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
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.
EASTERN TOUCH: The Far East meets the winelands with ginger prawns and citrus-grape couscous with Bloemendal Suider Terras Sauvignon Blanc.
Skol! Say cheers to the harvest with vine leaves filled with camembert and grape and pinenut salsa.