‘Out of the Office’ at Groot Constantia
Friday 1 September 2017
The first day of Spring not only shone bright but was auspicious for many reasons. As winemaker Boela Gerber explained, it was the day of the launch of the Groot Constantia Chocolate and Wine Pairing tasting sheet as well as first tasting of the pairings themselves (R125 for 7 wines). I was fortunate to have been invited to the launch together selected journalists, writers, bloggers, foodies and wine tourism experts.
Boela could not have ordered better weather – it usually rains on the 1st of September, he said! – as we gathered outside the Jonkershuis Restaurant in bright sunshine to admire the glorious panoramic views over the vineyards and towards False Bay. It was perfect for the celebratory pale salmon and orange-tinted MCC Brut Rosé aperitif and delicious Spring canapés. The wine was all too easy to drink, showing elegant notes of strawberry, apple and nutty biscuit. Moussante bubbles gave a delicate clean mouthfeel to the fresh acidity and dry finish. Each canapé was equally as elegant and made to reflect the flavour profile of the MCC: yellow apple, floral and almonds.
Our welcome and introductions complete, and canapés finished, we headed over to the historic Cloete Cellar for Boela expertly to guide us on the Chocolate and Wine pairing. The tasting was held in the old office of the oldest cellar in the country and built more than 200 years ago. The new tasting sheet cleverly assembled a huge amount of information in friendly colourful style and without seeming cramped. One side showed the sequence of the 3 white and 4 red wines to be sampled, with bright fruit and spice info graphics to highlight the aromas of each wine. The flavours of each paired chocolate – developed over 18 months by a Knysna chocolatier – were similarly described. The left hand side of the sheet gave a simple yet handy 10 point guide on how to taste wine and how to taste each pairing.
The reverse side of the pairing sheet listed each of 12 major Groot Constantia wines with their flavour profiles, method of production, recommended food pairing and price. I liked the bright colours and glossy paper that gave a quality feel. The sheet makes a handy tasting souvenir and reference document for visitors to take away with them.
Unsurprisingly, we were eager to taste the wine and the chocolate. What a delicious combination! So much so, that few followed the 10 tasting steps to the letter (or rather, number). We sampled 5 of the 7 pairings:
Sauvignon Blanc – Tropical Guava White Chocolate
Chardonnay – White Lime and Apricot Chocolate
Constantia Rood (Cape Blend) – Cherry Blossom Chocolate
Shiraz – Secret Spices and Vanilla Chocolate
Gouverneurs Reserve (Bordeaux Blend) – Morello Dark Chocolate
Boela explained how each wine was made as he introduced each pairing. Pairing chocolate with wine is a notoriously difficult challenge even though it brings obvious tourist and commercial appeal. Convention has it that the extreme sweetness of chocolate and the mouth-coating texture will kill off any wine. Sweet Special Late or Noble Late Harvest wines or fortified ‘ports’ and brandies are usually recommended to match the sweetness and weight of the chocolate and to cleanse and refresh the palate.
Unsurprisingly, some pairings worked better than others. I liked the match between the citrus and tropical fruity Sauvignon Blanc and tropical guava flavours in the slightly salty chocolate. That said, the oils in the chocolate overpowered and flattened any crisp freshness in the wine. The Chardonnay/lime and apricot pairing was better as the citrus, stewed apple, stone and summer fruit wine aromas corresponded well with the chocolate flavours.
Best of the red wine pairings for me was the Cape Blend with the cherry blossom chocolate. This was classic horizontal pairing based on the principle that ‘likes attract’ and so the wine and food are given equal importance. The weight and flavour of the dark chocolate matched the medium-bodied wine with its darker berry and currant fruits together with slight cinnamon spiciness.
The ‘secret’ spices in the chocolate that was paired with the Shiraz, a cultivar with which Groot Constantia has a long and historic association, were anything but secret. The intensity of the cinnamon, ginger, liquorice and vanilla was too strong for the Shiraz that has been made in a lighter, feminine, more red than dark berry style. Last, the chocolatier developed a better chocolate for the Gouverneurs Reserve flagship Bordeaux Blend. Complex ripe fruity blackcurrant, blackberry, plum and oaky cedar and vanillas aromas – supple dry tannins too – matched well the tangy Morello cherry in the dark and slightly bitter chocolate.
Boela spoiled us with a taste of the iconic Grand Constance, South Africa’s oldest wine, after. Now this was a wine with the rich Muscat grapey, rose, orange peel, apricot and Turkish delight sweetness to match any chocolate! The delicious dessert wine was balanced with just the right acidity for pairing. Boela told me, in response to a question I posed about blending up to 15% of previous vintages for consistency between years, that he did not do this and so each vintage is distinct in flavour and character. It left me wondering how quickly the chocolatier will have to work in future if he is to pair specific chocolates for each wine vintage.
Glasses empty and the black and gold foil chocolate scattered over the table in the old cellar office, we returned to the Jonkershuis for lunch with the rest of the Groot Constantia winemaking and tourism team. I chose the smoked salmon starter that was seasoned to perfection with tropical fruits and fresh cress leaves. The kingclip main course was equally appetising and served with waxy potatoes, seasonal broccoli and buttered mini sweetcorn spears. Sticky baked caramel apple pie with vanilla ice cream and flavoursome cappuccino rounded the meal off perfectly. We had the time to ask questions, network and compare notes too. We each left with a gift of Grape Seed Oil – a choice between Pure, Chilli, Rosemary or Garlic – a new product that is made from the wine making.
Groot Constantia could not have planned the event nor looked after us better. I remember my first visit to the estate in January and soon after forming the Cape Wine Lovers’ Society. ‘Not just for the red bus tourists’, I wrote, as I was impressed by the quality of the wines that must – as Boela proudly proclaimed – stand by themselves independent of any touristic pressures or success. It was a privilege to meet him too as he must have so many competing demands on his time. If there is one thing I have learned about Groot Constantia – and this is not a given for other historic or iconic vineyards – is that there is a momentum and energy continuously to develop and improve. This is so even if new initiatives bring capacity and crowding challenges to be overcome.
The Chocolate and Wine Pairing – the main event of the day -was a great success and I am sure will be a popular choice of red bus and other tourists. I cannot wait to see what next is on the horizon for I am sure it is there and being thought of now as I write ….
Wines tasted (bought *):
2013 MCC Brut Rosé (90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay) – R179
2017 Sauvignon Blanc – R133
2016 Chardonnay – R201
2015 Constantia Rood (47% Merlot, 19% Pinotage, 16% Cabernet Franc, 11% Shiraz, 11% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon) – R114
2015 Shiraz – R201
2014 Gouverneurs Reserve (57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot) – R367
2014 Grand Constance (70% White, 30% Red Muscat De Frontignan) – R520 (375ml) FAVOURITE WINE