While lunching at Nick’s Warehouse - one of the top restaurants and wine-bars in Belfast - I spotted a comment by owner Nick Price, “We visited South Africa recently and failed to find a wine we didn’t like”. Praise indeed from “the accidental chef” who published his best-selling cookbook under this moniker - and a leading wine importer into the UK of many of South Africa’s top marques, from Bouchard Finlayson, Ernie Els, Guardian Peak and Glenelly to Catherine Marshall, Mischa, Paul Cluver, Rust en Vrede and Spice Route (see www.nickswines.co.uk).
When travelling abroad, I always enjoy wine-spotting South Africa. The extensive wine-list by the glass and bottle at Nick’s Warehouse in the bohemian cathedral quarter of Belfast highlighted new listings of Kaapzicht’s Cape Diversity Chardonnay 2010 (at R60 a glass) as “a great example of un-oaked Chardonnay” - as well as Adi Badenhorst’s Secateurs Chenin Blanc and Cape Classics Chenin. But I can taste local wines anytime back in the Cape so I freely admit I enjoyed a glass of barrel-fermented white Rioja with smoked haddock goujons on a bed of crushed fresh peas and salad.
I was on an assignment to cover Titanic Belfast - a new iconic museum complex with aluminium hulls which towers over the Titanic Quarter in the docks where “the Queen of the Seas” was built. After exploring the four floors of interactive exhibits on the building, voyage, sinking and discovery of the Titanic - as well as the Titanica exhibition of 500 salvaged artefacts - I carried on my culinary explorations. At Deanes - under Michael Deane, one of Ireland’s top Michelin chefs - I spotted Adi Badenhorst’s Secateurs Chenin Blanc (R350) on the blackboard as the preferred partner for seafood - and Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap Red (R350) for meatier fare.
A long way from Kalmoesfontein in the Paardeberg, we were tempted by the pure citrus fruits and leesy texture of Adi’s bushvine Chenin - the perfect match for the local smoked salmon and the best lemon sole served with cockles, capers and new potatoes. Among the house-wines I also spotted Robertson Winery’s Long Beach and Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap as we went on to enjoy a wonderful Sancerre Sauvignon. While staying at the grand Europe Hotel - once dubbed “the most bombed hotel in Europe” during “the troubles” - I spotted more brand SA at The Ginger Bistro, talented chef Simon McCance’s award-winning restaurant in the centre of Belfast.
I read tasting notes on Indaba Chenin Blanc, Goats do Roam Red and White over a delicious signature starter of scallops, chorizo and black pudding - where else but in Ireland? While visiting the brand-new multi-million pound visitors’ centre at Giant’s Causeway, one of the top tourist attractions in Ireland, I spotted more familiar symbols at the legendary Bushmills Inn which flew the South African flag to honour our press visit. This is Guinness and whiskey country - to go with a pheasant beater’s nosebag or gamekeeper’s lunchbox (a ploughman’s lunch). After doing a captivating guided walk of the walled city of Derry - City of Culture 2013 - I resumed my wine-spotting at Harvey’s Point, a five-star resort on Lough Eske up in County Donegal.
It is always reassuring to see South African wine exports on-trade abroad at a variety of price-points - from “entry-level” brands at £15, mid-price at £25, and upwards at £40 and more - competing with other country categories from around the world on wine-lists dominated in the UK in general by France, Spain, Italy, Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand . And off-trade, the shops and supermarkets list major South African brands from Distell and Cape Classic, FirstCape, Stellar and Kumala.
At the fine dining restaurant at Harvey’s Point - four courses for Euros 50 (R500), I was delighted to spot Reyneke’s Organic White Blend (Chenin, Chardonnay and Sauvignon) as the recommended white wine of the day (R400). Other South African wines on a well-heeled fine wine list of the finest French chateaux included Rustenberg John X Merriman and that ubiquitous Wolftrap once again. I settled for Gwenael Guihard’s delicious cool-ferment Anjou Chenin Blanc from the Loire - a fine partner for my Portavogie scallops - and local cod with poached fennel. The next day I would walk it off on the vertiginous cliffs of Slieve League in County Donegal.
Chenin, chenin everywhere but what about her big sister Pinotage? On the way back to Dublin I was relieved to spot Fleur du Cap Pinotage (R300) at Tankardstown House, a gastronomic landmark under chef Richard Luckey - along with Hout Bay Sauvignon Blanc from one of the Cape’s newest producers and wine wards. I even spotted South African wines on tap as house-wines at some of Dublin’s oldest pubs - but freely admit I was drinking Guinness and Jameson by then. How often do you get to quaff a creamy pint close to its source - at the gravity bar at Guinness Storehouse, the top attraction in Ireland which draws over one million tourists per annum?
I returned from Ireland with a certificate from the Guinness Academy acknowledging I have crafted “the perfect pint of Guinness” - but that’s a tale for another day.
Incidentally, like me, you might wonder what happened to all the fine wine, whisky and beer on the Titanic for the refreshment of the high-rolling first-class passengers? One of the exhibits at Titanic Belfast records the provisions for her maiden voyage - cases and cases of champagne, wine, port and whisky, 15 000 bottles of ale and stout, and 8000 cigars. Some say the Titanic was cursed because the bottle of champagne didn’t break on her bows at the launch. On Sundays, you can do high tea on Sunday at Titanic Belfast in the first-class dining-room under the iconic staircase. In the Titanic Bistro, I had to chuckle when the waitress asked me if I wanted ice in my lemonade!
Follow Graham’s adventures in Ireland on SAFM Time to Travel, 9pm on 17 and 24 October.