Food-wine pairing dinner at Victorian Hacklewood Hill recalls ‘bygone era’, pre-lockdown

Jordan Wines general manager Jacques Steyn and chef Natasha Smith present perfect evening

Hacklewood chef Natasha Smith's slow-roasted pork belly is a winner with the Jordan Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, presented by Jordan general manager Jacques Steyn
PERFECTLY PAIRED: Hacklewood chef Natasha Smith's slow-roasted pork belly is a winner with the Jordan Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, presented by Jordan general manager Jacques Steyn
Image: SUPPLIED

You know “the new normal” is becoming closer to “actually normal” when you can indulge once again in a luxurious food-and-wine experience in person and in a real place.

Pre-Covid, wine-and-food pairing dinners at the PE Hotel Group’s Hacklewood Hill Country House and Ginger restaurant at the Beach Hotel were a regular affair and, happily, such events are slowly-slowly coming back.

Albeit slightly differently: rather than a communal table, parties are seated at their own tables and there’s sanitising, masks and so on, but nonetheless there is food prepared and served by people who are delighted to be cooking for people again, and there are wines perhaps not tasted before, presented engagingly by a knowledgeable person from the estate.

And there’s the heavy linen, candles, flowers, silver cutlery, discreet-but-attentive service, beautiful plating that adds to the enjoyment of food you haven’t cooked yourself — all those small elements that add up to making leaving home worthwhile and a special treat.

The particular occasion was a food-wine pairing dinner at Hacklewood Hill in Walmer with Jordan Wines’ general manager Jacques Steyn and a five-course menu created by chef Natasha Smith to pair with a range of the Stellenbosch estate’s wines.

Hacklewood House was built in 1898, when Walmer was a remote village on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha), as a country retreat for a prosperous family who would pack up their household in town and travel for a day over gravel tracks by ox-wagon to reach their holiday home.

It’s intriguing to think that their journey would take 10 minutes by car today and that this historic home, now in the middle of suburbia, still provides a retreat from the city life of today.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Jordan, Steyn said, was that its amphitheatre-like geography had north, east, west and south aspect slopes all on one farm, allowing the planting of a wide variety of grapes, each on its best-suited site to express the estate’s “synergy of soil and soul” philosophy.

Dinner opened with a delicate smoked chicken vol au vent, paired well with Jordan Chameleon Rosé 2020, a Merlot-Syrah with a definite pink colour, body and depth of flavour — no insipid blushing wine here, and a fresh and lively wake-up for the palate.

Steyn said Chameleon, all priced at R85, was Jordan’s “lifestyle range” meant for easy drinking around the pool or braai, and they certainly offer some of the best value for quality around.

The slight creaminess from four to six months on the lees of Cold Fact Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (R125) worked a treat with the sharper vinaigrette, tomato and sauce verde flavours of Prawn Ceviche, balancing the seafood richness and the freshness of the wine.

Jordan’s “golden thread” was freshness and liveliness, Steyn said, with cellar techniques gentle and delicate to preserve freshness and make wines with longevity that were also drinkable now and particularly enjoyable with food.

That quality came through in the wines served with the two meat courses — Jordan Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2019 (R210), matured on the lees for nine months and blended with a small tank-fermented component for freshness, a favourite pairing of the night with slow-roasted pork.

Rich and voluptuous with fresh citrus flavours, the fruitiness and creaminess of the wine was a hit with the rich melt-in-the-mouth pork, balancing the crunch of fresh apple slivers and the intense savouriness of chef Smith’s inspired smoked apple jelly beads dotting the plate.

Similarly, the Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (R210), though densely flavourful with the classic Cab essence of cedar, blackberries and smokiness, has that hallmark freshness, along with rich elegance.

The wine flavours played nicely with subtle mint on a juicy rack of lamb with blackberry jus, the wine freshening the richness of the meat.

One of very few noble late harvests produced from Riesling, the honeyed, not sticky, sweetness, with a touch of fresh acidity, of Jordan Mellifera (R250) made a very happy partner to a creamy dessert of burnt honey pannacotta, apricot compote, vanilla crumble and vanilla syrup pairing beautifully with the flavours of the dessert wine.

The cherry on top? The feeling of escaping the city and daily drudgery with a night in one of Hacklewood’s sumptuously comfortable suites with a view over the lush garden, a four-poster bed and vast Victorian-style bathroom.

The suites (ours the Flamingo, once slept in by Thabo Mbeki, while Madiba did once rest his head in the Madiba Room) feature chandeliers and Persian carpets, thoughtful touches like nuts and fruit for midnight snacks, biscotti for morning coffee, luxury toiletries and robes, heated towel rails, candles and matches next to the antique claw-footed bath and all the modern comforts you could wish for (including TV and Wi-Fi if you must) discreetly tucked away amid the vintage decor.

In the middle of suburban Walmer, Hacklewood feels like an escape to a country retreat far from the madding crowd, just 10-15 minutes from home, with staff ready to cater to your every whim.

A selection of both healthy and hearty breakfast options in the morning, a wander through the garden and a browse through history in the drawing room, all that’s needed to clear away the morning-after cobwebs.

Hacklewood Hill has some great special offers to entice locals to get travelling again, valid until January — R675 a person a night sharing, including breakfast, is a bargain and, even better, the Romance package at R1,900 a couple a night includes sunset bubbly and canapés, a three-course dinner and breakfast.

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