Friday, May 8, 2015

Decisions! Decisions! Decisions!

Occasional diners often feel intimidated by the enormous choice offered on some wine lists.  So instead of attempting the marathon read, they simply order ‘the usual’.
How can a good Service Ambassador help to choose a suitable wine for the occasion? 
To me, a Service Ambassador is anyone involved with the service of food and beverages in an establishment. This would include waitrons, wine stewards, bar persons and even the Chef.

What's on the menu? 

Firstly, knowing what’s on the menu and beverage list is fundamental to making good suggestions. The question is therefore asked: Has Management taken the time to present and allow tastings of both menu items and beverages for staff? Are tastings of new items done on a regular basis? Is the Chef part of this ongoing training process, explaining dominant flavour profiles and suggested wine matches? Is the Chef fully conversant with what’s on the wine list?  Do the Service Ambassadors feel that they are part of the team and their contribution is important to the overall dining experience?  Do they know that dominant flavours in the food affect the taste of the wine and vice versa? Do they understand that textures in a dish also contribute to the enjoyment of the combinations?

What's on the wine list?  
Secondly, the good Service Ambassador should also know the basic taste of the wines on offer.  Wines can be made in different styles: dry; off-dry; semi-sweet. They could be red; white; rose or sparkling. Different grape varietals have distinct characteristics. For example: Chenin Blanc is said to be fruity with lively acid, like biting a Granny Smith apple; Sauvignon Blanc has a  refreshing grassy character; Chardonnay  is often described as buttery, particularly when it has been matured in wood; while Gewurztraminer and Bukettraube have a distinct spiciness.
Red grapes too have different characteristics with some tannin from fermentation on the skins and barrel maturation present. Cabernet Sauvignon; Shiraz and Pinotage are often made in a heavier style while Merlot is usually medium-bodied and Pinot Noir refreshing and light. Winemakers also blend different varietals - sometimes even white and red.  Keeping all this in mind, careful forethought is required when making a suggested food and wine combination.

A match or a miss? 
Considering the variety of food flavours and textures, one would choose a wine that either complements or contrasts the dish. Important also is the occasion. Don’t serve a great wine with a simple meal or an everyday wine with a special meal. While some common rules apply, such as white wine – white meats like fish and poultry; red wine - red meats; heavy foods – robust wine; spicy foods – off-dry or semi-sweet wines; desserts – dessert or sparkling wine, marketers are pushing other combinations.  Beer, whisky and fortified wines as general food-fellows are just some of the trends making the scene. 
The simple ‘cheese and wine’ can be a minefield of possibilities. From Stilton to Brie to Blue to Cheddar – they too have absolute contrasting flavours and textures and present some clashing palate partners.
Combining food and wine has become rather complex and sometimes even pretentious. It's quite fashionable to attend food and wine pairing evenings offered by wine and food connoisseurs alike. Everyone seems to be an authority on what you should be drinking with your choice of food.     Truth-be-told every palate is as distinctive as every fingerprint. 
Let’s look at a hypothetical dining experience and explore some suggestions from the Service Ambassador.  The occasion is an anniversary party for four people. The host has chosen a set menu with a choice of main course.

Starter - Crab and Norwegian Salmon Crêpes with dill and cream sauce.
A dry sparkling wine such as *Uitkyk Glass Memoires*  to set the mood and complement  the crêpes

Main course - Zanzibar Chicken - baby chicken marinated in Eastern spices, slowly baked, topped with yoghurt and coriander sauce. 
Beef Fillet with veg, starch and choice of sauce.
*Groote Post Riesling* to partner the full flavours and creaminess of the chicken.

*Glenelly Lady May* Cabernet Sauvignon 

Dessert  - Crème brûlée

*Macushla Pinot Noir Noble Late Harvest*.  A perfect finale to the meal.

The good thing about combining food and wine is that there is no right or wrong. Although everyone will choose for themselves what they will drink, the service ambassador can add to the enjoyment of the experience by making sensible informed suggestions.   So, instead of having ‘the usual’,  experiment and have fun!

*Glass Memoires, Methode Cap Classique, was inspired by the love messages filled with hope, passion and adoration that young ladies of the 19th century etched with their diamond rings in the glass windowpanes on either side of the front door of the Uitkyk Manor House in Stellenbosch.
The wine has a rich complexity with a pale straw tint. Lively fine bubbles give the wine a zesty and fresh palate while the barrel fermentation and lees contact impart complexity and depth.

 Red Hartebeest in the spring flowers at Groote Post Game Camp

A view of Table mountain from the Groote Post Farm 

 Kudu at Groote Post Game Camp 

Quagga at Groote Post Game Camp 

 *Groote Post Riesling is made from Weisser Riesling grapes. The wine displays rose petal and peach fragrances on the nose, ginger and spice tantalise the palate which lingers on the aftertaste. Visit Groote Post in Darling on the West Coast for unique experiences such as the Country Market

Madame May de Lencquesaing - owner of Glenelly Estate
Panoramic view of the Glenelly Estate
Winemaker Luke O'cuinneagain
A view of the vineyards and cellar
The Lady May is Glenelly’s flagship estate wine, named in honour of Glenelly’s Grande Dame. It is an exceptionally graceful and stylish Cabernet Sauvignon with a dash of Petit Verdot. 
An elegant yet complex wine. A melange of berries like cassis, blackcurrant, dark cherry, raspberries and delicate spicy plum excite the senses.  Well structured with seamless oak, velvety tannins and a silky savoury finish. The wine has the potential to age for 12 to 18 years and has been acclaimed nationally and internationally.

Owners of Shannon Farm James & Stuart Downes (L&R)  with Winemakers Nadia & Gordon Newton Johnson 
Shannon Vineyards on a misty morning

*Macushla Pinot Noir Noble Late Harvest is from Shannon Vineyards in Elgin. The word Macushla is derived from the Gaelic ‘a chuisle mo chroí’ (translated as ‘pulse of my heart’), The wine has a delicate salmon pink hue, charming fragrance, and creamy strawberry character. The wine is unusual in that Noble Late Harvest wines are usually made from white grapes. Pinot Noir is the red varietal associated with Burgundy in France.

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