A culinary adventure in the Cape winelands

From Cape to Cape; Mick travels South Africa's vineyards in search of new wines for the list

This January during our annual closure, Executive Chef Mick took the opportunity to do a bit of gourmet travelling himself, touring the Cape winelands to take part in a series of pop-up food and wine events.

Friend of Porthminster, Ben Prior – a chef and specialist wine importer – travels to South Africa from Cornwall every year to share the love of food and wine; from one cape to another. Ben has been taking part in wine dinners across the Cape winelands for the last three years, and this year was happy to share the experience with Mick.

A culinary adventure in the Cape winelands
A culinary adventure in the Cape winelands

The two cooked at three winery restaurants – 96 Winery Road Restaurant, The Restaurant at Newton Johnson, and Tokara Restaurant – during their trip, devising menus, sourcing ingredients, and matching wines alongside the talented in-house teams at each venue.

They worked with some incredible local produce, from fresh ricotta to Cape Wagyu beef, relishing the opportunity to get creative with a different palette of ingredients and flavours.

Each dish the duo prepared across the Cape was carefully matched with a wine from these boutique estates, which are at the vanguard of South Africa’s ‘new wave movement.’

Over the last 10 years this movement has seen experimental, mould-breaking winemakers seeking out old vines and forgotten vineyards and taking a fresh approach which celebrates the purity of the fruit (a notable characteristic of good South African wine) and the distinctive and varied terroir.

A culinary adventure in the Cape winelands
A culinary adventure in the Cape winelands

“The wine scene in South Africa is incredible,” says Mick, who was impressed with both the quality and diversity. “There are so many microclimates that there aren’t many styles they can’t produce” adds Ben, whose connections on the Cape give him a direct line to some of the most pioneering, forward-thinking young winemakers.

As well as cooking, Mick and Ben spent their time tasting and selecting wine for their restaurants, which they will now import direct from the vineyards; many of these wines won’t be available anywhere else in the UK.

They received a fantastic welcome everywhere they visited, and were impressed with the infectious enthusiasm, openness and honesty of the people behind the scenes at every vineyard. “Ben introduced me to a great crowd,” said Mick. “It’s a lot like Cornwall in that everyone on the food and drink scene knows each other, and there’s a really reciprocal, collaborative attitude. All the wine-makers surf together and socialize together, just like us chefs do back here in Cornwall!”

The reciprocal relationship is set to continue and develop, with a group of winemakers from South Africa visiting later this year.

“We try and get a handful of winemakers over every year to host tastings and dinners,” says Ben. “Wine-lovers in the UK are starting to embrace South African wine on a new level. Previously only the cheapest stuff sold in the supermarkets, and people just didn’t see or know about the amazing styles being made by these small, maverick producers. This very enjoyable exchange programme we’ve established is helping to rectify that. It’s also a great excuse to drink great wine and eat awesome food with friends, from cape to cape!”

A culinary adventure in the Cape winelands
A culinary adventure in the Cape winelands

Just a few of Ben’s stand-out wines from the trip:

Ken Forrester, The FMC Chenin Blanc. Ken is the King of Chenin and this wine really shows off the grape at it’s best. Sophisticated, nuanced and rich, this is a real treat if you can find it in the UK.

Restless River Cabernet Sauvignon, Hemel-En-Aarde. Again really hard to find in this country as production is so small. This is cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon, beautifully crafted by Craig Wessels and his team.

Die Kat Se Snor Sauvignon Blanc. Tiny production makes it possible to create exquisite, minimal-intervention wines such as this. Great balance between vibrant acidity and crisp fruit, and more complex savoury, mineral notes.

Naude Cinsault. Another beautifully made wine and a true reflection of terroir. Cinsault bush vines grow on decomposed granitic soils and the resultant wine is aged on its lees for 6 months in old French oak.

Tokara Directors Reserve. These big-hitting blends are made from parcels chosen from Tokara’s prime vineyards on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain near Stellenbosch. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc are all hand-picked at optimal ripeness.

If you’re interested in sourcing premium South African wines contact VinoSA.