Last Updated on January 1, 2023
South African Wine Night
While I know my way around vineyards in Europe, though, in a somewhat haphazard way, I lack confidence in New World wines. That said, I generally like South African wine and I’d happily order it with a meal. With a few bottles of South African sodas and three still wines, I thought it might be a good idea to take some friends for an evening tasting and pitch my idea to Madeleine, who happened to be coming from South Africa. The menu comes from his suggestions and from my own ideas – I was originally looking for a South African fish dish, but as we had two red wines on hand, this venison casserole seemed a better fit.
The recipe comes from another South African friend, Jeanne, who is in charge of the food blog CookSister. Her blog is named after a coexist – a South African sweet and as her name suggests, she is a great cook (and wine connoisseur). I started chatting about the menu with him and ended up with two great recipes to work with. Needless to say, I couldn’t quite follow Jeanne’s recipe for venison pie – for whatever reason I thought I didn’t have enough meat and ended up adding some extra. I bought venison from Woodmill Game in the Oval Farmers’ Market) and also bought some venison sausage mixed together with a serving of pancetta. But the spirit of the recipe is still there. For dessert, I made tarts. And, for starters, we had a plate of Biltong and Droewors from Biltong Boss (one of the stalls at the Oval Farmers Market), served with pickles and cheese.
It wasn’t a difficult menu, but most of the recipes were new to me. And some of the steps seem odd. I’ve never tried soaking dates in bicarbonate and hot water, but it produces a very sweet and rich custard without the need for a lot of sugar. I never use dried peaches – and I almost use apricots, because peaches are hard to find. Finally, I found some from Whole Foods via Amazon. Not as sweet as apricots, they have a texture that seems more akin to meat somehow – and also take a lot of the flavor from venison. To accompany the casserole, I made yellow rice, another South African recipe of long-grain rice seasoned with turmeric and cinnamon and then seasoned with plump raisins.
How about wine? We started (and ended) our meal with two bottles of Graham Beck Cap Classique. South Africa’s own traditional method of sparkling wine, produced in much the same way as champagne, offers an excellent value alternative and Graham Beck is one of my own favorites. From the Western Cape of South Africa, this is an established winery with a wide selection of vintage and non-vintage bubbles. The Robertson area, where they are located, has a unique terroir similar to that of the Champagne region of France, with an exceptional climate and rich limestone soils. The climate has a diurnal range which is one of the widest in the Western Cape, with 38-40 C during the day during the growing season but cool evening breezes lowering the temperature.
I buy bottles of NV Brut as part of my grocery store in case I know a friend is coming over or if I want a bottle of Coke to bring to a birthday party. This is a smooth, smooth sparkling wine made with a blend of 49% Pinot Noir and 51% Chardonnay, like most champagnes. But it’s half the price of even the cheapest champagne and, dare I say it, a bit nicer too with notes of honeysuckle and lime. It has a smooth and rich mousse and is soft on the palate. It was served for Nelson Mandela’s inauguration and Barack Obama’s presidential victory, so it has some very notable endorsements. For comparison, we have a bottle of Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2017 – 100% chardonnay as you would expect and part of their vintage collection. Now, as you’d expect, vintage fizz retails for more than NV. For context, the vintage is made from the highest quality juice (tête de cuvée) and production involves fermenting half the juice in 205l Piece Champenoise barrels to ensure richness and the final blended base wine has a second fermentation on the lees for at least 48 months (NV is fermented for 15-18 months with dregs).
Both work well as an aperitif with olives and nuts before meals and with drunken tarts, mixed with brandy. I will continue to buy NV as one of my favorite aperitifs but will make an effort to try Blanc de Blancs with more food appropriate items. Mussels, asparagus or maybe a plate of halibut, turbot or a light chicken dish.
Needless to say my guests loved both. They found the Blanc de Blanc to be more complex and refined, with a rich bouquet, good acidity and a smooth mousse. One of my guests said about this wine
Very fine beading and strong mousse, with apple and biscuit pear nose. Very much a “first fruit” style with notes of red apple pear, bread and yeast. Dry, medium-high acidity, medium alcohol and with a long lasting finish.
NV is cleaner, with a nose of green apple and grapefruit, and juicier. For me, it’s still one of my favorites to serve as an aperitif rather than a meal.
