White wine from red grapes... it’s a thing

Mellasat winemaker and sales manager Gizelle Coetzee and Flava sous chef Daniel Barnard paired the winery’s intriguing white pinotage with a slow-roasted lamb shank at a recent event at Flava in Richmond Hill
Mellasat winemaker and sales manager Gizelle Coetzee and Flava sous chef Daniel Barnard paired the winery’s intriguing white pinotage with a slow-roasted lamb shank at a recent event at Flava in Richmond Hill
Image: Sam Venter

Partner a chef who cheerfully thumbs his nose at convention with a wine that doesn’t match conventional notions of red or white wine, and an interesting dinner is sure to ensue.

Flava chef-owner John Burger, faced with the conundrum of Mellasat’s Sigma White Pinotage (it really is white wine, not the faintest blush of pink about it), said he decided to “turn convention on its head” – serving red before white, and white with red meat – in a food-wine pairing filled with clever flavour combinations at the Richmond Hill restaurant.

Mellasat in Paarl made the world’s first white pinotage in 2007 and it’s one of a handful that fall into the strange category of “white wine from red grapes but not blanc de noir”.

Since it’s the grape skins, stems and seeds that give red wine its colour and tannins – the juice itself is pale green – the white pinotage is made by pressing the whole bunches and having the juice run off immediately, keeping skin contact to the bare minimum.

The result is a Platter four-starred wine that doesn’t taste or feel like a red wine, even if you close your eyes, and despite the subtly wooded character, it’s nothing like chardonnay or chenin.

The wine is finely textured, with intriguing complex flavours – rich creaminess and a light touch of spice from 11 months “relaxing” in oak balanced with some crisp minerality, and tropical pineapple and banana notes.

The Mellasat team suggest pairing it with mild chicken curries and boldly-flavoured fish and seafood, but chef Burger doesn’t take the hint and instead serves it with lamb shank, slow-roasted in pineapple juice, beer and butter, with a sweet chili reduction and creamy mashed potato studded with crushed pistachios.

The pairing hits the mark spot-on – the flavours and textures of the food and wine “pop” together, particularly the pineapple and chilli that brings out a spark in the wine.

Convention has it that you serve red wine after the white, but here we had started with a red, the Mellasat Tempranillo, with its dry spice and smokiness playing happily with crisp, flavourful arancini (Italian-style crumbed, fried risotto balls) stuffed with chorizo and oozy cheese, served with smoked beechwood and saffron aioli.

Mellasat Tuin Wyn, a chenin straw wine, came with lemon-lime cheesecake and honey-butterscotch sauce, and strict instructions from Burger to squeeze the juice out of the lime slice atop the cake.

Good thinking, because the fresh sour zing of lime made the whole affair come alive, complementing the dessert wine’s sweet-savoury notes of honey, marmalade and apricots.

Mellasat wines are available at Life is Grape in Main Road, Walmer, and selected Preston’s stores.

(Look out for their easy-drinking, great value Dekker’s Valley Seraphic, a blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc and viognier with some floral and aromatic complexity and green apple crispness.)

Flava will be running monthly food-wine pairing dinners – see their its Facebook page for updated info.

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