Match of the week | 12 great South African food and wine pairings

Match of the week

12 great South African food and wine pairings

I actually experienced so many great wine and food matches last week in South Africa - some accidental, some intended - that it would be invidious to pick out just one as my match of the week so here are a dozen that really stood out for me. (See also my match of the week last week of Semillon and seafood)

As you can see from some of the menu descriptions South African cuisine can be quite complex, full of bold flavours that can make wine matching quite unpredictable so I wouldn’t necessarily extrapolate from that to say that a specific combination would always work. For a more practical reference consult the list of wine varietals, styles and recommended wine pairings I’ll be posting later this week.

Salmon tartare with sesame-crusted warm oyster, chilled potato, leek cream, ginger soy dressing with the 2008 Chamonix Sauvignon Blanc
Fish tartares are flavour of the month at the moment in South Africa and Sauvignon Blanc, particularly crisp mineral Sauvignons like this Chamonix suit them a treat. This was a great combination I had at Reuben’s in Franschhoek. I also had a similar ceviche of seabream with a more foreward Fishhoek Sauvignon Blanc with Bruce Jack at his Flagstone winery which shows the a more zesty, citrussy style works well too.

Seared scallops, bacon foam and corn puree with Ken Forrester 2008 FMC Chenin Blanc
You might well think this umami-rich dish from Terroir at Kleine Zalze would be a perfect match for Chardonnay - and it would - but it was simply stunning with Ken Forrester’s voluptuous signature Chenin Blanc

Prawn risotto with Raats Original Chenin Blanc 2009
At the same meal I had a light seafood risotto with the Raats Family Original (unoaked) Chenin Blanc which provided a lovely contrasting note of crisp, mineral freshness - working, when I thought about it later - in much the same way as an Italian white.

Smoked duck with chicory and fig salad with Flagstone Writer's Block pinotage
Like many I have my reservations about Pinotage but this is a great example of what the grape can deliver from Bruce Jack of Flagstone, inspirationally paired by chef Pete Goffe-Wood with spicy home-smoked duck breast and figs, a combination that played on Pinotage’s own mocha notes

Spring roll with Bobotie and Creation 2008 Syrah Grenache
One of a number of clever canap pairings designed by Carolyn Martin of Creation Wines to go with their range. Bobotie is a traditional South African dish of curried mince, usually with some sultanas or raisins and the wine was in the fresh, peppery Rhone style rather than a blockbuster Shiraz. (It was also very good with shavings of Biltong which accentuated its savoury, gamey notes.)

Springbok loin and pistachio dusted ostrich liver, parsnip and coffee puree, fig and ash baked celeriac with Rust en Vrede Shiraz 2006
I doubt any of you would be able to replicate this complex dish from chef David Higgs at Rust en Vrede restaurant (I certainly couldn’t) but the one element it needed to complement it was a touch of sweetness which it got in spades from Rust en Vrede’s own full bodied shiraz. (Note though that this was 4 years old. I suspect a newly released shiraz - rather than the more subtle Syrah style would have been overpowering

Grilled quail, grapes, mascarpone, beetroot-cumin puree, couscous with herbs, mustard-hanepoot rosemary jus with Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2007
There’s so much good Syrah/Shiraz in the Cape right now one's spoilt for choice but I loved this combination of spicy quail and a big savoury Rhone-style Syrah from the irrepressible Mark Kent. (Again at Reuben’s)

Moroccan style lamb with Ras el Hanout with Raats Cabernet Franc 2007
I wasn’t intending to mention any winemaker more than once but this combination of fresh-tasting but powerful Cabernet Franc from Bruwer Raats and Moroccan-style lamb at Terroir was surprisingly successful. (I’d have been thinking more in terms of Syrah)

Peppered Chalmar rump, veal short rib ragout and caramelised pearl onion with La Riche 2005 Cabernet Reserve
One of the impressions I took away from this trip is how good South African Cabernet is now and this velvety, elegant La Riche one was just sensational with a very good dish of seared beef and braised veal at the recently opened Jordan restaurant (better than Syrah, I suspect, the recommended pairing. With pepper in the dish you don’t really need pepper in the wine - the Cab provided a lovely sweet contrast.)

Caramelised grenadilla (passionfruit) tart with crushed hazelnut praline with Jordan’s Mellifera
Again from George Jardine at Jordan, a knockout combination of just-warm, quivering passionfruit tart with a late harvest wine made from Rhine Riesling. The hazelnut praline also added a lovely nutty note to the pairing, preventing it from being oversweet.

Ken Forrester Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2007 with white cheddar and spiced apricot compote
Cheese is often accompanied by fruit or fruit compotes in South Africa so sweet wines are often a better bet than red - even with cheeses that aren’t blue as this unexpected combination at Terroir proved. (The Chenin was very light and fresh, not oversweet) The apricot compote - spiced, I think, with cardamom - was so delicious I’m going to have to try and get the recipe

2008 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay and cheddar-style cheese.
South Africa still has a way to go before it makes great cheeses but its presentation and use of them is second to none as you can see from this platter served at the Creation winery restaurant. Anthony Hamilton-Russell, who was at the tasting, told me that hard cheeses like cheddar (and, more particularly parmesan) were good with his sumptuously elegant Chardonnay and he was dead right. It worked a treat with the medium-bodied cheddar on this platter.


I visited South Africa as a guest of Wines of South Africa and its producers.

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