Monthly Archives: November 2013

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving Wine

Posted by Amy Neyer, CSW, WSET Advanced Certified


Charlie Brown: Holidays always depress me.

Sally Brown: I know what you mean. I went down to buy a turkey tree and all they have are things for Christmas.

Charlie Brown: For Christmas? Already?

Sally and Charlie are right, of course. Thanksgiving gets increasingly squeezed between the bookends of spectacular promotions that are Halloween and Christmas. For me, the tradition of Thanksgiving is worth celebrating, now more than ever. It’s bereft of gifting and celebrates simple pleasures – sharing a special meal with loved ones and dear friends, the smell of the roasting turkey, the crisp fall air, and, of course, the chance to enjoy great wine.

Too often, Thanksgiving brings the stress of meal prep and, for some, the burning question of what wines to pair with the panoply of flavors on the Thanksgiving plate. Side note: if this is your primary concern (file under “First World Problems”), then consider yourself, indeed, very fortunate for your harvest bounty.

If you’re reading this and still wondering what to serve, consider the following wines for which I’m grateful this and every Thanksgiving:

– Champagne: I am thankful for the rise and success of grower Champagnes – those smaller producers of Champagne that have allowed countless numbers of wine lovers (including this one) to enjoy bubbles from this hallowed region. Grower Champagne tends to enjoy lower price points and overall greater accessibility. Producers like Selosse, Chartogne-Taillet, and J. Lassalle are wonderful examples of the growers. Reminder: if it doesn’t come from the French region of Champagne, it’s not Champagne.

– Sparkling Wine: I am thankful for the abundance of high-value, quality sparkling wine from places like Spain (Cava), France (Loire Valley, Alsace), Italy (Franciacorta) and, closer to home, Oregon, New Mexico and California. Like Champagne, these wines are great ways to get the palate ready for the Thanksgiving feast. They also have the added benefit of pairing with lots of foods and jazz up even the simplest of Thanksgiving meals, including those countless leftovers, without breaking the bank.

– Beaujolais: I am grateful for this fall-centric wine that gets its own holiday every November with the celebration of the year’s early release bottling – Beaujolais Nouveau. While Beaujolais Nouveau gets most of the attention, there is a broad range of Beaujolais cru wines hailing from the area’s 16 appellations that are worthy of attention at Thanksgiving and beyond. With styles varying from light, feminine style to the more earthy and structured, there are lots of options from which to choose.

– Pinot Noir: Whether your wine originates in the Oregon hills of Dundee, the cool slopes of Burgundy’s Cote d’Or or the far-flung climes of New Zealand, Pinot Noir is the “gets along well with others” member of the Thanksgiving family. I’m grateful that it’s substantive enough to handle the food but not so heavy on your palate, especially when served during a late-afternoon holiday meal. A good Pinot Noir can inspire contemplation, including quiet physical and mental exits from the dinner table when talk turns to Uncle Herb’s unique view of politics.

– White Burgundy: Other whites might work more closely with the diversity of the table, but there’s nothing better at Thanksgiving than a buttery roasted bird and a special bottle of white Burgundy. An exceptional white Burgundy can be out of reach for most, but, thanks to distributors and importers such as Kermit Lynch, Robert Kacher and the like, there are more affordable options for those of us who love this wine but not the price tag.

Whatever is in your glass and on your plate this holiday, Vino Ventures wishes you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of food, family, friends and, of course, wines that you love.


Londolozi Lollapalooza

Today was the final day of my amazing holiday in South Africa with Lee and Sue Flischel. I left Londolozi, the magical game reserve property in the Sabi Sands area of Kruger National Park, quite reluctantly. Truly, this is one of the most magnificent places I have ever visited. I’ve shared a small sampling of photos from the property so you can see for yourself. My proposals for kidnapping, adoption and job applications were futile!


