Two hundred years ago, the acknowledged role of women was to run the household, look pretty, and, when they weren’t making dinner, make babies. Not so at Neethlingshof Wine Estate in Stellenbosch.
This wine estate is steeped in an intriguing history dating back to 1788, when Charles Marais and his eighteen-year old wife, Maria Magdalena Marais, purchased the land. He died soon after, leaving the estate in the hands of his most capable wife, who took over the reins of running the entire farm, expanded the acreage of vineyards, completed building the manor house, and became winemaker.
While Neethlingshof was eventually named after Maria’s son-in-law, Johannes Neethling, this wine estate is testament to the incredible character, drive, and capabilities of women, especially at a time when the prevailing attitude towards them was condescending. Maria was one of Stellenbosch’s and indeed the Cape’s first female winemakers and I would give my eye teeth to be able to teleport back to the 1800’s and sit down with her over a bottle of her own wine.
It was this history that had me so enthusiastic to visit Neethlingshof on a spectacular spring day. The other reasons I was enthusiastic are obvious: food and wine! Neethlingshof carries a formidable reputation for making great wines, while the restaurant is housed in a beautifully preserved example of Cape Dutch architecture, with its thatched roof, elegant gables, and blindingly white walls.
On this day, we had been invited to sample the restaurant’s new spring menu and I just knew we were in for a treat!
The new spring menu and spring special
In honour of the prevailing season, Neethlingshof’s Executive Chef, Brendan Stein, has just launched its new spring menu, which is a lip-smacking and eye-pleasing celebration of the season’s bright colours, flavours, and fresh ingredients.
The estate is also participating in Restaurant Week, offering guests a fabulous spring special that includes a complimentary glass of Hill & Dale Prosecco on arrival and a two-course lunch for R250 or a three-course dinner for R350. This, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a total bargain for a multi-course meal in the winelands and especially for an estate of this calibre.
Three-course lunch with wine
We were treated to a three-course lunch that was entirely Chef Brendan’s design, who made sure to showcase the spring menu to its fullest with a different dish each for starters, mains, and desserts. Our meal began with a bright and colourful flourish with the grilled peach and Parma ham salad, featuring goat’s cheese, rocket, mint, compressed winter melon, honey nut granola, and raspberry dressing; and a calamari starter of crispy baby calamari and squid heads served with a yuzu emulsion, delightful dots of miso caramel, pickled kohlrabi, and preserved Jerusalem artichoke.
With the estate’s entire repertoire of wines at our disposal, I chose the flagship white blend (The Six Flowers), while my partner opted for the cheery, fruity Chenin Blanc 2017 – a most excellent accompaniment on this, one of the hottest and most beautiful spring days we’ve had this year.
The main course was the pan-fried linefish (kingklip) served with steamed mussels and clams, baby spinach, and Parisienne potatoes in a gorgeous and rich saffron velouté sprinkled with smoked paprika oil; and ostrich fillet coated with ras el hanout spice (an aromatic North African spice) served with charred baby carrots, carrot and cumin purée, coriander yoghurt, and pleasant little pops of sweetness courtesy of a scattering of pomegranate seeds.
For this course, our server brought us three wines to taste: the Jackal’s Dance Sauvignon Blanc 2017, which paired well with the kingklip, and, for the ostrich, the Veritas double gold award-winning Owl Post Pinotage 2016 and the Caracal Bordeaux-style blend, both absolutely beautiful wines!
The final course consisted of two plates that pretty much epitomize spring – an artwork of caramelized petals and dabs of brightly coloured deliciousness. The one was a rose panna cotta, which was served with a sweet entourage of pistachio halva, cardamom crumb, lavender scented sponge, crystalized rose petals, dehydrated yoghurt, and yoghurt sorbet. The other, a sublime coconut and granadilla parfait with coconut crumble, strawberry and lime gel, pink meringues, white chocolate aero, and pineapple crisps.
I’ll be back
It was Neethlingshof’s incredible backstory that first captured my attention – girl power! The delicious food, beautiful wines, and warm service captured the rest of me. I loved that Chef Brendan visited our table to chat about the menu, and our wonderful server, who kept us amply wined, made sure that we tottered unsteadily away from our table. The oak-shaded estate itself is gorgeous with a wine tasting centre I could happily spend several hours in.
The verdict is unanimous: we shall certainly be back!
For more information about Neethlingshof and to make a reservation at their gorgeous restaurant, visit www.neethlingshof.co.za or call the restaurant on (021) 883 8966.