Journey’s End is a Stellenbosch winery, about an hour and a half’s drive from Graham Beck, near Cape Town, nestled in the Schapenberg hills. This part of the Western Cape has one of the most prestigious terroirs in South Africa, with vines growing on 350 million year old decomposed granite soil. The vineyards benefit from the cool breezes, known locally as the ‘Cape Doctor’ that emanate from False Bay and the nearby Atlantic Ocean. The vineyard and winery are owned by the Gabb family, originally from Shropshire in the UK, who moved there in 1995. We have never been disappointed with their wines and with our meals we have enjoyed tasting three bottles of them which are very good.
The 2019 Chardonnay destination is white only – and what a treat. I’m not going to pretend it was a good pairing with a starter and a main course, but honestly, neither of us bothered. Sometimes it’s nice just to enjoy a good wine. It did go down well with the drunken tart but I’m ashamed to say that by the time we got to that stage we had finished most of the bottle. The Destination label is considered the pinnacle of white wine making in Journey’s End. One of my guests described it as peachy and bubblegummy. while others noted honey, red apple, quince and toast on the nose. But, everyone loves it!
We enjoyed two red wines from Journey’s End. The 2020 Bluegum Merlot is smooth, rich and very easy to drink. Full of black fruit notes with just a hint of liquorice, it was the perfect coating to our spicy South African biltong and droewor starter. At £11 a bottle from Sainsbury’s, that’s also a steal.
For me, the Journey’s End V5 Cabernet Franc 2019 is an excellent pairing with our venison and peach casserole. My guests loved it too – one said it was the perfect Christmas wine.
With a nose of blackberry, dark plum, black cherry, smoke, tobacco and spice, this is a full-bodied dry wine with moderate tannins, a very long-lasting finish and a high alcohol finish.
This is a wine I will personally look to in the future.
All of the Journey’s End wines we tried were vegan-friendly – they were fined with bentonite for that reason. And, I was blown away by the attention paid to each label. The tasting notes for the Cabernet Franc tell me that the grapes are picked from block 4 which is located 180m above sea level in Tukula predominant soil with a high decomposed granite content whereas the Chardonnay is made from handpicked grapes from block 16a, a pouch of excellent quality grapes the chardonnay was identified by drone footage of the vineyard. These are New World wines produced with the utmost care from the old world – and without the constraints of modern technology when necessary. Thus, you may find treasure. What is your favorite will depend on your own tastes and on the food pairings you choose for the wine.
We ate: Biltong, Droewurs and Cheese, all purchased from the Oval Farmer’s Market
Followed by a Venison and Peach Casserole (adapted from a recipe on Cooksister) with Yellow Rice and a side dish of beans and potatoes brought over by one of my South African guests.
Followed by Tipsy Tart or Cape Brandy Pudding (using this recipe from Jeanne at Cooksister)
We drank two sparkling wines from Graham Beck. Cap Classique Brut NV (I bought mine from Waitrose Online) and the Graham Beck Blanc de Blanc 2017 which has an rrp of £24 and is available from Majestic, Handford Wines, North and South Wines, Simply Wines Direct and Frontier Fine Wines.
From Journey’s End we enjoyed the Destination 2019 Chardonnay (rrp £25.50 from Noble Green), V5 Cabernet Franc 2019 (Tanners and Ocado rrp £16.60) and the 2020 Bubblegum Merlot (Sainsbury’s £11.00)
Here’s my version of the original Venison Pie from CookSister. I did try the leftovers made as pie the next day, but the idea of making a topped pie for a serving of 8 was just a little out of my comfort zone in the kitchen. The quantities in this venison casserole recipe make up a generous 8 – 10 servings but will freeze well.
Venison casserole with peaches
The game’s South African-inspired recipe was adapted from CookSister’s Wildsvleipastei
Calories: 340 kcal
venison cut into about 2-3cm
carrots – peel and chop
shallots – peeled and halved
brown onion – peeled and sliced
dried peach halves
venison sausage cut into pieces
Marinate venison for 24 hours in half the wine, 50ml or more olive oil and 3/4 tsp ground cloves
Remove the meat from the marinade, reserving the liquid.
Dry the chops with kitchen paper and season with salt and pepper
Heat the sunflower oil in a large casserole or Dutch oven and gradually brown the chops
Brown the sausage and pancetta in the same skillet, then remove from the pan
Gently fry the onions and shallots for a few minutes
Add all the ingredients back to the pot and bring to a gentle boil.
Cover the casserole and cook on the stove over low heat or in the oven at 150C for at least 3 hours until the meat is tender
Discard the bay leaves and serve with brown rice or mashed potatoes.
Calories are estimates
Looking for something different? We also love this recipe for venison-in-beer casserole