Monthly Archives: April 2013

South African Birthday Braai in Brooklyn with 36 Wines

Colorful coastal beach cottages. I have no pictures of wine country for this article because my husband accidentally deleted all of them. Yes, we are still married.

Today is my birthday and I turn 19, again. I am celebrating by throwing a Braai-style BBQ in Brooklyn to accompany a large, multi-regional tasting of wines procured from South Africa.  If I can’t spend my B-Day in Stellenbosch, then I will bring the spirit of the Cape Winelands to a Brooklyn Heights apartment with a bonafide patio and grill (unfortunately not mine, but a generous friend’s).

I spent weeks obtaining 36 wines from 18 vineyards. Most are samples, but a precious few are direct from my wine fridge, carefully cared for since bringing them back from South Africa 2 years, 3 months and 17 days ago.  And holy shit, I didn’t even look at the calendar before spitting out that number, and I just verified it was on the dot. Eerie!

Why a birthday party around South Africa? Skeptics say I can’t fall in love with a place I only knew seven days. Maybe I wasn’t there long enough to outgrow the honeymoon and commence day-to-day life with my sweetheart, flaws slowly unfurling, first charming, and eventually grating. Was I romanced by the vineyards of Stellenbosch, the adorable village of Franschhoek and long wine producing history of Constantia like a contestant on the Bachelor–all helicopters rides, fantasy suites and chiseled abs? Actually, that wasn’t my experience at all.

Most of the world is aware of South Africa’s history and problems, her citizens quite painfully. But with dramatic lows come equally dramatic highs, particularly with regard to her physical beauty; the scenery is flat-out stunning, probably made more so because I wasn’t expecting it. How often do close friends, even acquaintances, rave about her wines or the beauty of South African wine country? Most haven’t been, probably from fear of the 17-hour flight or misperceived cost of travel so far from home. Those who do visit, often consider South Africa synonymous with Kruger National Park or Table Mountain and Cape Town; and for the adventurous, maybe a cage-dip in Shark Alley to see the Great Whites.

But the flight is manageable (particularly with Valium, Ambien and free cocktails). South African Airways flies direct to Jo’burg from JFK, a United partner and accepting of FF miles. And without miles, airfare this summer (winter there) is on sale for $1000. That is cheaper than flying to Europe. Once arriving in Jo’Burg, you have an easy connection to Cape Town. Rent a car and off you go another 1.5 hours up to Stellenbosch. Yes, I know it sounds painful, but your reward is great. That first view of vineyards tucked into the mountains, laid-out one after another between the Wineland towns is heart-stopping.

Steenberg Winery patio. I only have this single photo to show.

The wineries are as sophisticated as Napa without pretension, and the lodging extraordinary in quality and variety offering relative reasonableness of price.  We spent several lovely nights in the Hawksmoor House, a beautiful B&B set in an old Cape Dutch country home filled thoughtfully with antiques and modern touches—a retreat to which you could imagine retiring one day. Each morning’s homemade breakfast was served on the patio with views over the rectangular garden pool that stretched to the mist-shrouded mountains beyond. Evenings at Hawksmoor offered complimentary dessert wines from the honor bar; we would slip into the house after dinner each night, choose our wine, and relax in whichever stately parlor room we fancied to pretend was ours for a few hours.

The restaurants are numerous, varied in cuisine and price; if your wine country vacation isn’t complete without fine multi-course dining, however, there are tasting menus to rival Yountville at half the price. We adored our anniversary dinner at Rust En Vrede, a 350-year old Country Dutch property that offers exceptional estate wines paired with their exemplary cuisine. Try a cocktail (or wine) on the balcony of the beautiful Delaire Graff Estate, watching the sun dip down, forever gone for that day, then pop over to Tokara restaurant across the road for dinner in a chic setting that belies the prices on the menu.

The wineries, however, impressed the most. I was struck over and over by the level of sophistication, attention to detail, aesthetics and use of technology. Part of what makes wine travel so fun is to see how each vintner and winery owner applies their personal-touch to the final wine and design of the buildings. Much of the architecture shows-off the charming Cape Dutch-look, but several were über-modern; all capitalized on the dramatic views, gardens and countryside greenery available to them. Overall, the wines were of reasonable price for very good quality (although only occasionally transcendental). South Africa is often associated with Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, but their Rhone and Bordeaux blends stand-out, and varietal bottlings of Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay deserve attention.

