Malcolm Jolley enjoys two unique South African wines over a delicious lunch.
Of all the ways to try a wine, over a good lunch with good company must rank around the top. I had just the opportunity last week when a catch-up meeting with Wines of South Africa Canada’s Laurel Keenan evolved into a bit of a celebration and, over the Mediterranean-by-way-of-London cooking of chef Jonathan Nicolau at Brothers Food & Wine in Yorkville, and we had the opportunity to taste two new generation wines from the Cape. As it turns out, and unbeknownst to me, both wines are imported by and available for direct sale from Lifford Wines & Spirits. Long time GFR readers will know that both WOSA and Lifford are Good Food Fighter sponsors of Good Food Revolution, so let conflicts of interest be disclosed, before I go on further.
Although they appear to share a grooming aesthetic, Brothers’ owners Chris White and chef Jonathan Nicolau don’t share any DNA. They do share a past working at the Terroni family of restaurants and an attention to detail that expresses itself in all aspects of their three month old restaurant: the food, the wine, and the 30 seat room. Nicolau spent time cooking at St. John in London under the great Fergus Henderson, and while his menu is not greatly derivative of that temple of nose to tail eating, there are clues on it from that experience and his time in London, from the sweetbreads with fennel and almond to the mackerel with pickled eggplant with mint. Among their small staff is Courtney Stebbings, sommelier. Stabbing also spent time in London at the newish Lyle’s, founded by a St. John alumni. This culmination of experiences and pedigree results in a short menu, that changes every day, and an interesting and well chosen wine list. On the latter, there are interesting wines from mostly the Old World made in the new wave spirit of the times, often with indigenous or less planted grapes. It’s the perfect opportunity to try something interesting and new. And if you like it, the person who bought the wine is likely the person pouring it for you, so they’ll tell you how you can arrange to buy some for your self… if there’s any left.
Wine #1: BLANKbottle Offspring 2015
When Laurel saw this wine on the list she muttered words to the effect of ‘Wow, I cant believe they have this.’ Apparently BLANKbottle is a bit of a cult producer that doesn’t always make the same wine every year, and famously won’t put the grape type on the front label. It’s a blend of Semillon, Chenin Blanc and Verdelho: each varietal came from a different region, and each was made into a wine before being blended to make Offspring. It’s a big and bold white (though with no new oak, nor sweetness) that verges on the tropical fruit end of the white wine spectrum, and yet is full vibrant and food friendly. If we hadn’t been tasting it so enthusiastically it would have carried us easily through our meal. Lifford sells it on their website here.
Wine #2: B Vintners Liberté Pinotage 2015
Courtney Stabbings brought us along to the B Vintners Pinotage, explaining that the winery is a newish project that has come out of one of South Africa’s more established premium wine labels, Raats. Bruwer Raats and his cousin Gavin Slabbert founded the spin-off to concentrate on making wine from South Africa’s ‘heritage’ grapes, like the hybrid Pinotage. Pinotage is not now, nor may never have been, a varietal held in high esteem by a great majority of people who hold attitudes on this sort of thing. To be fair, Pinotage found on a store shelf, especially at a suspiciously low price, is probably best to be approached with caution. On the other hand, when there’s a bottle of something made from an unfashionable grape on tight wine list, like the one at Brothers, it’s usually there for a good reason and maybe even to prove a point. Point proven: The 2015 Liberté was delightfully light and fruity red wine with a very pleasant weighty texture. It was a perfect match for our lamb kofti and lemon roasted potatoes. Bright but serious, and a little spicy. Lifford sells it on their website here.