A match made in the Valley of Heaven and Earth
A carefully considered canapé and wine pairing at Creation Wines is a six-course joyful journey that celebrates the magic of spring.
The various levels of lockdown had everyone on a roller coaster ride, but not a great one. The best are those that fill you with titillating terror while at the same time a tiny bit of your brain is trying to reassure you you are not actually going to die that day (although if you do a bit of Googling, this is not entirely ruled out).
The same cannot be said for the past six months, arguably the worst in most living memories. Open, closed, wine, no wine, takeaway, sit-down… it’s been madness. Creation Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, however, somehow managed to stay relevant by being, well, creative.
The first innovation, when drinking in public was not permitted, were the Alchemy Tasting Kits, which could be delivered anywhere in the world.
Creation co-owner (with her husband, winemaker JC) Carolyn Martin is famous for her exceptional – and often unusual – pairings, her creativity, and her exquisite attention to detail (and as I know her, always flawlessly, immaculately and stylishly groomed; we women notice such things). Thus, in addition to the six little bottles of wine, precisely measured for a tasting, are intriguing accompaniments, like a seashell, salt, liquorice root powder, and rose spray, as well as biscuits, chips and nuts (note, the edibles are not available for overseas deliveries … so many rules about food export).
With the kit, you also get to have an interactive encounter with a personal guide from Creation who will host the tasting; included is a flavour wheel and tasting chart. The latter essentially follows the five primary taste groups of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami and explores the elements of smell or aroma, temperature, texture, and memories and experience. Before your tasting you receive six short videos pertaining to the six wines in the kit as well as a dedicated Creation Spotify playlist to create the perfect vibe and mood for your virtual pairing.
The tasting begins with the minerality of a tropical-leaning Sauvignon Blanc, then the fruity tones of Viognier paired with spicy soy cashew nuts and miso, and sun-kissed Chardonnay to sip while nibbling on smoked paprika, Parmesan and poppy seed biscuits, which for my money should be ordered by the packetful simply to enjoy whenever.
Next up is the cultivar for which the region is renowned, Pinot Noir, with which is all red berries and earthiness. Its partners are beetroot crisps, King Oyster mushroom chips, a poppy seed za’atar cracker, and a heart-shaped miso pretzel studded with red wine salt.
One of the fascinating things about Pinot Noir, says JC, is that it’s not very often the red wine with which you begin your career (you’ve got to love that, it’s so serious). “Most people will start off preferring a Cab Sav or Syrah. If they don’t really have the chance to drink high level Pinot Noir, they may give up and stick to others.
“As soon as you get in a position to have a chance to drink those top quality high end Pinots I think it really can start to hook you in a way that won’t let go,” he said.
The three Pinots demonstrate what Creation does, continues JC. “The idea with Pinot is that your ultimate goal is always to have pure site reflection in the glass. This was introduced to perfection in Burgundy and copied all over the world.
“It’s a cultivar whose site does reflect quite well in the glass so therefore as we have extra vineyard age on our estate – coming close to 20 years – I think we are at the point of getting into the kind of expression of different sites. Although soil structure is the same, there are different aspects, different plants, microclimates.”
In his 2020 South Africa Special Report, Tim Atkin said: “As Creation’s vines get older, so the quality of the Pinot Noirs they produce continues to increase.”
Ten Creation wines qualified for a Medal of Excellence in this year’s report, which means scores of 90 points and higher. Three of these wines also qualified for a Gold Medal: the 2019 Art of Creation Pinot Noir at 97 points, the 2019 Art of Creation Chardonnay at 96 points and the 2019 Emma’s Pinot Noir at 95 points.
Where were we? Oh that’s right. The Alchemy Kit. The Syrah Grenache Rhône-style blend has intense flavours of ripe plum, black pepper, tapenade and umami, elevated by the tiniest dab of liquorice powder. Who’d have thought?
The experience concludes with the Grenache Noir Viognier Rosé. Why at the end, when tastings usually follow the colour spectrum from light to dark? Because it’s dessert. A spritz of rosewater and cardamom spray refreshes the nose, and a Turkish delight is a mouthful of pure pleasure which utterly delighted me.