As is the case with most non-traditional European wine-producing regions, finding the same diversity of wines you sampled while visiting, back home in the States, is impossible. So the point of my tasting tonight is to explore the depths of what is available from South Africa in our market so as to inform friends and readers of this extraordinary place.  Greater demand for South African wines will bring more variety of selection. I plan to compile the tasting notes from this evening in my Unscrewed column in the Village Voice sometime in May or early June. Hopefully my words will encourage readers to spend more time considering South Africa on their store shelves and in their imaginations.

And for our Braai tonight? Yes, I know that we aren’t using real wood and a massive fire, so we are technically not doing it right. We are making do with what’s available in an urban environment, however, and working off cookbooks, the internet, an iPhone text and facebook messages, to put together a semi-authentic collection of dishes to pair with the wines. Below is our menu, and further down, our vinous line-up!


Peri Peri Shrimp and Chicken Drumsticks
Lamb Sosatie (kebabs)
Homemade Boerewors Sausage
Gestoofde Boontjies (fancy name for beans)
Hot Rice Salad
Chakalaka and Pap

Ash and Shawn Shooting Sausage for Boerewors

Pretty Boerewors Pinwheel!

Marinating Lamb Soastie


1 Bartinney Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
2 Bayten Sauvignon Blanc 2012
3 Beyerskloof Chenin Blanc/Pinotage 2012
4 Beyerskloof Synergy Blend 2010
5 Beyerskloof Pinotage 2012
6 Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage 2009
7 Bradgate Sauv Blanc/Chenin Blanc 2011
8 Bradgate Cab Sauv/Merlot/Shiraz 2009
9 Bradgate Syrah 2010
10 Bruwer Raats Chenin Blanc 2011
11 Bruwer Raats Bordeaux Blend 2010
12 Cape Grace Chenin Blanc 2011
13 Cape Grace Pinotage 2011
14 Cape Grace Shiraz 2012
15 De Morgenzon Chardonnay 2012
16 De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc 2011
17 De Morgenzon Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
18 De Toren Fusion V 2008
19 Elgin Vintners Pinot Noir 2010
20 Elgin Vintners Chardonnay 2010
21 Excelsior Chardonnay/Viognier 2012
22 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot 2011
23 Glenelly Red Blend: Syrah, Cab, PV, M 2008
24 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012
25 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2010
26 Indaba Chenin Blanc 2012
27 Juno Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
28 Juno Shiraz 2010
29 Kanonkop Pinotage 2010
30 Kanonkop Pinotage Blend: Kadette 2009
31 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2011
32 Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2012
33 Music by D’Aria Shiraz, Cab, Merlot 2009
34 Rudi Schultz Syrah 2010
35 Thelema The Mint Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
36 Thelema Mountain Red 2010


Filed under Birthday Braai and Tasting in Brooklyn, South Africa

Wine on Wheels Fundraiser: New Yorkers, Please Read!

Although I cannot personally attend (I will be traveling out of the country), other wine loving New Yorkers should add this benefit to their calendar. Yannick Benjamin, host of the Wine on Wheels fundraiser at Le Du’s wine shop on May 4th, is an outstanding man, sommelier, and wine educator, who resumed a life in wine after a devastating accident might have otherwise crippled his spirit forever. The fundraiser is to help others who suffer disabling accidents continue to pursue their dreams.

