Thursday, 21 October 2010

Out of Africa

Imagine...colonial Africa sometime between 1850 and 1900, a paradise for the rich, a land of biblical beauty brimming with herds of wildlife: gazelle, zebra, leopard, lion. A land of un-mined riches: gold, diamonds and the passport to adventure and earthly treasures. It is also a time of great savagery with huge losses of life incurred by the two Boer Wars. This land was every boy’s dream – to become an adventurer, and to pit his manhood against the rigours of the “Dark Continent” and boldly be the “Great White Hunter”. Every woman emerging from suffragist restraints would swoon at the thought of adventures under the canvas of the safari. This was the final frontier of its time.

We recently created an African Safari themed event for the American Women of Surrey, featuring a wonderful variety of South African wine, food and stories around the bush campfire. Of course, being England in October, it was pouring with rain, so our campfire was of the indoor variety.

The heat and dust of the savannah, or even the 6.34 pm from Waterloo to Guildford, can create a thirst for refreshment. Nederburg Première Cuvée Brut NV, £7.59 from SA Wines Online, a light but distinctive sparkler from The Cape Floral Kingdom, will give you the kick of a Springbok, the sporting symbol of South Africa.

The French Huguenot and Germany influences in Africa can be clearly experienced with the 49% Riesling Blanc de Mer by Bouchard Finlayson at £8.95 from Lea & Sandeman. Its piquancy is tempered with a blend of Viognier, Chenin and Chardonnay grapes. A crispy, fruity easy drinking wine to gently wake up the palate and refresh the taste buds after a hard day out in the bush.

The Walker Bay area from where this wine hails, and specifically Hermanus, is renowned for being the best land-based whale-watching destination in the world.

We think The Mullineux Family White Blend 2009, £15.50 from Berry Bros & Rudd, which is made predominantly from the much loved African Chenin Blanc grape, is a complex, concentrated warm and honeyish mouthful. From Swartland, meaning black land, a rugged, stark and highly sought after region for wine production. This area is also known as “the land of the Rhinoceros”.

The famous expression “LIVINGSTONE I PRESUME” was the very conservative British greeting of Henry Stanley when finding the missing David Livingstone. Livingstone was a missionary explorer who in 1864 was on an expedition to discover the source of the River Nile, when he disappeared. After some years and no news, The New York Herald commissioned the explorer Henry Stanley to find him. This he eventually did - after many adventures - near Lake Tanganika, and it was here that the famous verbal exchange was said to have taken place. Being two well- mannered Victorian gentlemen, despite being in the middle of nowhere, their incredible and long hoped-for meeting was extremely formal with the drawing room greeting of “Livingstone I presume” and a brief handshake.

Livingstone was said to be the first white man to have seen Victoria Falls, named by the natives “The Smoke that Thunders”. It is an amazing sight and Livingstone described it as “The scene that must have been gazed upon by Angels in their flight”.

A final and we think touching fact is that Livingstone is buried in Westminster Abbey, but his heart is buried beneath the tree where he died in his soul home – Africa. Henry Stanley is himself buried in Saint Michael’s Church, Pirbright, in leafy Surrey.

If your quest is for a slinky, lithe bodied, sensuous and powerful leopard of a wine, look no further than the Paul Cluver Estate Pinot Noir 2008 from the Elgin Valley at £12.95 from Lea & Sandeman. Paul Cluver is recognized as a pioneer in eco wine production: the estate is part of a UNESCO world heritage site and even boasts a biosphere and an amphitheatre. This cherry-like wine has a minerality and something of the night about it, with power, and an elegant finesse.

The real deal and uniquely what African wine is meant to be all about is the quirky mix that is known as Pinotage. This is a real “Marmite” of a wine – in that you either love it or hate it. Kaapzicht Pinotage 2007 from Stellenbosch is a big elephant of a wine in its gravitas, complexity and intelligence. £12.95 from Lea & Sandeman.

This brave wine is from South African pioneering stock like Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, who wrote the true, endearing and enduring story of his friendship and real life adventures with his dog. “Jock of the Bushveldt” was published in 1907 and garnered huge acclaim in South Africa and internationally. It is a classic amongst African literature and a great and stirring read for young and old alike.

Fairview Jakkalsfontein Shiraz 2005 is rated as one of the best wines coming OUT OF AFRICA at present. Priced £17.87 from, it should be good. Full of wonderful elderberry fruit, it conjures the throbbing intensity of the savannahs, the promise and richness but also the savagery of this vibrant landscape.

In 1937 Baroness Karen von Blixen from Denmark went to live in what was then known as British East Africa, now Kenya. She had an unhappy marriage but fell in love with this paradisical land and its native peoples. It was she who, under the pseudonym Isaak Dinesen, wrote the book “Out of Africa”.

The story of her life and love affair with the great white Hunter Denys Finch-Hatton was in 1985 made into the now classic film of the same name, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, both managing fairly good imitations of aristocratic English accents. Finch-Hatton was killed when he crashed his De Havilland Gypsy Moth. Karen von Blixen returned eventually to Denmark where she reportedly died of a broken heart - and syphilis.

