“We’re a family restaurant and we encourage sharing” burbled the waitron at dinner at Nobu last night. But at R650 for an omakase, the family she had in mind must be the Ruperts. Or the Chenin Blanc Association which on Monday hosted a five course extravagance to showcase the charms of Chenin. A cultivar I’d always thought of as making the People’s Wine as it’s the most ubiquitous grape in the national vineyard. Which is why we’re pairing it with pizza, the People’s Plate, at za, our pop-up Chenin Pizzera in partnership with Mastrantonio at Food|Wine|Design on the roof of the Hyde Park Shopping centre at the end of November.
“I like it” said Antonio Amorim (above, right) “you’re marketing wine to a whole new audience.” And when I asked him to sponsor the polystyrene tubes for Mr. Delivery to supply hot pizza and ice cold Chenin to responsible drinkers dining at home, he said “we’re in” turning to his Amorim Cork SA CEO Joaquim Sá (above, left). “Charge it to my budget.” Maybe we can even make cork coolers for Mr. Delivery’s scooters, as if cork can insulate the Space Shuttle on re-entry, keeping your cool next to a hot pizza should be a doddle. Besides, with Shuttles mothballed, there must be spare capacity that SA Chenin can take up. Consumers will love them as they’ll be recyclable BYO coolers. Heck we could even paint them green to keep WOSA happy!
Nobu is about as far away from a pizzeria as you can get, which must explain why Joaquim ordered no Chenin. Sauvignon Blanc (a stunning Cape Point Vineyards example), a chalky unwooded Chardonnay (Bouchard Finlayson whose owner Vicki Tolman was the belle of Cape Wine 2012 yesterday) and a fabulous Creation Pinot Noir full of tangy maritime mystery. Antonio was on a roll, sparking observations SA marketers would kill to understand, rather than the hackneyed old clichés (ancient soils, stunning strellizias) that had celebrity media scratching their moleskins yesterday and groaning in their velveteen jackets.
“SA and Chile are not in the driving seat of their own wine industries. UK and Scandinavian supermarkets call the shots.” Which is clear from the numbers: over half of SA exports are now bulk and the clamour for cork closures is largely driven by the convenience a screw cap brings for chavs. Fairtrade is a salve for UK corporate consciences while the sudden popularity of low alcohol wines coincides with a UK fatwa on binge drinking.
But China has stepped in to save the cork industry as the Chinese word for luxury is France and the French, by and large, don’t screw their bottles. Customers are another matter entirely. And in the same way we were trying to divide our communal omakases with chopsticks when the more functional knives and forks were ignored in the interests of fashion, so too are screw caps eschewed in the East. Heck the few SA wines sold in the Middle Kingdom look more Medoc than Malmesbury – thank heaven for Le Huguenots!
Antonio is even confident of winning back Australia from the Screws. “I tell my Australian friends that I’ve never drunk a French wine. I’ve had Burgundy and Bordeaux and even an Alsatian, but French, never. In the same way Australians, who are clever people, are rediscovering regionality. The Clare makes the best Riesling, Barossa for Shiraz, Margaret River for Chardonnay and it’s Coonawarra for Cabernet. Corks have a role to play in regionality as it’s all about perception of value by consumers.” Which is something no one would ever accuse Nobu of. But then the sushi was some of the best I’ve eaten this side of Sapporo.