the last two weeks I have been travelling in South Africa, and with
the exception of just a couple of meals, Iíve eaten fish. Thereís
plenty of it here, and at very affordable prices, and with the
beautifully warm February weather itís been an appealing option.
Most restaurants here offer line-caught fish of
the day: as this is commonly the only fresh local option, in my quest
for fresh local produce, itís the one Iíve plumped for. And under
the bright southern sun, itís usually the most rewarding choice.
Fresh fish that doesnít taste fishy, but instead delicate and light,
is a treasure, a joy. It also provides a nice foil for white wine,
which Iíve been drinking more of than I usually do. Itís one of
lifeís ironies that in countries more suited to red wine production
(typically warmer climates), white wines are what you most commonly
feel drawn too. South Africa is better known as a red wine country,
but its whites are increasingly worthy of attention. In experimenting
with matching wine to fish, Iíve made some tentative conclusions.
First, oaky whites donít make great matches for fish,
unless the fish is served in a rich sauce. Thereís a place for
oak-aged Chardonnay, but I get the feeling that the tide is now
turning: whereas Chardonnay has enjoyed massive popularity in recent
years, people are increasingly turning to Sauvignon Blanc. Now, Iíll
be honest. Sauvignon canít really match Chardonnay for complexity
and interest at the top end, but good commercial Sauvignon (unoaked)
usually makes a much better food match than commercial Chardonnay
(with its sweet veneer of oak).
Unloading the catch
at Hout Bay
|With fish, Sauvignon is king. Itís food compatibility may
well be the reason for its current resurgence here in South
Africa. Mike Ratcliffe of Warwick Estate has seen the light:
heís developing a Sauvignon, which heís named Professor
Black: first vintage was 2002, with a measly 800 cases, but
this will expand over the next couple of years to 17 000
cases. Anticipated retail will be under £8 in the UK. In my
opinion, he's wise to keep the price down. While I enjoy Sauvignon, I canít
see a good reason for spending ore than a tenner on a
wine made from this grape. And a gap in the market is opening
up: whereas New Zealand has long held the Sauvignon crown,
their decent examples are now creeping up past the £10 mark,
leaving the £5-8 bracket largely open for competitors. But thatís a separate issue.
Back to Fish. Thereís something about the sea thatís
special, and thereís something about the fruit of the oceanís
thatís also special. Such a tragedy, then, that over-fishing has
threatened the existence of many fish stocks around the world. For
now, though, where good fish is available, itís high on my list of
restaurant choices, and Iíll be looking for a fresh, unoaked white
with good acidity to pair with it.
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