The great grape cook-off

The fu­ture looks bright for the fruit of the vine as an ev­er­ex­pand­ing reper­toire of juiced up dishes to com­ple­ment the vint­ner’s labour. Michelle Swart finds out more

Business Day - Home Front - - HOMEFRONT -

HAR­VEST­ING the bounty of the vine­yards is one of the most im­por­tant mo­ments in mak­ing good wine. Fes­ti­vals sig­nalling the end of the grape sea­son and the start of au­tumn have been cel­e­brated for cen­turies — a tra­di­tion that is catch­ing on in the Cape.

Righard Theron, chair­man of the Dur­banville Wine Val­ley As­so­ci­a­tion, which hosts its own Feast of the Grape on March 21, says th­ese events of­fer wine lovers an in­sider view of wine-mak­ing — feel­ing, smelling and tast­ing the process from beginning to end.

“There’s some­thing hugely grat­i­fy­ing in rolling up your sleeves, tak­ing your shoes off and get­ting your hands — and feet — dirty. All the hard work of first pick­ing your own grapes, de-stalk­ing by hand and then stomp­ing by foot is re­warded af­ter­wards with more leisurely pur­suits, such as a vint­ners’ break­fast, cham­pagne brunch or har­vest lunch.”

Grapes de­serve all the fi­esta fuss. Yet, with the enor­mous grape pro­duc­tion in our coun­try famed for its wines, how many bunches end up in the kitchen and in the hands of cooks?

Amer­i­can restau­rant writer Bret Thorn has called for greater use of grapes as an in­gre­di­ent.

“The grape prob­a­bly has been stud­ied, fussed over and given snob ap­peal more than any other fruit on the planet, but only af­ter it has been crushed, fer­mented, aged and bot­tled. In its fresh form grapes don’t fea­ture much — it’s seen as a snack food to pick on.”

That’s about to change if the band of tal­ented vint­ners and res­tau­ra­teurs from the Dur­banville wine val­ley have their say. Tak­ing a mid-har­vest break, wine mak­ers from Al­ty­dgedacht, Bloe­men­dal, D’Aria, De Gren­del, Diemers­dal, Dur­banville Hills, Hill­crest, Nitída and Meeren­dal donned aprons to use grapes in the kitchen.

Com­pet­ing for the ti­tle Best of the Bunch, they gave ex­cit­ing twists to har­vest-time clas­sics matched with wines from their cel­lars.

The in­ven­tive Ca­jun tuna with must sor­bet and grape chut­ney by Cas­sia chef-pa­tron War­ren Swaffield, seam­lessly paired with Nitída Coronata by Bern­hard Veller, pipped the other con­tenders to the post.

“We used ev­ery el­e­ment of the grape; not even the pips were wasted — they were dried and ground up to add crunch to the tuna’s spice crust,” said Swaffield.

“The sor­bet, made with fer­mented must and only avail­able dur­ing har­vest time, makes this a rare sea­sonal del­i­cacy.”

Other grape-in­spired recipes in­cluded Bloe­men­dal’s gin­ger and mango prawns cooked in a grape broth, on a grape and cit­rus cous­cous salad; Hill­crest’s mer­lot grape pickle to spice up a plough­man’s plat­ter; Meeren­dal’s snoek and hanepoot pie with scoops of own hanepoot chut­ney, as well as beef carpac­cio with drunken pecorino and grape com­pote with Dur­banville Hills pino­tage.

In­spired by the French culi­nary tra­di­tion to serve poul­try Veronique style (with grapes), Thys Louw, of Diemers­dal, dished up grape-stuffed quails in a rich wine and tar­ragon sauce with white grapes. Louw also sur­prised with a camp-fire dessert — a de­light­fully boozy, syrupy grape pud­ding baked in foil and served with mas­car­pone.

While grapes add a wel­come coun­ter­point to savoury dishes, it takes the cake in sweet dishes. A se­duc­tive pizza with red grapes, rose­mary, honey and pecorino could end a meal as a com­bined cheese and dessert course. Add chutz­pah by serv­ing the crusty pizza with Ni­tida Shi­raz Methodé Cap Clas­sique, a fun bub­bly.

Other sweet bites in­cluded the tra­di­tional boere­jon­gens (brandy mac­er­ated grapes) dished up with mas­car­pone, figs and pis­ta­chio crunch, matched with fra­grant Al­ty­dgedacht gewurz­traminer.

Clas­sic grape and cus­tard tartlets part­nered with De Gren­del Brut was voted the sex­i­est sweet dish of the day.

“Bit­ing into the juicy grapes sur­rounded by vel­vety cus­tard, and then have the bub­bles join the taste feast on the palate is sim­ply sen­sa­tional,” the jury re­marked.

Cook­ing with grapes holds its own chal­lenges, as wine­maker Rudi von Walt­zleben dis­cov­ered when his first four at­tempts at mak­ing grape crème brûlée failed. “I bat­tled to get the cus­tard to set, per­haps due to the acid in the grapes. So I changed tac­tics, mak­ing a mer­lot mous­se­line in­stead.’’

The re­fresh­ing com­bi­na­tion with his D’Aria Blush clinched the deal, tak­ing sec­ond spot in the great grape cook-off.

IAN DU TOIT Pic­ture:

EAST­ERN TOUCH: The Far East meets the winelands with gin­ger prawns and cit­rus-grape cous­cous with Bloe­men­dal Suider Ter­ras Sau­vi­gnon Blanc.

Pic­ture: SA­MARIE SMITH

Skol! Say cheers to the har­vest with vine leaves filled with camem­bert and grape and pinenut salsa.

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