Archive for July, 2009

South African Beauties

July 28, 2009

Bafana, brother, here is the good news. Too many of us avoid South African wines, some because they are header_logotoo exotic. Others heard stories of burned rubber as a prevailing aroma. Well, I must admit I was among those and carefully chose not to pick wines from the land of Mandela, Rugby champions and the great five.

That until Andre Morgental, communications manager of Wines of South Africa, guided us through a flight that went from a bubbly all the way to rich Shiraz and Merlots. The contentious issue of burned rubber was brought up and Andre gave us an insight on the matter. In spite of tremendous efforts to pinpoint the nature of this smell that has created a bad reputation for some of their wines, South African researchers have not been able to determine a single compound responsible for it. Furthermore, studies show that in blind tastings, subjects find the smell in wines from all over the world. It may have a strong psychological component and perhaps, once the consumer knows the wine is South Africa, he “finds” the odour. True or not, we had eleven wines and not a trace of the said stench.

Graham Beck, Chardonnay Pinot Noir, sparkling. A lovely wine with a yeasty, biscuity nose, subtle floral aromas and creamy palate, accentuated by fine fizz. Definitely worth a try. $25

MAN Chenin Blanc 2008. Inexpensive white wine, filled with ripe banana and dry pineapple aromas. Granny apple and mineral flavors, good acidity and overall, a very nice everyday white. $12

Winery of Good Hope Chenin Blanc 2008. Another great value white, lighter than the MAN, with tropical fruit and a nice long finish.

Excelsior Paddock Viognier 2008. This Viognier surely has no low self-esteem issues. Big nose, leesy and tropical, some floral notes and a nutty, lemony medium-bodied palate. $15

Beyerskloof Pinotage 2007. A good rendition of this controversial grape, which seems to be adored in South Africa but does not have the same following overseas. Smoky, medicinal notes on the nose, coffee and honey, juicy palate.

Saxenburg Private Collection Merlot 2005. Gamey aromas and a juicy, fleshy, mineral palate. Soft tannins, rich with good finish.

Stormy Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. This one stole the show. Black currant galore, pepperleaf, game and resin on the nose. Sweet, ripe fruit and soft tannin for an excellent value wine. At 13.99, this is a winner.

MAN Shiraz 2007. Deep purple robe with a minty, diesely nose. Palate peppery, medicinal notes and a bit puckering. Not my favorite but for the price -11.99- does quite well.

Boekenhouskloof The Wolftrap Shiraz 2008. Never had coconut on the nose of a Shiraz before. This one has plenty, plus toasty, gamey notes. Rich palate with tchai spice, lots of ripe red fruit and peppery minerality. A dash of Mourvedre and Viognier makes this Shiraz a serious contender in the price range. 14.99

Leopard Frog Vineyards Midnight Masai Shiraz 2002. A juicy, fruit driven, rich broth. Tannins firm and mouth puckering, in a agreeable way. 24.99

Thelema Reserve Merlot. A Mafuta (BIG) Merlot, with plenty of fruit, velvety texture, flavorful and convincing. Great way to close the tasting. 29.99

I would recommend any of the wines described above. Plus visit the Wines of South Africa website, for information on their very interesting food. Mafuta Bafana!

Not by Wine Alone….

July 20, 2009

Fish Ceviche for TwoDSC04449

With the summer coming on hard on British Columbians, red wines yield the right of way to a constellation of whites and rosés. Local brews and imports from all over the world offer endless possibilities to the wine enthusiast. What about food? No one should be too excited about oven-roasting a piece of lamb in a day with temperatures well over 25C. Salads and cold dishes are the order of the day. In hot days like these, seafood, preferably slightly cooked or just plain raw acquires an appeal that is hard to match. One of the tastiest seafood dishes is ceviche, basically strips of fish or shellfish marinated in citrus juice and spiced with hot peppers.

Although it is made in a variety of styles, depending on the country where it comes from, Peruvian ceviche shows the highest expression of the seafood flavour, due to its minimalist approach. Central American, Ecuadorian and Mexican ceviches call for long marinating periods that go from one to several hours. Recipes include tomato juice, tomato, avocado, olives, green onion, celery, capers, onion and a whole array of other vegetables and even spices. In Peruvian ceviche the fish meets the citrus juice only minutes before serving. Once on the plate, there is only the fuits de mer, the condiments and a few plumes of crisp red onion.

The Recipe

Half a pound of white fish fillet of, preferably sole or basa–ideally halibut- is cut into strips 1 cm long by 1/2 cm thick. Salt, ground black pepper and chopped hot pepper (all to taste) are then combined in a bowl with the fish strips. Put away in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so. The heat will depend on how one likes it. For less hot ceviche, jalapeños works well. Habaneros and red Thai peppers are hotter. Avoid using pre-made hot sauces, as they usually have sugar and vinegar and will overpower the delicate flavours of the seafood.

Bring the ceviche mix out and add lime juice. IThis is a crucial step, because many inexperienced cevicheros over-acidify their dish. Every lime or lemon has different intensity of acidity, so it is better to approach this with caution. Add the juice gradually, stirring the mix. When the juice reaches the level of the fish, add no more. Stir, take back to fridge and let marinade for five minutes, if you are into raw fish (think Sushi) or 15 to 20 minutes if you like it “well done”. The citric acid of the juice will “cook” the fish, turning it an opaque white. Bring the marinade out, stir and taste.

This is the moment to adjust the acidity. Add some more juice if necessary. If it tastes excessively acidic do not panic. Remove some juice with a spoon and replace with cold water. Always adjust the salt after you adjust the acidity. You will find that you need more salt than you would normally use. This is because the intensity of acid and heat numb your taste buds. Adjust heat to taste and return to fridge. Cut very thin slices of red onion and dip in cold, salted water for a few minutes. Take a sprig of cilantro, remove stalk and chop leaves only, very finely. Take ceviche marinade out of fridge, mix in cilantro and serve topped with a handful of (well drained) onion slices. Serve accompanied with boiled and cooled potato, sweet potato or cassava root. Tortilla chips are also an option. Pair with chilled white wine. Torrontés from Argentina, German Riesling (off-dry or halbtrocken Kabinett) and Kiwi or Chilean Sauvignon Blanc are traditional matches. For the more adventurous, a bubbly, like Italian Prosecco or Moscato d’Asti are interesting choices, specially if the garnish is sweet potato. If you like your cebiche really spicy hot, forget about the wine, as your taste buds won’t sense its delicate flavors. Go for a cold beer.