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A South African Food and Wine Dinner

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A South African Food and Wine Dinner
Photo by Tim Hussey

PART OF THE WINE REGION DINNER SERIES AT THE CHARLESTON GRILL

The magnificent three at Charleston Grill: General Manager Mickey Bakst, Chef Michelle Weaver, and Sommelier Rick Rubel, offered an evening of exceptional boutique wines and extraordinary food crafted in the unique Southern African style on June 6th, 2012. It all started with the outdoor reception on the patio. I was drawn into the scene by succulent aromas of meat and spice that emanated from a cauldron of roasting goat and greeted with a goblet of Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. A glance around the patio revealed that sommelier extraordinaire, Rick Rubel, was holding court behind his table of South African wines. In the crowd were the two distinguished wine experts of the night—Gregg Perkins of Broadbent Selections and Ian Johnson, a local wine importer who has just begun distributing South African wines.

The first white wine was Badenhorst “White Blend” from Swartland. Soft and melony smooth, this summer wine was the perfect companion for Chef Weaver’s first dish, grilled shrimp dressed with lime and garlic, finished with chili peppers.

Next up was Beaumont “Hope Marguerite” from Bot River. Made from 40-year old Chenin Blanc vines, this reserve white wine was stunning in its offerings of fruit and oak.  After savoring the elegant wine, I plucked a goat meat skewer from a passing server. The curry and cardamom marinated goat, pierced with apricots and pearl-onions, was both visually stunning and delectable.

Wine number four was Boekenhoutskloof Semillon from Franschhoek. Say that three times fast. The winery was recently named the South African winery of the year, and I dare say this wine made from 100-year old vines contributed heavily to that success. The abundance of fruit and honey concentrated in this Dry Semillon lend to its delightful taste and alluring golden hue.

At this point, Mr. Perkins and Mr. Rubel pulled me aside and handed me a glass of Cape Point Isliedh, a white wine composed of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. With its angular accents of citrus and lime, this white blend was reminiscent of white Bordeaux but with a melony, rounded texture. Upon asking Mr. Perkins to spill the secret about this wine, he revealed that only 70 or so six-pack cases were coming to the entire United States. If word of this one got out, we might be faced with a wine riot.

For our first red, we had Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from Hemel En Aarde Valley. It was over a minute before the after-taste of raspberry fruit and spices finally diminished, but I knew I would remember this pinot long after I emptied my glass.

Kanonkop Pinotage from Stellenbosch was next. This red wine, made from the pinotage grape that is South Africa’s signature variety, is a cross between pinot noir and cinsaut, and has a light red cherry/strawberry note. The Kanonkop was heady stuff with a thick quality that invited the taste of the shredded goat that was next on the menu.

A Neil Ellis Shiraz from Elgin was poured next, rivaling the Pinotage in power and structure.  With darker brambleberry fruit exploding on the palate along with sage and underbrush, this wine left a bold impression on my palate.

The last red in the line-up was The “Lady May” cabernet from Glenelly in Stellenbosch, a cabernet that weds the classic silky smooth elements of Bordeaux with hints of South African wildness in the fruit and aromas.

Shortly after we were ushered into the dining room, the much-anticipated first course came out—Cape Malay pickled fish, ceviche style with cilantro and relish served in a glass goblet. This was paired with Whale Pod, a Sauvignon Blanc from Walker Bay that amplified the delicate texture of the shellfish with its soft and alluring nectar.

Next a steaming bowl of braised ox cheeks, mielle pap, and wild mushrooms was gently laid in front of me. This was complimented by an inky dark Vilafonte Series C red wine from Paarl; a classic blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot. I couldn’t imagine the menu getting better, but then came the dessert.

My sweet tooth was beyond satisfied by a plate of malva pudding, apricot chutney, and white peach sorbet paired with Constantia Vin de Constance, an award-winning dessert wine. I found myself hoping that the symphony of sweets would never end…or at least that my wife wouldn’t finish hers.

Closing remarks were made by Mickey, Rick, and Chef Weaver, followed by a generous helping of applause and whistles. The Magnificent Three then announced that they were taking off for July and resuming their delicious wine region series in August with their hotly anticipated vegetable throw down, an event that will last two nights due to its popularity. I know that I can’t wait for that.