Wine on Wheels Fundraiser

Saturday, May 4th, 2013
1-4 PM at Le Du’s Wines
$50.00 advance ticket
$70.00 at the door
$120.00 pre-event access pass
Le Du’s own Yannick Benjamin and Alex Elegudin co-founded Wheeling Forward, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, to help disabled individuals resume living active lives by going back to school, getting back to work, achieving their life goals, and striving for personal fulfillment. Wheeling Forward empowers disabled individuals to achieve their life goals and live purposefully by bringing hope to the disabled community and providing tailored, individual support services, advocacy and mentoring.
No goal is ever too big or too small!
Yannick competing in the 2010 New York Marathon
The 2nd Annual Wine on Wheels Fundraiser brings together some of the top Sommeliers from New York City in a wine tasting of an EPIC SCALE. The event will also feature a silent auction, blind-tasting giveaways and food provided by Taco Morelos.
What wines pair best with fresh, delicious tacos? Why not ask one of our veritable troupe of guest Sommeliers, on-hand to pour and discuss the 75 fine wines being served.
Our team of experts:
John Ragan, MS, Union Square Hospitality
Hristo Zisovski, Ai Fiori
Aldo Sohm, Le Bernardin
Alexander Lapratt, Jean Georges
Paul Altuna, Le Cirque
Dustin Wilson, MS, Eleven Madison Park
Jeff Taylor, Eleven Madison Park
Joe Campanale, L’Artusi & Dell’anima
Pascaline Lepeltier, Rouge Tomate
Raj Vaidya, Daniel Restaurant
Thomas Pastuszak, Nomad Restaurant
Mollie Battehouse, VOS/ Maslow 6
Michael Madrigale, Bar Boulud
Jordan Salcito, Momofuku
Erin Scala, Public Restaurant
Kristie Petrullo, Petrullo Consulting
Matthew Conway, Marc Forgione
Josh Nadel, Dutch/Locanda Verde
Yannick Benjamin, Le Du’s Wines
Jean Luc Le Du, Le Du’s Wines
Eric Hastings, Brushstroke
Dana Gaiser, Martine’s Wines
Alexis Brock, Lot 18
Andre Compeyre, Benoit Restaurant
Sean Kerby, Riverpark
Andy Shernoff, Musician
Tom Gannon, Spire Collection
…and to close, artisanal cognacs by Nicolas Palazzi
Advance tickets are available by calling Le Du’s Wines at212-924-6999 or by ordering online here.

If you are unable to attend, but still would like to show your support please make a donation through the website.
Still not convinced?
Watch Yannick and Alex clowning in theirWine on Wheels promotional video.

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Filed under Fundraisers, Wine on Wheels

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Sell First Vintage of Château Miraval Rosé

Photo by Lauren Mowery

In case you missed my column in the Village Voice this morning…

The vinous baby of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt has finally arrived stateside! If you haven’t heard, Brangie are now Provençal winemakers, having delivered their inaugural vintage of rosé from their Château Miraval estate last week. But erase any vision of Angie lovingly tending vines in muddy boots, hair matted to forehead under the hot midsummer sun; or Brad, come harvest time, with his usual overgrown goatee, gently picking grapes during cool pre-dawn hours and hand-sorting them at the table. That’s only in the movies, folks.

In reality, if you own a château as a second, third, or sixth home, you probably aren’t foot-stomping fruit. But that doesn’t mean the wine isn’t good. Miraval has a history of quality organic wine production long before its celebrity ownership, most notably for its Pink Floyd rosé, so named because the group recorded part of their album The Wall in the château’s recording studio.

In recent years, the 1,000-acre estate was acquired by the duo through the glitterati version of rent-to-own (they leased for several years before dropping $60 million on the property). As far as their new wine label, someone else was hired to do everything but pay the mortgage. Well, not just someone. The Jolie-Pitts teamed up with Marc Perrin, owner of famed Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, to turn a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Rolle into the high-profile Miraval Provence Rosé 2012 with the Jolie-Pitt & Perrin names featured on the back.

If you actually care about tasting the celebrity couple’s wine, move quickly. Their first offering, released on the château’s website in early March, sold out in six hours — a winemaker’s wet dream and one that is definitely not recurring for most. Fortunately for us New Yorkers, Union Square Wines just received one of the largest allotments in the country. As a recipient of USQ’s newsletter, I was notified a month ago that I could pre-order a bottle to ensure one precious little Jolie-Pitt rosé would be mine. I felt like a sucker for buying it, but inquiring minds want to know: Is it worth the hype?

The bottle itself is gorgeous, reminiscent of Ruinart Champagne’s curvy, sexy glass, although the unwieldy shape (and enormous punt!) doesn’t easily lend itself to storage. Not that you would stick this in your wine fridge for any length of time — the luminescent, salmon-pink juice practically dares you not to cut the foil and uncork it immediately. The wine inside is perfumed and smacks of summer: blooming jasmine and honeysuckle, red fruits of cherry, raspberry and watermelon, plus zippy citrus peel. Refreshing. Eminently drinkable. As lyrical asA River Runs Through It? Not quite; but profoundly better than that overhyped stinker Salt.

