Often, I think, too much is made of food and wine pairings. Achieving the perfect complement between the flavours of the wine and food (in the midst of myriad subjective factors) is almost impossible, and threatens to distract from the enjoyment of either the food or the wine. Having said that, wine dinners can be an enjoyable way of spending an evening, especially if one is making new discoveries, and if the chef has been sympathetic to the wines.
I attended a Neethlingshof dinner at Sidedish last night, with the winemaker, De Wet Viljoen, presenting the wines. The menu had been compiled by Dish’s head chef, Arno Janse van Rensburg.
I first encountered Neethlingshof wines in 1993, when they supplied several of my Mystery and Eclipse wines. The most notable of these was a Cabernet Franc-dominated blend, called Vivaldi, which won several large panel tastings, out-scoring wines at double the price. Until that point, I don’t think Cabernet Franc featured on their radar screen. They had several vintages in stock (still in tank), so I could blend to my heart’s content. Those were the days!
Neethlingshof, now, is a quite different place. De Wet is clearly passionate about his wines, and it shows. My favourites were the 2005 Shiraz and 2010 Maria (noble late harvest), which were both delicious.
As far as the food pairing was concerned, the surprise of the night was the harmony between the 2009 Gewurztraminer and a dish that comprised fish (hake), fried squid, caramelised banana, guava sorbet, naartjie segments and a kimchee dressing. Fruit and wine are not always a happy combination, but there is so much going on in a mouthful of Gewurztraminer that one can get away with quite a lot. The Neethlingshof release has a fabulous acidity, which makes it a bit challenging to drink on its own. However, it was twice the wine when the sips followed a mouthful of food. Of all the flavours on the plate, perhaps the most surprising complement was with the banana. Wow!
The one rule I do have when it comes to food and wine pairing is one I borrowed from the Hippocratic oath: “Do no harm.” The seared sirloin tartare with lemon atchar and salted apricot purée was delicious, but the lemon and apricot clashed badly with the shiraz that accompanied the course. It says a lot for the wine that it held its own under the circumstances. Based upon cursory online scouting, the Shiraz is available at under R70 per bottle, which I think is extremely good value.
South Africa has a wonderful tradition of various sweet wines, whether botrytis or fortified. The Maria (from Riesling) is fabulous – a wide array of gorgeous fruit flavours held together by rapier-like acidity.
Falling under the umbrella of Distell (through their subsidiary Cape Legends), Neethlingshof is assured excellent distribution throughout South Africa. The wines are not at all ambitiously priced and worth looking out for.