Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Zelma's grandson needs a favor....

Vilafonte friends, a favor is requested of you. My grandson, Michael Freese of Calistoga, (Napa Valley) California, is in the midst of a "post card" competition in his 5th grade class.  The competition is to receive post cards mailed from around the U.S. and the world. Those getting (a) the most post cards; (b) post cards whose sum total reflects the farthest distance; will win a prize. The contest ends mid May.

This, of course, is a great way to learn geography. Michael is using Google Earth to figure out how many direct miles each postcard represents. He would be thrilled to have you contribute by mailing him a post card (and I would be most appreciative). Here is what to do:

1.  Select a post card and address it to:
                   Michael Freese
                   2103 Table Rock
                   Calistoga, California  94515
2.  Write at the bottom of the post card "Wet velociraptors make good pets".   (verification code for the project)
3.  Write him a brief note, and sign.  Be sure the origin of the post card is clear.

Thanks!  You will make a young boy happy, and grow his knowledge of the big world out there.
 Zelma Long
Vilafonte Winemaking Partner

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Singaporeans, turtle skirt and South African wines as investments

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Thursday, March 12, 2009    by Kim Maxwell
Singaporean fine wine moments caused Kim Maxwell to ponder whether we have worthy investment wines in South Africa.
Asia's fine wine market seems to have attracted a lot of attention on this website recently. It brought to mind a Chinese wine dinner I was treated to in September 2008, generously hosted by long-time wine and food friends in Singapore. A mischievous, male-dominated group of lawyers, investment and financial consultants, a neurosurgeon, a crystal stemware supplier and a small-time wine importer, they call themselves the Monday Reprobate Table (MRT). If you've ever spent time in this humid city-state, the MRT abbreviation will also bring to mind their super-efficient, air-conditioned, ever-spotless mass rapid transit underground train system. 

The MRTs have been getting together for years, finding flimsy reasons to tour overseas cellars, host visiting wine producers or get together at chosen restaurant lunch or dinner tables where managers allow them to bring out their own wines (BYO is not common practice in Singapore). Although they dip into the New World, France is their preferred drinking destination. But then French wines have been available longer than most wine-producing nations in first world Asian countries. Scouting the swish wine bar of the recently opened St Regis Singapore hotel for instance, I was unnerved to find wines on tap in a glass display case. No ordinary wines available by the glass here, but Châtour Latour 94 and Pichon Lalande 97 no less! 

With impressive selections but none of that level of show-off silliness defining Singaporean MRT members' cellars, this group's criterion is simple. They take turns supplying the wines and hosting the group, plus partners, at a Singapore restaurant table on their respective birthdays. By chance I witnessed the tail end of one birthday dinner, arriving after the main course to see a table bulging with Riedels for 20 tasters - around 15 glasses per head - alongside individual dishes at a French restaurant. The mystery theme was Burgundy whites followed by reds, and discussion and merriment was plentiful.

My own Chinese MRT dinner a few days previously was a more intimate event with eight or so of the core members (partner-free) in the private room of the Imperial Treasure restaurant. Lawyer Tan Kah Hin delights in selecting a menu more exotic than his last, so that evening's line-up kicked off with his Dom P 2000, with a Lazy Susan of snacks including bean curd, warm red and yellow peppers, and pig intestine sautéed in sweet dipping sauce. To follow was suckling pig with crispy skin and the most delicious battered miniature fish fillets. As we warmed up, gelatinous shark's fin (something my marine sensibilities prefers to avoid) with an egg foo yong sauce arrived on a lettuce leaf. Members contributed foil-covered wines and the "guess it" game began. "Is it white, is it red, is it Chambolle or Gevrey?" they'd chant.

Personal wine highlights of many interesting bottles included Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 'Clavoillon' Premier Cru 2000 (outstanding despite its sharksfin partnership), and Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 99 from Domaine Bonneau du Martray. The Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru 'Les Beaux Monts' 2000 from producer Domaine Bruno Clavelier offered a classic expression of Pinot Noir. A solitary Bordeaux, Third Growth Château Cantenac Brown 2002 from Margaux, made its entrance as an alternative to Burgundy, with succulent goose in its crispy skin. Its blackcurrant, violet intensity had an almost Syrah-like black pepper quality. Also delicious was stonefish with mustard greens, an ugly-looking specimen in the fish tank before its poisonous spikes removed. The intended high point of the meal was braised turtle skirt on Chinese spinach, prized for being rich in collagen - did I mention I was en route to Bali, where a friend has saved 3,500 turtles from ending up in the cooking pot over the years?

