powell, all have a preference for Sauvignon Blanc. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am less than enamoured of Sauvignon Blanc, although in the last two to three years, the rapier-like acidity and one dimensional fruit profile – green – of so many of these wines has shifted remarkably, so I was intrigued to see what the Almenkerk Lace had to offer.

We’re more and more seeing Sauvignon Blanc of elegance and finesse, with complex, pure fruit that renders green, white and even mildly tropical notes. Shift in response to consumer demand? I’d like to think so, but be that as it may, I’m drinking Sauvignon Blanc far more willingly now than I’ve done in the past, and my experience last night – because The Almenkerk Lace is one of these far more elegant, complex and fruit pure wines – has brought me to the point where I might actually admit to liking Sauvignon Blanc as a varietal. It’s cool climate origins are evident in it’s mineral core, steely dryness, and lingering intensity, and it is a fine example of what is being crafted in the Elgin Valley.

After a splendid meal – I had my regulation sirloin steak, Eppie had the Norwegian Salmon special, Carolyn the chicken Satay skewers with a peanut sauce, and Andrea had the Thai beef salad – served by a warm, attentive staff, we lingered for a short while before splitting up and heading home.

Since it was an early dinner engagement, we arrived home just before nine o’clock, and I had the urge to drink another glass or two of wine. I’ve had a bottle of the Shannon Vineyards 2104 Sanctuary Peak Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge for the last few days, and was planning to open it quite soon, but the temptation to compare what I’d just drunk with this wine from the same valley, was overwhelming. And what a good decision it was.

What struck me immediately was just how pale the Sanctuary Peak Sauvignon Blanc is, paler even than the Almenkerk Lace. The next kicker was the remarkable nose, redolent of lemon, lime and sherbet aromas, with a hint of minerality in the form of a whiff of flintiness.

The palate has a seamless mineral core, supported by steely dryness, and an intensity of complex fruit that ranges from elegant green, through white stone fruit to a delicate tropical edge. The fruit it bright and slightly sweet, but it is beautifully balanced by the steely dry acidity, and the finish just goes on forever.

The two wines are similar, but also different. Similar in that their origins are obvious, reflected in the commonality of elegance, underpinned  by a mineral core, complexity of fruit, and lingering intensity, and that is unsurprising since they’re grown on the opposite slopes of the Palmiet River Valley which wends its way through the Elgin Valley, on its way to the sea at Kleinmond.

But they differ in palate depth and breadth, the Almenkerk Lace lighter in palate weight, and more tropical in fruit expression, the Shannon Sanctuary Peak weightier in the palate with great intensity and white stone fruit and lemony sherbet fruit sweetness. I think I’m hooked. On both of them.

Categories: Wine

November 27, 2013 1 comment

A gluten free loaf that really works

Preparation Time: 30 minutes Baking Time: 35-40 minutes Yield: 1 loaf

cn rh GlutenFreeBreadTake a close look at the loaf of bread in the picture. Looks just like a fairly rustic loaf of farm baked white bread, doesn’t it? The kind of loaf you’d expect to be baked from stone-ground wheat flour, not so? Well I’ve got news for you, it is anything but.

After discovering a few months ago, that I have a gluten and bran intolerance , I cut all foods out of my diet that contained either. This meant of course, that I could no longer even eat the sourdough rye bread that I have baked for the last few years, so that too came to an end. Any grain with gluten or bran was taboo, and this of course includes wheat, rye and even spelt, all of which inflict upon me varying degrees of acid indigestion.