And then came that fateful night, dark and stormy, when all alcohol sales were banned with immediate effect, a phrase which will no doubt stick in our memories forever as we recall it with a shudder. Creation barely paused to say “here, hold my wine” before dispatching a box of its cordials, along with sparkling water and biscuits to pair.
“I was not going to give up, the government would not get me down,” said Carolyn, who was determined to find a solution to every problem. The result has been the exposure of Creation to a wider audience, and tastings for up to 20 people in seven countries – all at the same time – a modern miracle which would not have happened without global lockdown restrictions.
As this unamusing thrill ride takes us up again, Creation’s tasting room reopened in August 2020. The wine and food retain their excellence, although circumstances have dictated a carefully considered paring down of the pairings (sorry not sorry). The 10am brunch pairing is still on the menu, but it’s three courses with three wines, and a glass of Elation MCC. A non-alcoholic tea pairing is available, as is a “paradoxical” wine and chocolate pairing. The valley, with its undulating hills, is attractive to cyclists, who can stop at Creation for a breakfast made for them – a croissant filled with eggs, bacon and Hollandaise sauce, and coffee, for R60. I’m fairly confident you will be allowed to have this even if you’re not wearing a silly hat, clippety clop shoes and ludicrously luminous lycra.
A blackboard menu describes dishes that can be ordered individually, with or without the perfect glass of wine, but the main affair is the spring canapé pairing. All the miniature portions can be ordered as a main course, and when it comes to dessert there are a few additional options, like lime meringue in a cup with a shortbread biscuit; pavlova, and light-as-air almond cake with raspberries and cream. Dietary requirements such as vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and so on can be accommodated. Obviously you should say as much when booking.
For normal people, the spring menu begins with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or the newly released pale pink Rosé. (All the wines can be ordered by the glass or bottle, as can the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir gins.) We, however, commenced this lavish affair with Elation MCC, and bread baskets.
The first of six courses is a pillowy bao bun filled with lightly spiced cabbage, carrot, cucumber, coriander and Asian dressing. Floral on the nose and fresh on the palate, the 2020 Viognier is the perfect foil. My gluten-intolerant friend was presented with the same filling in translucent rice paper rolls.
“It’s almost street food but taken to a different level,” commented Carolyn.
Since it was already heading for mid-afternoon and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, Carolyn suggested we have the next course in entreé size: pork belly, leek, wholegrain mustard, king oyster mushrooms, with pineapple sage from the farm garden and a wonton crisp for texture. No one argued. The wine brings harmony in the form of Chardonnay 2018 – pears, peaches, vanilla. “The queen of white wines,” declared Carolyn. No one argued with that either.
Pinot Noir 2019 pairs with beef fillet on a beetroot chip with burnt sage, potato gnocchi, king oyster mushroom and thyme jus – echoing the pairing in the Alchemy kit; Merlot 2018 finds its soulmate with the cauliflower soup garnished with crumbs of walnut. Dig deep into that little cup because at the bottom is Gorgonzola and blueberries. Course five is chicken Ballotine with basil, teeny tiny carrots and even teenier tinier carrot blossoms, dukkah and liquorice jus. Again, you can reference the Alchemy kit, with the 2018 Syrah Grenache pairing.
Finally, there’s a chocolate macaron with flowers and raspberry, with Fine Cape Vintage port. Finally “at the table”, I should say, because on your way out, there’s a display which should not be overlooked… enticing buttery flaky croissants, tubs of honeycomb (my latest obsession, with that delicate crunch on top of golden sweetness), and other tasty treats to take home.
Surveying the busy, buzzing tasting room, Carolyn noted she gets the impression people want to be out in the countryside, in open spaces. Creation is a beautiful place to do this. As I was driving up and down the road which runs from Hermanus to Caledon for about the fourth or fifth time that day, I mused to myself how the heck dare it be so lovely? All. The. Time. DM/TGIFood
Creation Wines is in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley near Hermanus.
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