Then a travel miracle occurred: the middle seat in my row on the long flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta was empty, and the person in the window seat was Anna, Londolozi’s executive chef! (I tried out my pitches in hopes of a return visit invitation…)

I’m inspired to use part of this 15+ hour flight to share my perspective on the quality wine and food program at Londolozi. Ingredients are fresh, pure and simply prepared. Flavors are thoughtfully balanced in ways that the essence of each dish is subtle and clean, yet deep and complex. Food is sourced from vendors with whom Londolozi has established long term relationships, echoing the family-like connections among the staff. Careful thought is given to the principles of respect for mature, conservation, preservation and sustainability that guide the lives of the people and animals who call Londolozi home.

Breakfast and lunch at the Tree Camp range of the property where I stayed are served outdoors buffet-style on the main deck. At breakfast, with a threatening slingshot at the ready, a pesky monkey is kept at bay from the gorgeous spread of fresh fruits, baked goods, Euro-style array of meats and cheeses, and fresh fruit and vegetable juices. And that’s just the starter! Each day there is a special hot breakfast offering along with eggs made to preference. It’s delicious provided that you can pull yourself away from watching the parade of elephants marching along the river in single file just below the deck.

My personal favorite after sunrise safari was a delectable green juice made of mostly vegetables and herbs with a hint of sweetness. Ingredients: spinach, cucumber, celery, green apples and ginger.

The lunch buffet is a healthy and flavorful selection of salads and vegetarian options as well as simply grilled meats and fish. Two lunch favorites during our four-day visit were a crunchy carrot salad with peanuts and a chicken bowtie pasta dish, both perfectly spiced. I’m pretty sure we had more than one serving!

Dinner is an altogether different experience. Weather permitting, the evening meal is presented under the stars, otherwise on the covered portion of the main deck, and moves location around the property. Tables are candle-lit, the perimeter of the dining area bounded by the soft glow of lanterns. As if the property weren’t already spectacular by day, evening ambience sparkled like fireflies.

My favorite experience was a five-course food and wine pairing. But my favorite meal was vegetarian: butternut ravioli in a Gorgonzola cream sauce, and coconut/coriander lentil Dahl, followed by a perfect serving of apple crumble topped with creme anglaise. At the conclusion of our final dinner last evening, we were treated to the “Landolozi choir” — the talented staff who so generously shared their talents with us in a unique cultural experience.

I could write endlessly about our meals, but will instead commend you to Anna’s blog (including recipes) in the cuisine section at Why not hear it directly from her?

Now it’s Anna’s turn: “The menu is seasonal, with 7-day plans, three meals a day. The menus comes from my head, but I key the selections to what’s in season. I make up the recipes, and about 1,500 guests each month seem quite happy! Ginger, garlic, fresh asparagus and watercress are my favorite things.”


My story wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t at least share the names of my favorite South African wines from the thoughtfully sourced Londolozi cellar. Waterford is Londolozi’s “house” wine. My house should be so fine… All of the sparkling wine (MCC for methode cap classique) was Graham Beck, which we can get in the US. My other favorites were Hamilton-Russell and Jordan Nine Yard Chardonnay, Beaufort Chenin Blanc, and Constantia Glen “Three” (Bordeaux blend with a good share of Cabernet Franc).

Thank you Londolozi for an experience of a lifetime.


Previous posts on the history of the wine industry in a South Arica, and tour segments for Cape Town/Constantia and the Cape Winelands:
Cape Winelands Sampler
Beyond Expectations
(Re)forming Global wine Markets: the “New” South Africa
Lost and Found? 20th Century Wine Games in South Africa
Lost: The Wine Industry in 19th Century South Africa
T-23 to South Africa

Cape Winelands Sampler: Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paarl

It’s a remarkably short drive from Cape Town to the key production areas of the “Cape Winelands,” a term used fondly to encompass the eleven compact regions where wine is grown on “farms” (not vineyards). To give this a U.S. perspective, it takes much less time to get from Cape Town to Paarl or Stellenbosch, for example, than from San Francisco to Sonoma or Napa. When you arrive, the drive time between wine farms is more like Sonoma than Napa. There are only a few places where one can cross the road or drive a few hundred meters to the next delicious tasting. Others require a tasting plan and some interesting navigation. But to be clear: it is quite possible to explore over a dozen wineries in three regions in three days, plus more wines at special lunches and dinners, and still have time to watch whales play in Walker Bay at Hermanus!