The attendant benefits aside (no acid indigestion and remarkably easy weight control), I really did miss being able to cut a slice of bread, toasted to perfection, buttered while still hot and spread on a thick layer of fish paste, peanut butter or marmalade depending upon what took my fancy at the time. Read more…

Categories: Food

Avocado Ice Cream with Strawberry Fans, Balsamic Glaze and Black Pepper

Preparation Time: 45 minutes Cooking Time: 0 minutes Yield: Lots!

cn rh Avocado Ice CreamAvocado pears have always had a special place in my culinary heart, because my late mum loved them with an abiding passion. When we lived in Durban, they were of course freely available, as they grow there virtually like a weed. A short distance from our home in Westville, which was perched on the edge of a wooded valley, was a grove of avocado pear trees that were originally planted by an Indian farmer who was moved off his land during the apartheid years when the Group Areas Act was enforced. Although his farming dreams were shattered, his avocado pear trees prospered, and perhaps still stand in silent tribute to his efforts of all those years ago.  Whenever Mum wanted some avocado pears, I was dispatched to go on a picking expedition. Upon my return, with the treasure trove of plump, ripe avos, she would slice one in half, remove the pip, and eat it straight out of the skin, seasoned with salt and pepper and a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar.

An invitation to create recipes for the Afrikado Blogger Challenge, an initiative by major avocado producer ZZ2 to encourage innovation in the use of avocados in the kitchen, prodded me into coming up with something really different. I’d done the usual before: guacamole, salads and even cold avocado soup (another of Mum’s favourites), so I decided to make ice cream for the first time.

I have no ice cream machine, and quite frankly, it’s not necessary if you devote a little time and elbow grease to the undertaking. The main thing to do, is to break down the ice crystals that form when you freeze the ice cream, and you do that by whipping it briskly and fairly frequently as it sets.

It is neither sweet nor savoury: it just tastes of avocado pear, which the salt and pepper help to emphasise, so it lends itself to a variety of uses. I’ve made a dessert this time around, but it could easily be plated with a savoury item to make a starter.

Ingredients, selection and preparation

5 ripe medium sized fully ripe avocado pears

250 ml double cream: you can use ordinary cream, but it lacks texture somewhat

5 tbsp honey

4 tbsp lemon juice

1 ml black pepper: very finely ground

2 ml salt

250g fresh strawberries

Balsamic glaze: you can make your own, but it is easier to buy it.

Freshly ground black pepper

Method

Boil a kettle of water, and pour over the avocado pears in a large bowl, leaving to stand for a minute. Drain and plunge into cold water. This will ensure that the avo flesh does not discolour for up to six hours, a tip I gleaned from Erica Platter’s cookbook, “East Coast Tables” while doing my research.

Halve and scoop out all the avodaco flesh. Remove any discoloured spots, and place in a, large freezer proof mixing bowl. Mash until completely smooth.

Add the honey, cream, lemon juice, pepper and salt.

Whip briskly until homogenised and completely smooth.

Cover the surface of the mixture with a sheet of cling film, and place in v the deep freeze until it starts to set, about 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the freezer and whip briskly to break up the ice crystals. Cover and return to the deep freeze.

Repeat this process every half hour or so, until it thickness to the point where it is set.

Remove from the deep freeze and allow it to soften slightly before serving.

Serve two scoops of ice cream with a trio of strawberry fans garnished with balsamic glaze, and sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy!

Avocado, prawn and shaddock salad

Preparation Time: 20 minutes Cooking Time: 10 minutes Yield: 4

Avo Prawn and Shaddock Salad

 You’re probably wondering what a shaddock is, and well you might. A visit to Danie Truter’s farm Daniels Hoogte on top of Aurora Mountain a few weeks back, introduced me to this interesting fruit. Known by some as pamplemousse (French for grapefruit), it is an enormous citrus fruit with a really thick pith.

It tastes something like a cross between an orange, a lemon and a grapefruit, and is much lie a white grapefruit in colour. We brought one home with us (you may well have seen it in last week’s recipe photo, behind the wine glass), and pondered how to put it to good use.

It came up for discussion at a night out at the Lanzerac Hotel two weekends back, with Giggling Gourmet Jenny Morris, who suggested some sort of a salad with prawns, and eventually Mrs M and I ended up with this delightful starter salad, and although it is winter, the current balmy weather makes it quite acceptable.

If you can’t get hold of a shaddock, a large grapefruit, either white or ruby will do just as well.

But it is the avocado pear that really finishes the salad off beautifully, with its velvety texture, and unctuous voluptuousness.