USQ still has a few cases in stock. Bottles are priced at $22.99 or $19.99 each if you buy six. But my advice is to buy one, skip the case, and diversify your rosé portfolio. France, Spain and USA, to name a few, all have exciting offerings from family-owned wineries of ardent vintners who can’t sell out of a wine based on star power in 6 hours, let alone 6 months, even if their wines should.


Filed under Chateau Miraval

New Latitude Wines: Weird Places Making OK Wine!

Namibian Wine.jpg

We are officially into spring. Flowers cautiously poke their heads from protective sheaths of green, and birds dare chirp a tune on tree boughs breaking buds. But no, we are not fooled. We New Yorkers know April barely a guarantees freedom from winter, or at least cold, grey and rainy days. So, our dreams of travel to exotic locales persist until that first trip to the North Fork or a Hamptons beach. Curiously, travels to humid, tropical or desert destinations now bring the opportunity to taste local vinos dubbed by everyone else but the locals “new latitude wines.”

Traditionally, only regions roughly between latitudes 30 and 50 were considered suitable for viticulture. Tropical or desert zones were a no-no for quality wine production due to factors such as weather, soil and access to fresh water. Yet people are planting vines all over the world, using different grapes and new technologies.

Even Robert Parker acknowledged the phenomenon: After turning over editorial oversight to his Singapore team, they announced plans for a correspondent dedicated to Asian juice. These wines have a long way to go before they make it to your table at home, but here are five countries giving it a go:

1. Namibia
Brangelina’s baby Shiloh and the world’s oldest desert come to mind when envisioning Namibia. But the country was colonized by Germans, and sure enough, a few of them planted vines to provide drink for the expats. Only a few wineries are producing quaffable stuff like Kristall Kellerei winery outside of Omaruru. They make a white Colombard and Ruby Cabernet (stick with the Colombard) plus a line-up of schnaps. Spend the afternoon in their garden with a unique albeit tasty charcuterie plate of springbok, ostrich and zebra served with a chilled bottle of white.

2. Tahiti
A vineyard on a coral reef? If there was enough wine being made on the island of Rangiroa that I could convince the IRS of a work-related write-off, I would be on a plane in less than 24. The second largest atoll in the world is home to theDominique Auroy Winery which produces French Polynesia’s own wine label, Vin de Tahiti. White, rosé, red and sweet wines are made, although word through the coconut radio is that the experiment is a money and resource suck overseen by a rich French businessman, proving more novelty than serious solution for a wine-starved nation.

Rice Paddies Bali.jpg

3. Bali 

Hot and wet may be desirable for a certain film industry, but not for growing grapes. Yet, Hatten winery, after years of trial and error, has managed to produce wine in Bali’s notoriously muggy environment. Giving up on traditional European varieties, they found a few oddball table grapes like Belgia for whites and Alphonse Lavallée for red and rosé to be effective in the climate; enough so to win a few international medals. Interestingly, Hatten also makes a traditional method sparkling wine from a local grape called Probolinggo Biru.

4. Thailand 
Hostess bars, spicy food, and shimmering beaches could sum up the usual tourist experience. Now you can add wine tasting to the list. Thailand has a growing industry with almost ten producers, the leading manufacturer being Siam Winery. The company grows and buys grapes in the “floating vineyards” of the Chao Phraya Delta south of Bangkok. The whole set-up sounds bizarre, but initial reports are, um, optimistic? Siam’s winery near Hua Hin offers the quintessential Thai touch–elephant tours through the vineyard.

5. Costa Rica 
So You Think You Can Make Wine? Napa Valley wine consultant Kerry Damskey does. His newly built winery and vineyard are located above the small city of Copey in central Costa Rica. At an altitude of 2000 meters, he planted Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache in December 2011. The first vintage will be released in 2015, so plan your trip accordingly if wine tasting ranks as high on your “to do” list as riding the zip-line.

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Filed under New Latitude Wines