Because there is so much variation in such a small area, it is nearly impossible to typify South African wines. You really need to know where you are and how the micro-climate conditions impact what’s in the glass. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans are without question the most significant influence on grape varieties and wine styles. The climate is maritime, or coastal as it is called here, until you move inland a few miles. The landscape is dotted with sharp, craggy mountains that rise majestically in clear sight of the Cape’s extensive shoreline. Mountains provide interesting variations in soil types, occasional spots for hillside growing with perfect aspect as well as slope, excellent nocturnal temperature variation during hot summers, and once you cross over the mountains, a somewhat temperate continental climate that changes the picture considerably. Bush vines (no trellising) have traditionally been used in South Africa because the area is quite windy. Problems that other regions might experience with mildew, rot or other diseases are by and large controlled in places where bush vines continue to make sense. This approach has gradually changed with a flurry of new wineries — now nearly 600 — adopting modern technology on the farm and in the cellar.

Unlike Constantia, where the majority of wine farms trace back to the Dutch colonial era and Governor Simon van der Stel, most of the Winelands consists of new wineries, many created in the last 10 years. Some farms were virgin territory for grapevines, others had lain fallow for many decades. This can be partially explained by the fact that there were strict government rules regarding expansion of the winegrowing territory, as well as other regulations, that made it impossible to develop this area as a wine region despite its excellent terroir. That is all changing rapidly. Gauging by the sophistication of cellar operations, the depth of wine education provided to brand representatives who staff elaborate tasting rooms, as well as other tourism amenities available on many properties, wine is clearly viewed as a growth industry and major export product. South Africa is currently 8th in worldwide wine production.

Like Constantia, nearly all wineries are devoted to familiar international grape varieties. A red Bordeaux blend with at least two of the main varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, is typically a winery’s “flagship” offering. Adding clever twists of other varieties to the blend, from a full complement of all five Bordeaux grapes to a little Shiraz and perhaps even Grenache or a dash of Pinotage, creates each winemaker’s signature. Several winemakers have moved in the direction of both red and white Rhone varieties. While Sauvignon Blanc is as ubiquitous as it was in Constantia, it was more often blended with Semillon or spent some time on lees. No more “GGG” — high acid green, grassy, gooseberry! Pinotage makes an appearance a bit more often, and there was the occasional Chenin Blanc, but these two varieties highly associated with South Africa in the 20th century are indeed rare today.

Perhaps because winery visits were carefully chosen with quality and international availability in mind, the wines I sampled were good to very good. There were a few I didn’t care for because tannins and alcohol were too high for my palate, but other sophisticated consumers simply love those very same wines, some of which are South African and international award winners.

My personal favorites (in alpha order):
Boekenhoutskloof Boek Special Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend
Chamonix Chardonnay
De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc
Fairview Oom Pagel Semillon
Fairview Cyril Black Shiraz
Jordan The Prospector Syrah
Kanonkop Pinotage (classic, gamey herbaceous style)
TOKARA Director’s Reserve (Bordeaux blend)
Warwick Estate Cabernet Franc
(note that Fairview makes the “Goats Do Roam” brand. This photo is where the real goats roam!


