a view into the sordid life i lead

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Wine and Chocolate Experience

Our attempts to get to table mountain were thwarted by the constant table cloth ever since Saturday. But we had a free invite to The Chocolate and Wine Experience (note that it's not just a tasting) out at the Waterford vineyards. We tried to get Warren to go, but he doesn't drink, so we decided not to drag him along kicking and screaming.

The Waterford is a beautiful estate. Check it out at It's a taste of tuscany in the western cape.

I'm of two minds about the entire idea of recreating a place with no integration of the local culture. None of the vineyards that we've been to have anything that's distinctly South African. They've all tried to recreate a European aesthetic, probably because they're all white European descendants, with arguable success. Even the most successful recreations (for example the Waterford), however, have a not-quite-there air about them. They're a stage set for the affluent to forget about the reality of Africa that lies within 5 miles of the entrance. It's a common thread in all 3rd world contries tho', not just those that have such a strong European connection. (But then again, is there any place in the 3rd world that did not have a European overlord?). The rich want to escape the local culture to build fabulous facsimiles of foreign, romantic locales. I'm overstating the case here a bit, since the Waterford really is amazingly beautiful with its terracotta roofs, stucco walls, and massive courtyard which is where the wine-tasting takes place, surrounded by vineyards, mountains and oak trees (yup, more oak trees!).

It could be argued that the entire wine country experience in the Stellenbosch is a show. However, some of the vineyards make the stage less tacky than others. Dellheim and Blaauwklippen are total tourist traps that have "Tacky" stencilled on their nameplates. You stand in line for the tastings, and feel like a high-school kid drinking surreptitiously because you look old enough. Jordan, Warwick and Waterford are class acts, where you are served at a table, and a pretty young waitress explains the libations and encourages you to keep drinking! Seems like it should be a well known secret: make the guest feel welcome and they'll head off hauling a case of wine; treat them like crap and they'll avoid you. This basic theory seems to be missing in many of the vineyards, and it's damn unfortunate. I'm completely making this up, but it's possible that the fact that I'm Indian may have contributed to the bad service at some of these places - I've heard both before and after our trip that inter-racial couples are still a bit of a weirdness in some places in SA.

The Waterford is less than 10 years old, but the setting gives it the air of an old Italian villa which has been tended for a hundred years.
The tasting at the Waterford is definitely a gimmick, but as good as a gimmick gets! The tasting starts off with white wine - which we're not that crazy about, but tolerate since it's free! These guys make great wine. Even the whites make an impression on us - they're really that good. The focal-point of the Waterford visit is, of course, the chocolate and wine, which is a pairing of specialty Waterford chocolates paired with Waterford red and dessert wines. The idea is similar to cheese pairings - the different chocolates complement specific flavors in the wine, thus heightening the experience of the wine. I'm cynical.

After the white wines (a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, the best of which was the Chenin Blanc), a large wooden block, about the size of a large cigar box was put down in front of us, with a thumb-tacked vellum parchment. The parchment was a wine flight printout - 3 wines paired with 3 chocolates. The Kevin Arnold Shiraz paired with rock-salt dark chocolate, the Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon paired with masala chai milk chocolate and the Waterford Heatherleigh, a dessert wine, paired with a raisin/current white choc. The setting is damn beautiful. Even my cynical yuppie mind is thinking "man this is going to taste good!".

When we went on our jaunts of the different vineyards on Saturday, we mentioned to a few of the waitstaff that we had tried to get to the Waterford and got this wine and choc tasting coupon. Pretty much everyone we told this to was envious. Now we know why. The idea of choc and wine may sound odd and bourgeous and overly decadent, but it works! It's damn nice to sit at the foothills of a mountain, surrounded by vineyards and fake Tuscany and fountains, and sip wine and nibble on fine chocolate. Obviously, we ended up bringing back a few bottles - the stuff really is that good! Definitely an Experince, rather than a Tasting.

If you're interested in the Waterford, or visiting them, their info is on their website.


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