Tuesday, November 4, 2008

South African Wine Dinner

One of my favorite things to do is to try new wines, especially from unusual grapes or less common countries and regions. I also loving sharing those finds with others, exposing them to wines that they might not normally drink. People should expand their horizons and not fall into a wine rut, drinking the same old wines day after day. Thus I was pleased to select the wines for a recent Sunday evening wine dinner at Melissa's Main Street Bistro in Stoneham.

I chose several South African wines as I feel there are still many people who don't know much about their wines and they have some excellent wines. South African wines have only been widely available in the U.S. for about fifteen years, since the change in the political scene in South Africa. I tried to choose some examples of the major grapes in South Africa, including Chenin Blanc, Pinotage and Shiraz.

We had a small intimate dinner with about seventeen of us, including a number of members of the North Shore Winers. The evening began, as everyone got seated and had a little time to chat and relax, with a Welcome Wine, the 2007 Cederberg Chenin Blanc. This winery, located at over 1000 meters above sea level, is the highest winery in South Africa and has a cool continental climate. This winery is known as a top producer of Chenin Blanc. This wine is made from older vines and sees no oak, allowing the fruit to dominate. It had a light golden color and a nose of grapefruit with a bit of floral notes. It also had a strong grapefruit taste reminding me somewhat of a Sauvignon Blanc. It was a crisp wine and would make a nice wine with food.

Our first course was a salad of Mixed Greens tossed with local Apples, Butternut Squash & Toasted Walnuts tossed in a Cranberry Vinaigrette. I liked the tangy flavor of the vinaigrette atop the fresh greens.

With this course, we drank the 2007 Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap, a red blend of 60% Syrah, 39% Mourvedre and 1% Viognier. Founded in 1776, Boekenhoutskloof is one of the oldest farms in the Franschhoek Valley. When they moved there, they heard dire legends of ravenous wolves that inhabited the region. They also found a very old wolftrap on the farm, though they chose to let it stay where they found it. Interestingly enough, no wolf has ever been seen in the valley. "Boekenhoutskloof" translates as "Ravine of the Boekenhout," and Boekenhout is an indigenous Cape Beech tree that used to make furniture.

Though the grapes for this wine are the same every year, the percentages do vary. This wine spent nine months in French oak. This is a dark red wine with an intriguing nose of ripe dark berries and spice, both which come out on the palate as well. It has a rich body and a moderate finish. There is a tinge of smokiness in the wine and plenty of character for an inexpensive wine that costs around $12. Excellent value wine.

Our second course was the Wild Mushroom & Boursin Cheese Egg Roll with a Truffle Balsamic Glaze & Pink Lentil Salad. Now, I am not a big fan of mushrooms but I did enjoy this "egg roll", though it seemed more like a spring roll. It had some nice earthy flavors with the creaminess of the cheese. Even the pink lentils were tasty.

With this course, we had the 2007 Southern Right Pinotage. Hamilton Russell, founded in 1975, was the first wine estate planted in Walker Bay. It is the most southerly winery in South Africa as well as the closest to the sea, only about 3 kilometers. The cool breezes that come in off the ocean make this the coolest region in South Africa. Though they only produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, they eventually decided to expand to Pinotage so they founded Southern Right Cellars. This label is named after the Southern Right whales which visit the nearby coast annually. It is a big, bold wine with a smoky, bacon flavor and a moderate earthy taste. It has rich dark berry and plum flavors with a spicy edge. It has a good and a fair amount of complexity.

Our main course was Smoked Cranberry and Cornbread Stuffed Turkey Roulade with Maple Sweet Potato and Toasted Sage Turkey Jus, topped by thin slices of Crunchy Carrot. Delicious round slices of tender turkey surrounding moist stuffing. The sweet potato added a nice sweet taste to the dish. And I love those crunchy carrots atop the dish, which was quite sizeable.

This course was paired with the 2005 Radford Dale Shiraz. South Africa makes some delicious Shiraz. This wine is 100% Shiraz, and spent fourteen months in oak, French (93%) and American (7%) barrels, 40% new. Radford Dale was founded in 1998 by drinking-buddies and youthful idealists Ben Radford and Alex Dale. The winery is located in the heart of the Helderberg Mountain, at the center of the Stellenbosch region. This is a big and bold Shiraz, with loads of ripe and juicy fruit as well as plenty of spice. It has moderate tannins, a long finish and is very well balanced. A very fine example of South African Shiraz.

For dessert, we had Chocolate Chestnut Ravioli with a Sour Cherry Nage. This was quite delicious, with plenty of rich chocolate with subtle chestnut flavors. A fine ending to a good meal. Most of the people I talked to were very pleased with the meal and the wines. Most also did not know much about South African wines so this was eye opening to them.

I will likely assist at another wine tasting in the future at this restaurant so maybe I will see you there. You might also want to check out their other wine dinners, the next being on November 9.

Melissa's Main Street Bistro
407 Main Street
Stoneham, MA
Phone: 781-438-7243

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