The wine match was also a no-brainer. A visit to the stylish Mulderbosch Tasting Room for a lunch of pizza (excellent thin crust, lovely toppings, well worth a visit if you’ve not been there) and their delightful Rosè, resulted in us laying in a small stock of wine, one of which is the lovely tropical style Suvignon Blanc.

Ingredients, selection and preparation

1 avocado pear: peeled and cubed, but at the very last minute to prevent it from going brown.

1 cup (250 ml) shaddock segments: cut the segments out of the fruit with a sharp paring knife, excluding the skin that surrounds the segments.

200g prawns: deveined, shelled and beheaded.

Canola oil: for frying.

1 red chilli: deseeded and finely sliced.

½ small red onion: peeled and finely sliced.

A few mints leaves: very finely sliced.

½ tsp cumin seeds: toasted in a dry pan until the aromas are released.

4 lettuce leaves: ideally from a medium sized lettuce, which will give you a nice cup shape to contain each salad portion.

(Dressing)

1/3 cup (85ml) shaddock juice: squeezed from what you have left over, after you’ve cut out the shaddock segments.

1 clove garlic: crushed.

½ tsp sugar

½ tsp of fish sauce

½ tsp sesame oil

Method

Heat a small wok until it begins to smoke. Add a tbsp. or two of canola oil, swill it around the wok, and flash fry the prawns until they colour and become opaque, in small batches. Set aside to cool.

Combine the salad ingredients and divide between the four salad leaf cups. Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bottle and shake well to emulsify, until the sugar has dissolved.

Anoint the salad portions with the dressing, and garnish with the sliced mint.

Wine match

The 2012 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc worked particularly well with this salad. A lovely pale straw, shot through with a green tinge, it is fresh and tropical on the nose, with citrus lime whiffs.

The palate is all about taught mouth-watering acidity, bright fresh fruit flavours, a mineral edge and persistence. A great drop.

Categories: Dining In, Food, Provenance, Wine

Avocado soup

Preparation Time: 60 minutes Cooking Time: 15 minutes Yield: 4-6

AvocadoSoup01Wedding anniversaries being what they are in our household, the choice is often eat out, but considering the current state of the world’s financial systems, prudence dictated eat in last week, when our 32nd wedding anniversary rolled around, which was significant enough to warrant a three course dinner complete with bubbly.

The main course was crispy roast duck with watercress mash and warm beetroot salad, and the dessert was a devastating crème caramel.

After much thought, and considering the Afrikado Challenge, I realised that something which my dear old late mum used to make, would be ideal: cold avocado soup.

I have so many wonderful memoriess of the elegant dinner parties my mum used to host when the family lived in Durban. Anything from three to five courses, and anything from four to twelve guests, every single course prepared with meticulous attention to detail by mum, and a table setting that would have put the Royal Hotel to shame, complete with silver plate. One of the many dishes I remember enjoying was her cold avocado soup, and considering that summer has arrived, this is what we settled on.

According to mum, the original recipe comes from one of Lynn Bedford-Hall’s books, but I had to make a couple of changes, because the first version didn’t quite work out right.

Ingredient Selection and Preparation

2 medium or 3 small avocado pears: they must be blemish free and ripe. Leave them until the very last, because if you peel them too early, the pulp will start to oxidise. When you do peel them, check very carefully for any brown spots, and excise them carefully. Mash well with a metal fork.

3tsp lemon juice

25ml chopped parsley

2 spring onions: finely chopped.

30g butter

40g flour

400ml chicken stock: if you use stock powder, be sure to strain the stock before you use it.

400ml milk: heat it to just below boiling before you use it.

Salt and pepper to taste

Paprika to garnish

Avocado balls to garnish: I gouged them out of another avocado pear, using a melon scoop.

Method

Make your chicken stock and heat the milk.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the flour bit by bit, stirring in with a balloon whisk until all the flour is integrated into the butter.

Remove from the heat, and add the chicken stock followed by the milk, stirring all the time with a balloon whisk. Be sure that there are no lumps.

Return to the heat, and cook for about three minutes or until the sauce is smooth and thickened nicely. Stir constantly to prevent sticking.

Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat, and pour into a glass mixing jug large enough to accommodate the white sauce as well the avocado pulp. Place a sheet of cling wrap on top of, actually touching the surface of the white sauce, to prevent a skin from forming while it cools.

Set aside to cool to room temperature. This is very important, because if you add the avocado pear pulp to white hot sauce, it will oxidise and turn brown. I know this because this is precisely what happened with the first batch I made!

Once the white sauce has cooled completely, blanch the avocado pears in boiling water for a minute, then peel and mash them. Add to the white sauce, together with the 3tsp of lemon juice, the parsley and spring onion.

Puree the mixture in a blender jug, or with a stab blender.

Divide between four or six bowls, and garnish each with three or four avocado balls and a sprinkling of paprika.

Enjoy!

Categories: Dining In, Food, Provenance

Garden Route Shiraz 2011: Easy drinking, somewhat enigmatic…

October 9, 2012 2 comments

2011 Garden Route Shiraz, made from grapes grown in the Outeniqua wine ward

“Location: Calitzdorp • Map: Klein Karoo & Garden Route • WO: Durbanville/Outeniqua • Est/1stB 2008″ reads the entry in Platter’s 2012 for Garden Route wines.

The bottle in my hand reads “Garden Route Shiraz 2011, Wine of origin Outeniqua” on the front label. The Platter entry lists the 2007 Shiraz, made from Durbanville grapes, noting that the 2011 Shiraz is made from grapes grown in the Outeniqua wine ward, one of the newer wine wards to emerge in the Southern Cape in the last few years. It’s all thoroughly confusing really. What happened to the ’08, ’09 and ’10 vintages I wonder. Where did the grapes come from ? Or did they just not get made?

The wines (I received the 2011 Shiraz and 2012 Sauvigon Blanc via courier a couple of weeks ago)  are made at De Krans in Calitzdorp, by the redoubtable Boets Nel, he of De Krans Port fame. Aside from a slew of competition honours, half the De Krans page entry in Platter’s is a solid block of red type, indicating 4 1/2 and 5 star wines, testimony to the winemaking prowess of Boets, and not just in the port and dessert wine stakes. The 2010 Touriga Nacional and the 2006 Redstone Reserve, a blend of Touriga and Cab Sauv, both crack 4 Platter stars.

So it’s entirely reasonable to expect that he should be able to put together a credible Shiraz, which if you taste the 2011, you may well agree he has done. Okay, I don’t believe it’s a 5 star wine, but it is entirely drinkable, inky garnet in colour, with a dense black fruit nose of plums and blackberries on vanilla and earthy spice notes.

The palate speaks of surprisingly dense black fruit, with cracked black pepper notes, underpinned by gentle oak and a vanilla edge. The fruit is mouthfilling, juicy and is balanced by pleasing acidity, the tannins very soft and gentle for a 2011 wine. Ten months in 2nd and 3rd fill French barrels make for well integrated oak. I don’t believe it’ll last for ever, but I doubt it’s meant to. It’s a typical cool climate wine, with bright juicy fruit, made to drink young.

I drank it with a very mild chicken curry, not the ideal pairing I admit, but it was passable good nonetheless. It’ll do well with a traditional roast, beef or lamb, and it’ll also do great with a slab of steak, or with a typical South African braai.

Drinking well now, it retails at R92 a bottle. The 2007 gets 3 1/2 Platter stars, and the 2011 cracked best Shiraz at the Klein Karoo Young Wine Show that year.

Stanford University Organic Study: Is organic REALLY no healthier?

It sure is lovely to be right, isn’t it? Three Michelin star British chef Marco Pierre-White, makes smug look humble in his recent gloating rant over the findings of Stanford University in a comprehensive study of the nutritional value of organic versus conventionally grown produce. The study, a meta-analysis of some 200 research papers,  found that there is no nutritional benefit in consuming organic produce instead of conventionally farmed produce.

Organically grown spinach. It may have the odd blemish, but it’s a damn side healthier in my view than the “conventionally” grown stuff.

