Haute Cabriere Ratafia – A Unique Pairing of Wine and Food
Tucked into the mountainside, just outside the town of Franschhoek, is the Haute Cabrière cellar. On a misty day like the one we visited, the cellar is shrouded in an ethereal mist that suits its medieval style to a tee. Inside, the restaurant and tasting room offer a warm reprieve with roaring fireplaces and cosy corners. We are welcomed by Cellarmaster Takuan von Arnim and greeted with a glass of Ratafia, which is exactly the purpose of our visit – to learn more about this unique wine. Ratafia was traditionally drunk to celebrate the signing of treaties or the passing of laws in Europe. The process of ratification to validate treaties or laws was marked by this tradition and hence the name of this style of wine. Haute Cabrière Ratafia continues this celebratory tradition with the bringing together of numerous influences – Chardonnay grapes and fortified wine, cellarmaster and chef, who work together to showcase this unique South African version of this style of wine.
As in life, the right partnership can be the key that unlocks something magical; in the case of the right food and wine pairing, it is a matching of flavours that elevate the overall experience. Haute Cabrière Ratafia is a marriage of Chardonnay grapes and carefully selected cask brandy distilled from Chardonnay grapes. Blended together they produce a delicate and appealing wine, with a nose that is an exciting blend of tropical fruit aromas and vanilla overtones. Ratafia pairs well with a variety of foods and can be enjoyed at the start of a meal to whet the appetite, or at the end of the meal as the sweet balance to say, a savoury cheese board. On a hot day it can even be enjoyed over ice as a refreshing drink.
Cellarmaster, Takuan von Arnim, and Head Chef, Dennis Strydom, work closely together to celebrate the pairing of Ratafia and great food. The food Dennis cooks is rooted in French tradition with a little South African flair, which is showcased in two dishes he has prepared for us. Firstly a traditional skilpadjie, which uses Ratafia in the dish; it also pairs exceptional well with a glass of Ratafia as the sweetness cuts through the richness of the liver. The second dish is a blue cheese and preserved fig ice cream, which balances perfectly with the wine.
We chat to both Takuan and Dennis about the wine and chef Dennis shares his recipes with us so that we can recreate the experience for ourselves at home.
TALKING TO TAKUAN VON ARNIM
What is the story behind the label design and where did the name Ratafia come from? The label design follows our Pierre Jourdan range, and the name Ratafia, which means to ratify, comes from the region of Champagne.
What is your favourite thing about the Ratafia? The pure energy that comes from the first sip of Ratafia will contribute to a great lunch and many a memorable dinner, it may be used as an aperitif or digestif – you will have the same amount of fun!
How do you like to enjoy the Ratafia? Is there another way to enjoy it other than with a dessert? The beauty of Ratafia is its versatility. On hot summer days you fill a large balloon glass with crushed ice and a slice of lime – you have a wonderful refreshing drink! On a more serious note, as an aperitif, which the French prefer, is served with liver pate, escargot, scallops, and if you ever tasted a South African skilpadjie, it’s amazing. I would see it more as a paring with blue cheese than with dessert, as the sweetness will clash with most classical desserts. However, if you must, it will pair with a dark chocolate fondant which will bring a twinkle to the bitterness of the chocolate.
Is there a little secret you can divulge about the making of Ratafia that makes it so special? I would prefer to keep it a secret as in today’s moral world I’ve noticed many a copycat and this would be damaging to the brand. So a secret remains a secret, that’s why it’s called a secret.
Could Ratafia be considered ‘art in a bottle’? Why do you think so. Oh definitely! And a definite collector’s item, belonging in the Louvre! Reason being, due to the amazing golden colour and the thickness of the wine that runs down the side of the glass, known as viscosity, reminds one of beautiful legs painted by a passionate artist.
What is your wine growing philosophy? My wine growing philosophy is utmost respect for where the grapes are grown and following a nurturing through the whole process until the wine is in the bottle safely and then with great pride and respect, sharing our love for art, passion and great wines with our customers.
TALKING TO CHEF DENNIS STRYDOM
Firstly, what two exciting dishes did you come up with that were inspired by the famed Ratafia wine? The great thing about Ratafia is that you can serve it at the start of a meal or at the end. With that in mind we went with a little South African inspiration for our first dish which is called a “skilpadjie”. This is a favourite of South African braai crowds and consists of a lamb’s liver filling held together with sheep’s caul fat. The liver is marinated in Ratafia and yoghurt and then lightly flavoured with onion, thyme and garlic.
The second dish is a blue cheese and green fig ice cream. This is something we created last season and it became so popular with the guests that we decided to keep it on as an option.
Ratafia is obviously a bold wine with a rich flavour and an important history. How did you find the task of pairing two dishes with the iconic wine? When pairing wines with our food, we always include Takuan in the process, I think that teamwork between the cellar master and chef makes the pairing so much easier. The idea for the skilpadjie’s actually came from Takuan on Friday afternoon when we were discussing the photoshoot for the Ratafia. It’s all part of team work. He had the idea and I made it happen.
Where did you find further inspiration for the dishes? I like my South African heritage, so a big part of what I do will always be influenced by that. I like to say ‘French thinking, but with South African flavours’.
Would you consider this food and wine pairing to be quite classic? What else do you like to pair with Ratafia? In essence yes, liver dishes normally do pair well with the Ratafia, the richness of the liver and sweetness of the Ratafia counters each other very well. The ice-cream dish is probably not so classic but again the essence of it will be, as blue cheese and Ratafia works very well. I like to keep things simple, so I would suggest a really good cheese platter with some home-baked crackers and fresh bread will work really well with the Ratafia. Mostly dishes with a touch of richness but not so sweet.
What can diners expect from your food now that the seasons have changed? Do you find winter exciting or a challenge? I absolutely live for winter; this is by far my most favourite season. Think warm hearty soups, slow braised venison, malva pudding and crackling fires. Comfort food, presented well with great full flavours, pure, honest, real cooking.
A quintessential South African classic, chopped liver encased in caul fat, crisped to perfection and served with melba toast. A great starter to kick off a meal.
Blue Cheese and Preserved Fig Ice Cream
A classic combination of rich blue cheese and sweet preserved figs make for a refreshing dessert. Set on a bed of cinnamon crumble and accented by shards of black pepper tuile.