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Basic musings of wine

Whining about wine…

So what do I know about wine – absolutely zilch. So I am going to talk my way through it anyway, to try and pretend that I know a thing or two, as I have googled some facts and figures here and here…and picked up some tips along the way. 

I have seen those wine snobs, who refuse to drink anything which comes out of screw caps, and it does my nut in. We have been to several wine tastings, where folks do a “swirl and sniff” to a perfectly good bottle, and then throw the entire glass out without even looking back. It’s seriously sacrilege. If I blindfolded them, they probably would have no clue as to what the vintage or nonvintage would be. 

Now I have been a teetotaller for over 20 odd years (yes odd indeed), due to a medical condition which deserves another blog, and an intense conversation which would lead me to drink about ten bottles of the best wines of origin. I really would not suggest that, as I am fully pumped up in my normal state – whatever that implies? 

Boasting about wine region…

When we moved to Riebeek Kasteel, little did I know that I was moving to an enormous wine-producing area, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Cape Town. The Swartland was traditionally a wheat-producing region, however it now specializes in making rich, fruit-driven wines, particularly from the Shiraz, (Syrah) Chenin Blanc and Pinotage grape varieties.

This wine region of the Western Cape, encompasses a uniquely diverse terrain, with a myriad of microclimates, soils and sites, which give rise to wines with full flavour and complexity.

It’s a peculiar place this region actually – the climate that is – incredibly extreme. When we bought here, I must admit that we bought out of sheer passion, as opposed to logic. You can’t actually blame us – it’s an undiscovered gem that thankfully has still remained unexposed.

We have acclimatized somewhat, with the regions raw and rugged terrain, as we find ourselves no longer fearing spiders, and we are used to being bitten by the “miggies” during their season. 

We have realised that we have become part of the Swartland “blackland”, which is dominated by sprawling bright canola fields, thriving orchards and vineyards, and the quaintest of farm villages.  In the incredible silence that is found in the Riebeeck Valley, lies the opportunity for visitors to become immersed in down to earth neighbourhoods, renowned for their uncompromising expression of wine, food and world class Art. 

Now at this stage, I will fully disclose that I am no sommelier, but I have always had a bit of a flair for pairing wines with various food. I am however a bit of an “average joe”, when it comes to these pairings, so I do tend to feel a little out of sorts, when the Fundi’s book at the  guest house, or when they start to speak in their snobbish “wine lingo”, at the restaurants in town. That is when I simply tune out, and become a bit of a recluse, and scuttle off to see if I can find something else to keep me busy. 

Whining about wine peeps…

When they start their talk of – let the wine “breathe” – I just want to say “why don’t you take a breather buddy”! Then it’s the next phase of – picking up the goblet by the base and holding it between the thumb and two forefingers. After that comes the really serious stuff – a sip is taken, and the eyes get closed as if they are in prayer mode. The mouth and cheeks move in a chewing motion, as the wine is sucked through the teeth. I really can’t take the horror of it any longer.  Oh gosh, I just wish they would drink the wine already.

I recall that in our first year in Riebeek Kasteel, we attended many Gallery openings, and most of the wine was free, but we had to pay for the water. This was most bizaar for us and incredibly intriguing – had we truly just landed in a wine producing region?  I suppose it doesn’t hurt that there are studies about how drinking wine while eating your meals helps reduce the risk of developing diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes.

The ultimate pairing…

Pairing food and wine is one of the great culinary pleasures, whether one is opening a bottle for a romantic dinner by candlelight, or having a glass with a bag of potato chips – your basic salt and vinegar is just fine. You don’t have to opt for the seal salted veggie chips from Woolworths, not the way the economy is going anyway. Pairing Food can also be one of the most mystifying and intimidating elements of planning a meal, if you let it.

You must just always remember that people weren’t born with the knowledge of pairing. It came through years of trial and error. Also, there is absolutely no reason to think that white wines would be disastrous with red sauce as it is often claimed. Almost never is one wine the correct and only choice. You do not have to worry about choosing the perfect bottle, because many bottles are the right choice, and very few are wrong.

When cooking, I am in tune with the various tastes of bitter, sour, salty, spicy, umami and sweet, and I know that these can change the wines chemistry in ones mouth as you pair. My special curries, both Thai and Indian, which I make plenty of, I pair with sweet wines. I then pair my delicious marrow bones or oxtail with the tannic wines. 

Matching by weight is the foundation of the old rule about white wine with fish and red wine with meat. That kind of pairing made perfect sense in the days when white wines were mostly light and fruity and red wines were mostly tannic and weighty. But today, color-coding does not always work. Wines have evolved and they come in all dimensions. 

What ought to be a joy often produces a feeling of dread and the fear of making mistakes, especially when the experts are watching. That anxiety can set in for both occasional wine drinkers and regular consumers. One is too busy thinking which glass goes with which wine, unless of course one just looks it up on Youtube. 

I have started taking an immense interest on pairings, as I am insanely passionate about cooking. I have come to appreciate the true character and complexity of each variety and story behind our Swartland wines. I absolutely love the experimentation that comes with the combination involved in wine pairing.  I have had so much fun with my new found ability to further my knowledge and presentation with the pairing of wine and food. Now I can slowly edge myself into the “foodie hall of fame” – that’s in my own head of course – but hey, that’s ok!  🙃😎

The Swartland specializes in making rich, fruit-driven wines, particularly from the Shiraz, (Syrah) Chenin Blanc and Pinotage grape varieties.

Red Wine Flavour Profile Food Pairing
Pinotage Full-bodiedFruity and JuicySmoky, earthy finish Dark Meat PoultrySteak and LambCheddar, Gouda, Emmental, Boerenkaas, Provolone, Edam and Gruyere. Camembert or smoked cheeses.
Shiraz (Syrah) Rich and BoldFruityFull-bodied Grilled Meat DishesBold and Salty CheesesHalloumi, Gouda, Asiago, Gruyere, or hard cheeses such as Pecorino, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana-Padano. Camembert 
White Wine Usual Flavour Profile Food Pairing
Chenin Blanc Full-bodiedDry or Medium Dry Salads and lighter meat dishes/HamSeafoodFishFresh cheeses like Chèvre or bloomy cheeses like Brie and Camembert – Gruyere, cream cheese, and Cheddar.

As the Swartland is an olive region, one rule of thumb with olives and wine pairing is that if the olives you’re enjoying are particularly briny, sip on a dry sherry or other dry wine, or on a very light and crisp white wine to balance the olives’ flavour. Enjoy yourself and don’t let those fuddy duddies restrict you.