Black Elephant Vintners has long since been one of my favourite wine farms in Franschhoek, with a rock n roll approach to winemaking that shakes off all the stiff-upper-lip formalities without compromising on the taste. Music forms the cornerstone of their philosophy, both in life and in winemaking, and on visiting the farm you will have the opportunity to do a music and wine pairing where each sip is accompanied by a specific tune.
Since my first visit I’ve loved their entire ethos, and it helps that their wines are pretty delicious too. So when I was invited to try their new degustation menu with Ryan’s Kitchen I jumped at the opportunity. Kevin Swart and Jacques Wentzel, the owners of Black Elephant Vintners, sat down with Chef Ryan Smith to construct a menu that would consist of masterful combinations that showed off the best in both the wine and the food.
However, creating the perfect food and wine pairing is a tricky business – it’s not enough to simply find a wine that goes with the food. Ideally you want a combination in which the components complement each other, but also reveal new flavours when brought together. In that sense I thought the team did really well.
We kicked off our meal with the Black Elephant Vintners MCC, which remains one of my favourite bubbles from this valley (I’ll admit, the sleek black-on-black label does much to sway me). It has a touch of residual sugar so it has a slightly sweet linger to it, but it is still fairly dry so that you’ll easily reach for a second (or fourth) glass. This was paired with an octopus and apple ceviche, which I loved. The octopus had a firm but light texture and was beautifully complemented by sweet, creamy and tart touches on the plate. It also worked beautifully with the MCC, which provided a delicate sweetness and creamy mouth-feel to each bite.
From here the meal continued to shine. The second wine on our journey was the Fox and Flamingo Rosé, which is officially one of my favourites reds for the summer months. Calling it a Rosé is perhaps a bit misleading since flavour-wise it made me think more of a Cinsaut or Granache served nice and cold. Initially, with its deep red colour, I had been expecting a typically sweet rosé, but I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of the anticipated strawberry and candyfloss flavours, I found the wine rich, savoury and intricate. It was served with sashimi in a seaweed stock with paper-thin radishes. Again, the match was spot on, with an umami savoury character from the broth that balanced beautifully against the sweetness of the wine.
The third dish on the menu was certainly one of the most interesting in terms of texture. We were served a green pea gel with a drop of gooseberry and miso on the side. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it – a mousse, a gel, a spherical jelly, or perhaps something in between. It had a way of popping and dissolving in your mouth, releasing a delicately sweet pea flavour that found strength when combined with a touch of the tart gooseberry gel.
I can rave about nearly every dish. I found the snoek and sous vide baby potatoes devilishly decadent and yet pleasing, and the Parmesan cheese croquets were, as you might expect, a proper guilty pleasure. The only dish that missed the shot for me was the pan-fried linefish, which was slightly overdone in my case, and I found the accompanying sauces odd and overpowering.
But I do want to hero the final dish: a braised lamb rib, served with a peanut and spice mixture that reminded me of dukkah. The meat was perfectly soft and succulent, pulling apart at a mere suggestion, and a sticky, savoury jus brought all the notes on the plate together in an indulgent harmony. They teamed it up with the Amistad Syrah, a peppery, fruit driven wine with a dry mouth-feel and a good hit of fruit on the linger. Admittedly, I preferred the wine on its own, but it was still an enjoyable combination.
If you are keen for an interesting food outing, I can definitely recommend this. Your taste buds are in for a treat at a cost that won’t break the bank either. You can opt for a four course menu at R235, or try the full seven courses at R330 per person.