Stellenbosch (8 wineries, 36 wines)

Delaire Graff (lunch): 2011 White Reserve 70% Sauvignon Blanc / 30% Semillon

De Morgenzon: 2013 DMZ Chenin Blanc; 2012 Reserve Chenin Blanc; 2011 DMZ Syrah; 2011 Maestro red blend (Merlot predominant with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot

Jordan: 2012 Sauvignon Blanc; 2010 The Outlier Sauvignon Blanc; 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay; 2012 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay; 2013 Riesling; 2011 Merlot; 2010 The Prospector Syrah; 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Kanonkop: Kadette Range of 2013 Rose (100% Pinotage), 2012 Pinotage, Cape Blend (50% Pinotage/25% each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon); 2011 Pinotage; 2003 Pinotage; 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon; 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon; 2010 Paul Sauer (flagship, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc and Merlot); 2005 Paul Sauer

Rust en Vrede (“rest and peace”): 2012 Merlot; 2010 Estate (flagship, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/30% Syrah/10% Merlot); 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (100%); 1694 Classification (2009 — 60% Syrah/40% Cabernet Sauvignon)

Thelema: 2013 Sauvignon Blanc; 2010 The Mint 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2008 Rabelais (flagship; 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 9% Merlot)

TOKARA: 2012 Director’s Reserve White (76% Sauvignon Blanc, 27% Semillon); 2011 Limited Release Pinotage; 2009 Director’s Reserve (78% Cabernet Sauvignon plus Petit Verdot, Merlot and Malbec)

Warwick: 2013 Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 White Lady Chardonnay, 2012 Old Bush Vine Pinotage, 2010 Trilogy (flagship), 2011 Cabernet Franc

Franschhoek (3 wineries, 12 wines)

Boekenhoutskloof: 2012 Porcupine Ridge Viognier (51%) / Grenache Blanc (49%) blend; 2011 Boek Special blend Semillon (92%) / Sauvignon Blanc (8%); 2012 The Chocolate Block (blend of Syrah, Grenache Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Viognier)

Chamonix: 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (88%)/ Semillon (12%) blend; 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (60%) / Semillon (40%) blend; 2012 Chardonnay; 2011 Greywack Pinotage; 2012 Pinot Noir; 2011 Troika (flagship Bordeaux blend)

La Motte (all from the Pierneef range): 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (organic); 2010 Shiraz (88%) / Viognier (12%); 2008 Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvedre/Carignan blend

Paarl (1 winery, 11 wines)

Fairview: Cap Classique Brut NV; 2013 Darling Sauvignon Blanc; 2013 Darling Chenin Blanc; 2012 Nurok (white blend of Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Roussane, and Grenache Blanc all from the Darling region); 2011 Oom Pagel Semillon; Extrano (first vintage of Temprenillo/Grenache/Carignan blend); 2009 Pegleg 100% Carignan; 2011 Primo Pinotage (with a small amount of Cinsault); 2011 Durif Petite Syrah; 2010 Eenzaamheid Shiraz; 2010 Beacon Shiraz; 2010 Cyril Black Shiraz

Although I do have best intentions to write another piece on food and wine, my Winelands foodie experience warrants at least an honorary mention of the wines we sampled with two particularly incredible meals.

5-course pairing at The Tasting Room at La Quartier Francais in Franschhoek:
Welcome wine: Moreson Rose Cap Classique NV
Silverthorn Genie Brut Rose NV (100% Shiraz, Robertson region)
2011 Stony Brook Ghost Gum White (SB/Sem blend)
2012 Moreson Pinotage
2009 Allesverloren “Fine Old Vintage” (made from 7 indigenous Portuguese grapes, 21% abv; Swaartland region)
2008 Ezibusisweni Straw Wine (made from Chenin Blanc, dried on straw like ripasso/Amarone)


Secret Ingredients pairing at Creation in Hemel en Aarde, a sub-region bordering Elgin and Harmanus:
Welcome wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Rose (Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Grenache Noir) and Viognier
2013 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend
2013 Chardonnay (oaked, bottled mid-October)
2012 Syrah/Grenache blend
2012 Pinot Noir


Previous posts: Beyond Expectations (Buitenverwachting) in South African Wine Country; (Re)forming Global Wine Markets: The “New” South AfricaLost and Found?: 20th Century Wine Games in South Africa</a