Keep well
JAMBO from Heather & Heather don’t have to do a Mandela Long Walk to Freedom, we have regular Walks with Wine and lunch. Take a look at our website, or phone us for information. 01483 892678.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Portugal's tales of the unexpected

Portugal is a land of surprises.

When we imagine ourselves there, it's all white villas on sun-drenched hillsides, impossibly green golf courses, grilled, just-caught sardines on the beach, washed down by sharp, lightly fizzy Vinho Verde.

But outside this slightly hazy, Algarve villa-inspired memory, Portugal confounds stereotypes. Far from the sun-soaked and Brit-packed south, the country's cool north is rainier than Manchester – and this is the region that makes that very Vinho Verde that we down so enthusiastically on holiday.

The same country that is responsible for mass market Mateus Rosé (yes, that seventies icon whose empty bottle served as a handy candle holder, and which still sells 20 million bottles around the world each year, is going strong) is also home to an almost vertigo-inducing array of native grape varieties. Some of those varieties – like Touriga Nacional – have developed a profile for themselves and been planted in other parts of the world. Most, however, languish in obscurity – glass of Fernão Pires or Baga, anyone?

All this diversity is what makes Portugal one of the most exciting places for a winelover to explore – albeit virtually, without actually leaving Blighty's shores.

Mount your steed, in the manner of a modern day cowboy, to discover the vast expanses and rolling hills of the Alentejo in the south east, Portugal's own New World, where producers combine native varieties with a cocktail of international grapes to make crowd-pleasingly ripe and soft, but unmistakably Portuguese wines. This is also the home to Europe's largest area of cork forest – Alentejo might have a New World attitude to its wines, but screwcaps and synthetic corks are definitely not part of the picture.

Then, head north, take a travel sickness pill (trust us, it's the only way to enjoy looking at the scenery without incurring crippling nausea) and head off along the winding Douro Valley, inland from Oporto. For centuries we Brits have enjoyed the fortified wines made from the vines grown on the steeply-terraced slopes of the Douro. In recent years, our appetite for Port has waned but, happily, Douro's grape growers have discovered that they are sitting on the perfect raw material to make characterful and unique table wines. The Douro is now, arguably, Portugal's best region for fine wines.

Portuguese wines to seek out

Douro Valley

Pinga do Torto 2005 - £10.99 from Guildford Wine Company in Shalford (2004 vintage currently)
The Torto is one of the tributaries of the Douro River and is, as the name suggests, torturously winding. This wine, made at Quinta Macedos, has an unexpected Surrey link: the owner is Paul Reynolds, until a few years ago a resident of Farley Green in the Surrey Hills. The 2005 vintage of this wine was selected as one of Portugal's 50 Great Wines this year, so he is clearly getting plenty right. Pinga has hints of violet on the nose, with dark chocolate and savoury notes and has the heft to stand up to an autumnal beef stew.

Alves de Sousa Abandonado Red 2007, £56.95 from Surrey-based online merchant,
OK, not your everyday wine - it would have to be a pretty special occasion to justify cracking open something this expensive. But the eye-watering price gives you an idea of the level of ambition of the Douro Valley's winemakers. Made from the fruit of a previously abandoned vineyard, whose mixture of grape varieties is lost in the mists of time, this highly individual wine smells of roses and tar and has a medicinal edge to the palate – this description might not win you over, but believe us it's utterly charming.

Vinho Verde

Contrary to what you might imagine, Vinho Verde is in fact the name of the region, rather than the actual wine itself. Indeed, there is such a thing as red Vinho Verde – though we're not sure it's worth getting excited about.

Quinta de Azevedo, Vinho Verde 2009 - £5.49 if you buy 2 currently at Majestic or £6.99 at Waitrose
This is exactly what a decent Vinho Verde should be – light, bracingly refreshing and affordable. The ultimate seafood (and yes, sardine) wine.


Azamor 2006 - £8.95 from
Owned by the Anglo-Portuguese combination of Alison and husband Joaquim Luiz-Gomes, this is a crazy mix of syrah, touriga nacional, merlot, trincadeira, alicante bouschet, mourvèdre and petit verdot. It sounds like they couldn't decide which varieties to plant, so they just slung them all in – but, amazingly, it works. Deep, inky-tinged flavours with soft tannins that you want to curl up in front of a warm fire with.

So Portugal isn't all sun and sardines. It's high time we embraced the diversity and quality that this fascinating country offers – Europe's own wild west.

Portuguese Wine and Food Evening with the two Heathers
Tuesday 12th October, 7.30pm
Guildford Institute, Ward Street (off North Street), Guildford

This is an opportunity to explore for yourself some of the delicious flavours that Portugal has to offer, in the company of Heather and Heather. Take a virtual tour of Portugal via its wines – helped along with some delicious Portuguese food over the course of the evening.

Tickets: £20 per person, including wine tasting, food - and of course our sparkling company!

Book your place or find out more via our website on:, or you can email us on

Also booking now:

Walk and Wine
Saturday 9th October, departing 10.30am from The Parrot in Shalford.
An invigorating walk followed by a tasting of delicious Italian wines to suit the season, plus a pub lunch with coffee.

Tickets: £20 per person, booking details as above

We hope to see you at one – or both – of these events!