Last week, for the third year in a row, I once again clamoured for reservations to one of my favourite events of the year: the South African Wine Festival at Vivat Bacchus. I didn’t actually get around to writing a review for 2014, but you can read my thoughts on 2013 here.
Having just reread my review of 2013 before writing this, I can honestly say that I am stunned at how far I have come, both in my interest in and knowledge of wine and, indeed, South Africa. I have now been to the country three times. I’ve explored the Drakensberg, Cape Town, Sun City, Pilanesberg and Plettenberg Bay, not to mention visited a plethora of wine farms in and around Paarl and Stellenbosch as well as a few on the Durbanville wine route too. (I’ve still got piles of pictures and write-ups to come on this, so please do stay tuned or sign up for updates in the sidebar!)
So this year, I felt confident in filling a table with friends and dragging them along for the fun with me and my boyfriend Rob. We (the girls) call ourselves a book club and we meet over wine and cheese pretty often, though we haven’t read a book in a while…but that’s by the by. We knew we were going to enjoy this.
Winemakers present were Cape Point Vineyards, Waterkloof, Vergelegen, Hamilton Russell and Warwick Estate. We started with a great wine tasting where we got to know a few of the wines, before sitting down for a sumptuous five course meal. I’ll admit that the price has shot up a little in the last two years. What once cost £55 for a meal and wine tasting is now £69 per person, so whilst it is not as awesome a deal as it was a couple of years ago, it’s still pretty great value for a wine tasting of up to 15 wines, plus 6 glasses of wine alongside five courses. They do add on water & bread, so be aware of those costs, but you’re going to need both if you are to make it through this marathon of a meal, so I wouldn’t be shy on those extras.
The welcome drink was a Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvedre Rosé 2014. We were very lucky to sip it whilst chatting to the owner, a Brit no less, and I found his explanation of his biodynamic farming methods really interesting. According to the other winemakers present, Waterkloof are really leading the field in that area in South Africa. I have actually visited Waterkloof before, on my first ever day in the cape. The views are to die for. The wine is good too. I often order a Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc when I have sushi in Cape Town. We did actually speak to the owner a bit about the food, which we hadn’t loved as much as the wine. I think (!) he was grateful for the honest feedback. The rosé was great, very smooth with a dry finish, which I loved because rosé can sometimes be a bit sweet.
If I’m totally honest, I’m not really a white wine drinker. Despite actually really enjoying it, over the past few years I have found that it doesn’t sit very well with my stomach, so I’d much rather have a glass of red. Having said that, when at a wine-matched meal like this, I do tend to go with the flow and enjoy the combination of flavours as intended by the chef and sommelier. So I really enjoyed the simple asparagus veloute with goat’s cheese with the Cape Point Sauvignon Blanc 2014 to start. It was a great fruity accompaniment for this light summer dish. But, I loved the guinea fowl terrine more. It was so meaty and the mushroom salad on the side complemented it really well. The terrine was paired with a Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2014, a much more intense and juicy wine that was necessary for the stronger flavours of the terrine.
Then we moved on to the main courses and therefore, the red wine. Starting with a Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2008, which was intensely aromatic. It had the kind of fruity flavours that I identify with South African red – spicy blackcurrants and ripe plums with a hint of vanilla. It’s a taste I’ve come to love over the past year or so. Ok, so I didn’t quite pick up on all of those flavours without the help from the winemakers talks and notes, but that’s why I enjoy these wine dinners – because you learn something. We loved all of the talks from the winemakers, but Vergelegen was particularly entertaining. The camaraderie and jovial banter between all of the guys really made the evening.
Served with the Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2008 was the piece de la resistance – the cote de boeuf, complete with bone marrow on the side. I honestly have never seen such a hunk of meat on a block of wood in my life. That’s what you’ve gotta love about South Africans. They like their meat and they like it raw and rustic. Nice. This particular board was between two and absolutely melt-in-the-mouth delicious served with simple roast potatoes and broccoli so fresh that we even found a caterpillar in it. (No joke, but we took it well and so did the owner, sending over a complementary cocktail and apologising personally for the extra protein!)
Next up, was the cheese course paired with Warwick Estate’s Three Cape Ladies 2012. With the dedicated cheese room at Vivat Bacchus, you can’t help but expect great things. This was a fab selection that went down very well with my book/wine & cheese club girls. I particularly enjoyed the variety of crackers and the textures of the cheeses with the dried fruit and chutneys, which were complemented well by the cranberry notes in the wine. You’ll have to forgive my memory at this point in the evening, but I absolutely cannot recall what the cheeses were, despite being told by the in-house cheese guru! All I remember is: French and unusual. And scrummy!
Finally, to dessert! I’m usually such a chocolate lover, so I would have loved a nice chocolatey treat but this mango pannacotta with passionfruit was the perfect pairing with the honey & citrus flavours of the Vergelegen Semillon Straw Wine 2011 dessert wine, so much so that I forgot all about my chocolate cravings within about two bites. Oh, and in the tasting notes on the Vergelegen website, it actually says ‘Do not serve with chocolate in any form!‘, so fair enough. I’m sold.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience once again. I’m already looking forward to next year, hoping that the price doesn’t keep rising but the truth is that I’d probably treat myself and pay it anyway. It’s becoming quite the tradition.
To find out more about Vivat Bacchus, visit vivatbacchus.co.uk
What’s your favourite South African wine?