Sweets included a thousand-layer salted egg yolk cake. I'm familiar enough with Chinese etiquette to know better than to refuse generous hospitality, but I did scold Kah Hin gently about the turtle. "Next time we'll eat crocodile from head to tail, the feet near the ribs are the best part!" he declared.

I joined another group of Singaporeans for lunch at Terroir in Stellenbosch a few weeks ago. Enthusiastic members of the International Wine and Food Society (Singapore branch) they were out for a whistlestop tour of the Cape Winelands. With compliments flowing over the lovely South African scenery, food and wines tasted, it turned out that they'd been hosted at Kanonkop, Meerlust and Boekenhoutskloof. So the follow-up question from a wine collector took me by surprise. "Does South Africa have any investment wines, something along the lines of Australia's Grange?" he asked.

I nominated those same wineries as having established track records for producing fine ageable wines over consecutive vintages. But I had to acknowledge that we have no icon wine where older vintages appreciate in value, on a par with Grange. So I took the question to Roland Peens of Cape Town's fine wine brokers and wine storage facility Wine Cellar. 

Peens says he's successfully sold older vintages of Kanonkop Paul Sauer, Meerlust Rubicon and Boekenhoutskloof Syrah for upwards of R600 or R700 per bottle (they charge a 20% brokerage fee). He's also seen earlier vintages of Vergelegen V sell online for over R1000, after release prices in the R700 range. Sadie Family's Columella fetches these figures too a few years after release, but then Columella achieves higher prices to start with. Peens agrees that we don't have a South African Grange, pointing out that it's difficult to develop a proper market for fine wines amongst South African collectors, local collectors being so niche they barely count. In comparison a huge amount of merchants in the UK offer vintage French wines. 

One problem is that South Africa doesn't have a secondary market. Lacking the UK's bonded warehouses and auctions of wine for investments (where many Asian collectors also store their wines), it means every time wine is sold, duty and taxes are payable to the government. Buying wine from a bonded warehouse in the UK, those taxes aren't paid until the buyer requests to have the wine released. When fine wine is sold as a potential investment in South Africa, the duties and taxes have to be paid every time. And with our high interest rates, most South Africans would rather back an interest-bearing account to deliver. In wine you're not guaranteed a return.

This point might be overlooked if South African wines were considered rare enough. One such exception is the George Spies Cabernet Sauvignon 1966 from Stellenbosch. You've probably read about the wine being awarded 95 points inWine Spectator by James Molesworth during a 2007 South African visit. "I found a bottle of George Spies 1968 for R10 in a bargain bin," Peens continued. "We had it at a tasting the other day and it was phenomenal. It should be selling for thousands of Rand on a wine auction."

Peens wondered if the correct interpretation should be that great South African investment wines were amongst those made pre-1980s. "We don't seem to have a market for glorious older vintages. But I don't believe in local wines from the eighties or early nineties," he admitted candidly. 

Tasting two impressive wine releases last week, the Vilafonté Series C 2006, and Morgenster 2005, I thought about local investment wines again. Both wines exhibit elegant blending, fine tannins and cellaring ability; initial vintages being held back until their makers were confident of what was in the bottle. Both achieved Platter five-star ratings for the first time in 2009, and have cellar door prices upwards of R300. Considerable thought and cash injections went into vineyard and cellar practices, and foreign expert input came from Americans Phil Freese and Zelma Long (Vilafonté), and Pierre Lurton (Morgenster) respectively. Although not referring to these wines specifically, Peens' outlook for top-end local wines seemed more optimistic going forward. "Perhaps South African wines are getting better and more age-worthy. Maybe in 10 years the investment picture will be different," he suggested.

