Saturday, February 27, 2016

Culinary Adventures and Wine Tastings in Franschhoek

Gosh, the Cape winelands are so nice.  With an impressive winemaking history stemming from the 18th century, the farms here strongly reflect their Dutch ancestry.  Stellenbosch has been famous for wine for a long time, and most people who drink or like wine will have heard of this region in South Africa.  Franschhoek, maybe, is a little lesser known, but fast becoming the culinary destination in the area (in addition to its charming and beautiful wineries).

Our first stop on our wine whistle tour was Chamonix.  They are famous for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and their winemaker is a young and rising star with a zeal for innovative and elegant single grape varietals.  The whole place was charming and rustic.  The quiet outdoor seating under their big trees, with the wine shop to the side, the restaurant behind, and the bar directly adjacent, was an intimate yet private area to relax and taste wine.
Here, choosing the wines like a boss, thank you very much.
The supplies needed for a good tasting - thin rimmed glasses, a spit/pour bucket, and a carafe of water.  Oh yeah, and wine (preferably good).
We left with a reserve pinot noir, which would turn out to be the most expensive wine we bought on the entire trip, clocking in at US$21.  That doesn't seem very expensive, does it, but turns out this wine was on average 3-4x the price of every other bottle we purchased.
Doesn't matter, I still enjoyed Chamonix immensely and I thought the value of the wine was pretty stellar.
We then headed to lunch at Foliage, a new restaurant in town that has been open for about a year.  It is pretty hard to get reservations here for dinner, but very easy for lunch.  This place was wonderful - a culinary highlight of our trip.
I ordered a squash and pumpkin salad with microgreens, purslane, fig, tomatoes, and many other ingredients that I had never seen much less tasted, paired with creme fraiche and garlic puree.
Michael started with the ceviche, which was a dish bursting with color, garnished with a riot of pea sprout shoots.
My entree was the local meats selection, consisting of kudu, springbok loin, and bone marrow, atop a bed of perfectly roasted root vegetables and wild greens, paired with a turmeric carrot puree.  I am not a big fan of marrow, but the springbok loin was ineffably tender and just slightly gamey and I loved it, loved it.
Michael ordered the pork belly.  
The portions were generous and the taste innovative.  It was clear from every bite that the vegetables were fresh and of high quality.  I loved their use of foraged local ingredients, injecting both unexpected flavors and a bit of whimsy into each well curated dish.

We didn't linger over our meal, as we had wineries to visit!  Our next stop was Glenwood Winery, a small boutique winery located on the backroads of Robertsvlai, comfortably nestled in the valley between some mountains.

It was stunning, and we were the only ones there for practically our entire tasting.  It felt like our own private estate.
So zen.
Now this is the way to sample wine!  We purchased two bottles of their 2014 shiraz before proceeding to the next winery.  Each bottle cost approximately US$7.50.
After Glenwood, we went to Haute Cabriere, a winery specializing in sparkling wine.
We were really hot at this point, so we chose to sit inside.

After picking up three bottles there, two sparkling and one light pinot noir, we headed to Franschhoek Wine Cellars at the southern end of the valley.  This one was not a farm, but rather a winery that sourced grapes from other farms and then made their own wines.  They had two collections, one of which was a heritage collection where they name their wines after landmarks or noteworthy points of interest in Franschhoek.  I don't have any pictures from this visit, but I did pause to snap a picture of their beautiful flowers.
The protea, bright, hardy and robust flowers that are commonly found all over South Africa
Sadly, we did not have time to stop in at a few other wineries that I really wanted to see, in particular La Motte and Lynx Winery.  Alas, next time perhaps.  Most wineries here keep pretty limited hours, opening around 10 am and closing around 5 pm, so you have to plan accordingly.  We tried to go to Boukenhoutskloof (gotta' love the names around here) but they have become very restricted in their tasting schedules, only opening their tasting room for one day per week.

In general, wineries here charge for tastings (but it is usually a nominal fee, like US$3-5 for six pours), and, unlike some places in the U.S., they don't waive the tasting fee even if you purchase wine.  However, with the wines clocking in at about $6 or $7 on average, I think you still end up a winner.  If you purchase a case (considered to be 6 wines here), you usually get a 10% discount.  Win win win.  When I was scouting which wineries to visit, I chose based on our location in the valley, this list, this list and finally, this amazingly detailed and helpful list.

After a full day of eating and drinking, we headed back to our hotel for some rest and relaxation, before… well, eating and drinking again!  Turns out La Petit Dauphine has a highly rated restaurant in house, which we decided to try.
The atmosphere was incredible - think old (except new) French farmhouse, with live piano music, hearty food and, the best part - the pet rooster!

We did notice, though, that we were the youngest people in the dining room by about 30 years, give or take.  And yes, it was a very white crowd.  In yet another typical South African scene, all of the servers at the restaurant were black, the manager was white, and all of the patrons (but for me) were white.  The juxtaposition of race and positions of power is so ubiquitous in this country that you can't help but notice it. 

The rooster spent most of the dinner on the piano, but I didn't want to take a picture until after the piano player was done playing his tunes.
This was our early Valentine's Day dinner, so I couldn't have asked for better in the atmosphere department.  The only minor quibble I had about the place was that the food was a bit heavy for my liking.  This is rustic, hearty cooking; how I picture a (fancy) farm meal at the end of a long day toiling and using your muscles.  Portion sizes were huge, and everything was creamy and filling.  Michael and I chatted excitedly about dessert but by the time we were halfway through our entrees, we were both groaning.
 We chose the same first course, pea soup with a farm egg encased in a deep fried bacon-tied wrapping.
 Michael ordered the beef short rib with a red chili scallion soy sauce glaze.  It doesn't appear so, but it was actually a very spicy dish!
 I ordered the pork belly, paired with tart peaches and a cabbage slaw, but I did not anticipate that it would be a slab nearly the size of my face!  It was fantastic though - they got the skin extra crispy, the immediate layer of fat below melting just so, and the meat below so tender and juicy.  The tart sides helped to undercut the fattiness of the belly.
We gave our server a healthy tip and thanked her for her service, and it made me so happy to see how happy she was to get it.  In truth, it was such a little thing to us, but I think we made her week.

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