By Vincent Wynant, Summerfields Sommelier
It’s a perfect day at River Café alongside the Sabie River; an amazing place to relax, unwind and sample the brilliant meal compositions of Chef Natia van Heerden and her Right Hand, Jack Coetzee.
As always, I’m certain of finding perfect food and wine pairings in most restaurants of the world. But this one comes as a surprise: mussel and wine pairing. Rather unusual, but does it work?
As I take in the entrancing surroundings, I’m served a mussel pot with oven-fresh sourdough bread in front of the river. Upon tasting the mussels, I soon realise that they are better in South Africa than anywhere in the world. To be fair to the French, I’ll make an agreement: Cape Camembert is not worthy of its name, Cape Mussels are better than the Bouchots, and the pairiddng with a local wine, well…je m’excuse. These are huge mussels; intense in taste with a creamy white wine sauce, more than enough garlic, a half-bunch of coriander and a big dash of black pepper.
Next, the wine choice: Riesling is of course bone dry, though a Kerner could work. A Sylvaner Rivaner might do the trick, and a lot of men would drink it with a proper Monk beer.
But here in South Africa Monks don’t make beer.
So, my choice is: Nitida Coronate Integration (W.O. Durbanville) Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend with a little barrel fermentation. The pairing links the flavour of the dish to that of the wine with a similar character and texture, creating a harmonious palatal experience.
The greenness of the herbs are echoed in the wine’s Sauvignon personalities. Some yeast notes in the wine’s aroma match the particular smell of the Summerfields oven-fresh Sourdough bread.
I mentioned barrel fermentation, which is the winemaker’s tool to let it pair with a creamy dish.
The dish and wine harmoniously melt together. As the cream in the mussels blends with the silt-like herbal flavours, the acidity in the wine performs as an amplifier of this fine composition. Its fruit profile balances out the usual linger of garlic.
I end this surprisingly good pairing with a freshly-baked explosively aromatic macadamia brownie: crisp on the outside, runny inside with fresh vanilla ice cream and the most elegant cappuccino you`ve ever had in the bush.