Since the publication of the study however, it has been criticised in a number of areas. Susan Clark, executive director of the Columbia Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the furtherance of public welfare across a broad front, was quoted in an article on The New York Times web site: “The researchers started with a narrow set of assumptions and arrived at entirely predictable conclusions. Stanford should be ashamed of the lack of expertise about food and farming among the researchers, a low level of academic rigor in the study, its biased conclusions, and lack of transparency about the industry ties of the major researchers on the study.  Normally we busy people would simply ignore another useless academic study, but this study was so aggressively spun by the PR masters that it requires a response.”

It turns out as she notes, that more than one of the researchers had interesting links to Big Tobacco, having both worked for the powerful Tobacco Institute which sought to “prove” that tobacco consumption posed no health risks.

The aforesaid notwithstanding organic (and biodynamic for that matter) foodstuffs are more expensive. If the Stanford study was in fact accurate this would mean that everybody, not just the less well-heeled in our skewed society, could safely disregard organic produce in future.

But you would be wrong in that notion, because nutritional value aside, it is arguably healthier because of the lack of pesticides, herbicides, and organo-phosphate fertilisers in fruit and vegetables, and the growth hormones and antibiotics in animal products. And let’s not forget the inhumane treatment that is inherent in factory farmed animal products.

What I find most odd is the use of the term “conventional” to describe contemporary factory style farming, when in fact for the greater period of our agricultural history, organic was conventional. When man evolved from hunter-gatherer into a pastoralist and a cultivator of crops, pesticides, herbicides, and organo-phosphate fertilisers did not exist, nor for that matter did growth hormones and antibiotics.

As the world’s population grew, the need to produce more food increased apace, which is the justification for contemporary factory farming. But at what cost?

Free range chickens in their pasture pen on Spier Biodynamic Farm. Plenty of room in the cage, access to the open air, but with shelter from the elements. They get fed a small quantity of grain each day, and graze pasture if they get hungry. The cages are moved to a new patch of pasture each day. The birds are slaughtered on the farm, in a certified humane slaughtering facility.

If you take a look around you at so much of the farm land in the Boland, you’ll see how it is farmed. Fumigated soil, plastic sheeting covering the land, cultivation tunnels, frequent spraying of pesticides and herbicides are rampant. This is now considered “conventional” farming.

So much meat is raised in feedlots these days, in order to cope with demand. The idea behind feedlot farming is to fatten the animals as quickly as possible to prepare them for slaughter and the market. The best way to achieve this is to feed them on grain. This achieves rapid weight gain, plus it results in the much sought after marbling of the meat with fat, which makes it tastier and more tender. It also makes it more unhealthy because of the greater fat content. It is also true that feedlot farming has a much lower carbon footprint than pasture fed animals, but the probable solution to that, is to simply eat less meat. Feedlot farming is also anything but humane, subjecting animals to miserable lives that end in stressful slaughter, after an equally stressful road trip by truck to a commercial abattoir.

I don’t know of any animal feedlots in the area, but I do know of many battery chicken farms, the stench of which assails the nostrils as you drive past them, even from a distance. Animals reared in such circumstances suffer untold miseries, from birth to slaughter. Read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, Hattie Ellis’ Planet Chicken  or Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals if you doubt this assertion. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Marco Pierre-White’s point that “conventionally” produced food is cheaper, and therefore more accessible is well taken. Depending where you shop, organic food can be significantly more expensive. But with the continued growth of the organic sector, and the emergence of initiatives like the Green Road, a Biodynamic Agricultural Association of South Africa (BDAASA) sponsored program to reduce the cost of organic produce by bringing producers closer to consumers, the price premium is set to decline.

And the movement back to organic agriculture is not limited to South Africa. At a BAASA meeting I attended last year, I listened to a South African couple who farm in the Boland recounting their experiences during a trip to India, where there is a concerted move toward biodynamic and organic agriculture, and away from what is now considered conventional.

So, for my money, even if I get less in return for it, it’s organic, free range and humanely produced. Mr Marco Pierre-White can spend his money any which way he chooses.

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