I think he's right. Are wines such as Series C and Morgenster going to drink better after a few years of ageing? Unquestionably. Neither have the track record and history of South African competitor wineries, and there is no certainty that either wine will appreciate in value. But with world stock markets in flux, I reckon there would be riskier moves than gambling on a case or two of each. If all else fails, you could follow the example of the MRTs in Singapore after a few years cellaring, and drink it.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

An African ‘El Bulli’ feast with Chef Ferran Adria

By Mike Ratcliffe

Ferran Adria, the gastronomic giant of the gourmet world descended on Cape Town last week to participate as a headline guest in South Africa’s very own Design Indaba. There can be very few

 industries in the world where one  person can so single-handedly dominate and command respect from almost every quarter. Like Tiger Woods dominates the world of golf, über-Chef Ferran Adria reigns supreme in the more diverse,

 subjective and opinionated world of cooking - a world renowned for its egos, tempers and back

 stabbing antics. The tiny El Bulli restaurant owned and run by Ferran Adria has been called "the most imaginative generator of Haute cuisine on the planet" and named best restaurant in the

 world a record 4 times by Restaurant magazine in 2002, 2006, 2007 & 2008.

And so it was that we gathered in an old warehouse on Commercial Road in Cape Town in anticipation of welcoming this giant into our midst. At the risk of suggesting any insinuation of disappointment, his arrival was underwhelming to say the least. The maestro arrived almost under the radar and slotted into the bar without a hint of pomposity or ritual. In fact he was quietly tucking into a cold beer and smoking a Marlboro on the patio before many of the assembled guests had even acknowledged his arrival. Accompanied by his charming and bubbly wife Isabella, she also acting as translator from their native Catalan, they wowed and charmed the collected admiring throng – never once declining to accept one of

 endless admiring compliments, give out an autograph, engage in a friendly translated chat or even pose for a photograph. Given the global standing of this man, his impeccable stage presence and ability to appear interested at all times were beyond reproach – such is the burden of celebrity and such is the expectation of global recognition and awe.

We were, in fact, at this beautiful surprising venue for dinner and what a feast we were served. The brief for the evening (apparently) was to translate the term ‘local’ for Ferran Adria – define an answer to what it is that makes cooking in South Africa unique? And local we sure got! A snapshot of a few items on the menu included some imaginative combinations:

§      Biltong Pate, Apricot Leather, rocket leaves on vetkoek

§      Quail egg, Drizzle of buchu oil, dried Ostrich, mustard & arugula leaves

§      Harders, wild sage, seaweed, pickled kelp & bokkam salt

§      Pickled Fish, dried banana chips & toasted coconut

§      Gemsbok, suur vye konfyt, stamp koring & boontjies

§      Springbok tongue, onions, oreganum, red heart rum sauce

§      Ostrich neck Ravioli, mampoer butter

§      Zebra, wild Marog, amarula

To create this veritable ‘who’s who’ of South African staple food, Chef Richard Carstens of Nova in Cape Town teamed up with Topsi Venter, often described as "the doyenne of Cape chefs". Richard Carsten is certainly one of the hottest talents to emerge from South Africa and has appropriately developed a reputation for some ‘experimental and adventurous’ cooking that i

s not for the faint-hearted. While not for everyone, the radical and inspired menu threw up a lot of ‘culinary curveballs’ that were alternately dodged or devoured by the enthused gallery. Despite my best efforts, it was difficult to attack the Zebra with much gusto and the Springbok tongue felt perfectly inappropriate, irrespective of who it was being served up to. Despite my personal lack of enthusiasm for a few of the over-eager entrees, it did all somehow come together and sitting opposite Senor Adria, I noticed that he finishing everything that was served up to him – to his credit. The evening was perfectly managed by Richard Walsh, co-owner of Nova and one of Cape Town’s most seasoned ‘front of house’ directors in the business.

It should be mentioned that this extravagant evening was made possible by the generous sponsorship of Dick Enthoven & Robbie Brozin, MD of Nandos. Great credit should also be paid to Ravi Naidoo, the inspirational owner of Interactive Africa, the company that runs Design Indaba.

The evening was an excellent opportunity for his-foodiness, Mr Ferran Adria to experience some exotic and imaginative experimental African cuisine; but who better to judge than the man himself? Perhaps Ostrich foam or Zebra ice-cream will be the next big thing in the little town of Roses on the Costa Brava, home to El Bulli? Hold your breath if you must.