A tale of 2 Pinot Noirs

Meerlust Estate is a great winery located in Stellenbosch near Cape Town in South Africa. I first discovered the Estate tasting their flagship wine, the Rubicon. It is a great Bordeaux Blend made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

In a previous visit to that region, I had arrived too late on a Saturday afternoon and the winery was already closed (only open from 10am to 2pm on Saturdays). This time, I left earlier to make sure I could hit the tasting room and discover their other wines.

Meerlust Pinot Noir

Meerlust Pinot Noir

The most notable tasting experience this time was around their Pinot Noir. They offered both a 2008 and a 2003 for tasting. In between the two vintages, the winemaker had changed and so this was a unique experience not only to taste a vertical of the Pinot Noir but also see how much the winemaker had impacted the type of wine.

The 2003 was very nice on the nose with refined and complex odors. The color was on the darker side. The taste was great with flavours that lasted long in mouth and evolved as the wine made its way through the palate. It was very much in the spirit of a nice Burgundy wine and could definitively still age well.

The 2008, on the other hand, was much closer to a typical new world wine. It had strong fruity odors and equally intense fruit flavors in the mouth. The taste remained equal through the tasting and the wine did not exhibit much complexity.

In talking with the person in charge of the tasting, he volunteered that the new winemaker wanted to achieve a wine easier to drink and one that could be sold and drunk faster than the previous generation Pinot Noir. He added that the economic requirement was important in the mix and keeping the wines in the cellar for too long before they were ready for consumption had a cash flow impact on the winery so the new winemaking model chosen allowed a faster sell of the new vintages.

OK, I get that… but then he added that pretty much anyone who tasted the two one after the other, would prefer the 2003. Wow, I did not expect that. Please, please, please Meerlust Estate, go back to your old ways!

Le Quartier Francais

After getting strong advice from Cape Town based colleagues, I finally managed to score a booking at Le Quartier Francais. The restaurant is located Rue Des Huguenots in Fransschoek… how can a French person not be drawn to it?

It is 1 hour outside of Cape Town but as I will repeat at the end of this post, a drive absolutely worth it!

So the net for those who do not want to read a long post:

  • Nice setting and atmosphere with interesting modern art on the walls
  • Good service without the typical snooty french waiter
  • Amazing food experience, really amazing!
  • Nice wine pairing exercise for the most part – and with all local wines

The setting:
The restaurant is in a nice little building in the main street of Fransschoek. The building is almost hidden away behind some trees and you can easily miss it at first (yes, I missed it…).
Inside, the restaurant offers two experiences: The Tasting Room and the Common Room.

Artwork at Le Quartier Francais

Artwork at Le Quartier Francais

The Tasting room is where the dinner magic happens. It filled up rather quickly and not a single table was left empty. That is why it was hard to get a reservation even in the middle of the week.

There are a few pieces of modern art on the walls in a style that I generally like. Of course this was taken with my phone so the quality is not great but if you look closely, it feels like a local version of a Charles Fazzino piece.

And now, the main part about the experience…

The Menu and Wine pairing – the food was simply amazing!

Lightly smoked algoa bay oyster, chorizo, cucumber and granadilla with a glass of Rupert & Rothschild classique 2008 — very tasty oyster and the wine was a nice match.

Lemon poached west coast crayfish tail, prawn wafer, marshmallow with a glass of Porcupine cabernet sauvignon 2009 — the wine was probably too young or needed some decanting.

Northern province foie gras custard, african soil, suurvy with a glass of Porcupine syrah 2009 — an incredible twist on the foie gras. I simply loved it and it was very original cooked custard-style. The wine was good as well, much better than the previous one (from the same winery).

Sous vide quail breast, truffled quail egg, aspargus with a glass of Stony brook SMV 2007 — the quail was good but the egg was even better (the hint of truffle oil made a huge difference).

Eight hour “wonder bag” samp, buchu, sunflower with a glass of Haute Cabriere pinot noir 2007 — good risotto style cooked african samp but nothing quite as original in taste as the previous dishes. The wine was very good though: an interesting Pinot Noir on the lighter side.

Braised, free range klein karoo lamb breast, chakalaka marmalade, lemon basil, salted grapes, roast garlic with a glass of Anthonij Rupert merlot 2006 — very tasty meat but, sadly, the wine was very much under par and did not do it much justice.

Swissland drakensberg, rhubarb, organic baby figs with a glass of Moreson pinotage 2008 — the cheese plate: OK but not that great. The wine was good though and above par.

Pear and baobab parfait, lemon verbena, verjuice, pistachio with a glass of Silverthorn genie brut rosé 2008 — awesome methode champenoise rosé wine. Completely made me forget the taste of the desert on this one.

Orange and buttermilk cannelloni, jersey milk sherbet, fennel with a glass of Rickety Bridge natural sweet chenin blanc 2009 — good and fresh desert to finish off the experience. Really nice wine that was not too sweet.

If you ever get to that region of the world, Le Quartier Francais is overall a great experience. I highly recommend it!

(and when compared with US or French equivalent restaurants, it is a steal!)

Une Table au Sud

This is a very special restaurant for me: situated on the “vieux port” in Marseille, directly overlooking the water, it is where we got married.

We had decided on a small wedding in a nice restaurant. After trying out a few nice places in Paris, directly around Paris and in the south of France, we decided for Une Table au Sud. Chef Lionel Lévy had recently opened the place and not yet achieved his first Michelin Star. But his cuisine was very inventive and refined. The first menu we ate there was an all-truffle menu and it was simply was above anything else truffle-related we tasted the same season.

Here is an example of a very creative desert that I particularly enjoyed at one of my most recent visits to this establishment:

Une Table au Sud, Chocolate Desert 1

Chocolate Desert - 1

You are first presented with a big round ball made of chocolate, served with a very fresh granité

He then pours a warm sauce over the chocolate ball. The sauce is just a little sweet and will be doing great with the dark chocolate once you get to taste it.

Une Table au Sud, Chocolate Desert 2

Chocolate Desert - 2

As the warm sauce melts the chocolate ball, it exposes a very nice ice cream inside.

Very nice visually and even better on the palate.

As with any good Hollywood movie with a happy ending, Lionel Lévy got his very first Michelin Star the very year we got married!

Over the years, we have gone to his restaurant many times and never been disappointed.

Domaine de Terrebrune, 2003

Magnum of Red Bandol, Domaine de Terrebrune, 2003

Domaine de Terrebrune, 2003

This is one of my favorite wines. The Bandol region in the south of France, is primarily known for its rosé wines. The production of red wines is a very small one.

In my experience the red bandols can be either great or bad. Not many are “in the middle”.

I had the opportunity of tasting this magnum bottle of the Domaine de Terrebrune with a group of friends, on a relaxing Parisian evening. One of those nice August days where you can sit outside until very late.

The wine was very good and we had it with a nice “piece de boeuf”, grilled rare. The wine was ripe for drinking and opened up very nicely as the evening progressed. No need to carafe it.

In my opinion, Domaine de Terrebrune is one of the few producers of Red Bandol that has consistently made high quality.