CAVALLI WINE AND STUD FARM
Wednesday 9 August 2017
Cavalli left such a huge impression on me when tasting last month that I just had to visit again. I took a punt that there would still be space during lunchtime on Women’s Day and so headed to South Stellenbosch to treat my partner for a fun lazy day out. It was a glorious sunny afternoon as we arrived. The estate was looking even better than it had at the end of a day of tasting at Vergelegen, Lourensford, Yonder Hill and Eikendal vineyards. The expansive, contemporary building, complete with modern art inside and out, was as impressive as I remembered.
The open airy dining room was less than half full as we arrived but starting to fill. The Restaurant Manager said he would try to fit us in within an hour or so. This seemed a little pessimistic as not all tables were booked and space seemed to be available. I gained the impression that Cavalli was one of those restaurants where one is made to wait so as to appreciate the ‘favour’ of being accommodated. I was nonetheless surprised as the feeling sat strangely against the welcoming memory I had of wine tasting just a month previously.
Nevertheless, we headed to the Tasting Room downstairs. I had spoken so much about the superb interior design and gentleman’s private club atmosphere that I could easily have over-hyped the setting for my partner. It was not to be. It was great to see that she was as amazed as I had been. Sommeliers James and John remembered me and we enjoyed a repeat tasting of the magnificent Cavalli wines. I especially liked this second tasting as there was no need for me to analyse and record the wines. Big and bold, forwards and potent, aromatic and fruity, they were as I tasted before.
I did cross-check my notes for my favourite wine which was the award-winning Cremello, an unusual blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Verdelho. It was interesting to compare my tasting notes with the experience today. I was reassured to find that I picked out almost the same notes and flavours, mouthfeel and character, on the 2 occasions: warm aromas of apple and nectarine/peach stone fruits with floral undertones; rounded on the palate and with a firm finish. The wine was exactly as I had recorded before. I did not buy another bottle (though wished I had afterwards) but instead bought one bottle each of the fruity white Viognier/Verdelho Vendetta and the potent red Malbec/Petit Verdot Valkyrie blend.
The Restaurant Manager served fit to make us wait a little longer and so we explored the other downstairs attractions. We looked at the student and other modern art in the open exhibition space. Several media were there to be seen – paint, sculpture, photographs, sound and video – that showcased the range of exhibits. A small but no less impressive collection of major South African artwork from the 19th century to the present date was at one end of the Gallery.
We briefly looked at luxury items in the Equus Boutique – this was very definitely a place for window shopping! – and then spent longer in the 2 rooms of sporting memorabilia. There was something for the enthusiast of every sport and for the major sports of Rugby, Cricket and Football in particular. The array of signed shirts, caps and balls, programmes and historic photos was as comprehensive of South African sporting history over the last 100 years as it was impressive. Cavalli, as I wrote before, is very much the domain of the rich playboy collector and enthusiast.
My appetite was truly ready for lunch when a table miraculously became available in the half-filled restaurant. It became bigger even when I saw dishes gaining their finishing garnishes and touches by the busy chefs at the servery of the open kitchen at one end of the dining room. Mini brioche rolls, complete with fluffy flavoured butters, were brought on slate plates while my partner and I chose our Main Courses from the inviting menu. We chose the duck and sirloin steak dishes, respectively: glazed duck breast, miso, aubergine pancakes, sweetcorn purée, bok choi and ginger jus (R185) and cardamom sirloin, prune beetroot purée, smoked mash, fermented blueberries, and beef tallow (R190). Tasty meatball tasters in tangy miso sauce were served as our dishes were prepared. Sadly, my partner could not eat hers as there was a mix up over which ones were halaal (the meat elsewhere was halaal).
The food was worth every moment of wait. It is difficult to find sufficient superlatives to describe the 2 dishes. Visually elegant and colourful, served on different plates, the duck and steak were as delicious as they looked. Flavours and textures complemented and integrated with the art and science of the winemaker. We ordered a glass of the Shiraz/Grenache Night Mare and the single variety Colt Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany. What good choices they were too. This was a meal to savour and enjoy slowly. I am not a fan of classic French nouvelle cuisine as, all too often, one is left hungry after the Main Course and wanting at least another one. The Cavalli fare was different. The richness and flavours of the meats, vegetables and sauces, filled me to just the right amount.
Indeed, we had space for a dessert each after. I chose the almond glazed chocolate bar with elements of orange (R85) and my partner ordered the peppermint semi freddo, white chocolate hazelnut velouté, chocolate cake pop and hazelnut meringue (R75). The chocolate was smooth and rich and perfectly matched by the tangy bittersweet orange elements. Both dishes were a riot of colour and texture, complex but unfussy, elegant and refined, to make an ideal finish to our meal. Coffees after, each accompanied by the trio of sweets, cleansed our palates.
Before leaving Cavalli, we let our replete stomachs enjoy a gentle walk. We looked into the conference and event dining rooms, and strolled around the dam beside the main building. Manicured flower beds gave way to architecturally planted fynbos, set against magnificent views of the Helderberg Mountains beyond tidy pastures and the state-of-the art Stud Farm and Training Facility.
Cavalli did something that is not easy. It exceeded my amazing tasting experience from a month ago. Memories can alter, recollections can be exaggerated – especially so when taking a partner to somewhere previously raved about – and that can lead to disappointment. Was Cavalli going to be as great as I experienced? Indeed, it was. It did. The meal was worth every cent of the R900 bill (with generous tip) and could easily have cost much higher. Cavalli is building something very grand and based on exceptional quality, value and eye for detail. The surrounding estates had better watch out. This young upstart may not have the historic legacy of the surrounding iconic Stellenbosch and Franschhoek wine estates but is setting a new benchmark for others to follow. Cavalli is already a ‘must visit’ for any friends of mine coming to the Cape and to South Africa. The wine and food are a new pedigree indeed!
Wines tasted (bought *):
2014 White Knight Chenin Blanc – R74 2016 Vendetta (71% Viognier, 29% Verdelho) – R125*
2015 Cremello (42% Chenin Blanc, 31% Chardonnay, 31% Verdelho) – R125 FAVOURITE WINE
2014 Pink Pony Grenache Rosé – R74
2015 Black Beauty Shiraz – R84
2015 Night Mare (69% Shiraz, 31% Grenache) – R149
2014 Valkyrie (50% Malbec, 50% Petit Verdot) – R149*
2015 Colt Cabernet Sauvignon – R175