Neil Ellis & Pinotage (South Africa)

Neil Ellis came to Portalis for a tasting in the summer of 2009.  Warm weather, though, is not when we sell Pinotage and a visit from a winemaker of this magnitude merited its proper spot in the featured lineup, with the proper spot being deepest winter … so here we go:

We are always delighted to have winemakers in for tastings, but this was a special one & we were all solemn with excitement. (Can that be?)  We had sold thousands of glass pours of Neil Ellis Pinotage and along with a hard core following of customers who love this wine, we were so excited that we were a little nervous.  And rightly so.  Mr. Ellis was not that jokey-jokerton, engagingly accented funny story-teller from former British colonies who often shows up (much to our delight, I might add).  He was a solemn, professorial man, with a lovely, understated sense of humor, who sat on a stool with the tasting participants around him and modestly shared his history (starting out with KWV, a huge South African wine co-operative, with stints at the Groot Constantia Estate & Zevenwacht, before striking out on his own in 1986 & making a name for himself as the rogue, entrepreneurial producer he has become) as well as his philosophy on wine, wine production & the role of wine in life.

Pinotage is just one of many wines in Neil Ellis’ lineup, but it’s one of our favorites and is excellent Pinotage for the money. Pinotage has an unusual history.  It’s a cross between Pinot Noir & Cinsault, grown as an experiment at the University of Stellenbosch in the 1930’s, forgotten & then rediscovered later in an overgrown patch of vines.  It’s known for its dark brambly fruit with notes of smoke and even bacony flavors.  Wine from this grape makes a statement & customers tend to really like it or really not like it.  The likes win by far, and Pinotage at Portalis has a sizeable fan club with Jens leading the charge (he loves this grape!).  So if you’ve never tried it & are open to this style wine, go exploring.  Neil Ellis was European in his belief that food belongs with wine and every meal is enhanced by a well-paired combination of the two.  Pinotage pairs beautifully with all kinds of grilled red meats & game.  It’s a lovely sipper, though, too.  And with evenings by the fire in front of us, we highly this wine.

Neil Ellis Pinotage is solid year after year and is excellent wine for the price.  Jens is also a big fan of Southern Right Pinotage (a little bigger fruit) & the Kanonkop which is a huge wine made from old vines, but also commands a higher price:

Neil Ellis 2008 Pinotage  (Stellenbosch)
$21.99  | Mixed Case $17.59
Spice Route 2007 Pinotage (Swartland)
$21.99  | Mixed Case $17.59
Southern Right 2007 Pinotage (Walker Bay)
$24.99 | Mixed Case $19.99  
Kanonkop 2005 Pinotage (Stellenbosch)
$37.99  | Mixed Case $30.39

Pinotage Blends (with Cab Sauv/Merlot combinations):
Kanonkop 2006 Kadette  (Stellenbosch)
$17.50 | Mixed Case $14
Warwick 2005 Three Cape Ladies (Stellenbosch)
$27.99 | INSIDER $22.99 | Mixed Case $18.39   
Spice Route 2004 Malabar (Swartland)
$73.99 | Mixed Case $59.19  

Enjoy & cheers!

Special Sunday Tasting: Swiss Cheesemaker, Mike Glauser

Cheesemaker grating Belper Knolle to taste
Cheesemaker grating Belper Knolle to taste

Mike stopped by with cheese importer, Olivier Boye, on Friday to introduce himself and I knew he’d be a hit.  His cheeses were excellent and on top of that he was personable, had a good sense of humor and the little traditioinal cap with the Swiss flag on it wouldn’t hurt.  Plus, it’s fun when I get to speak German … and if you’re German, you’ve got to love Swiss German.

Cheesemaker, Mike Glauser, with Emmentaler in the foreground
Cheesemaker, Mike Glauser, with Emmentaler in the foreground

The Glauser’s are third generation artisan cheese makers located in Bern, Switzerland. Together with other small, local, cheesemakers (Fromagerie Glauser, Fromagerie Jakob, Fromagerie Steinen & Fromagerie Belp), they created the association “Jumi Export” with the goal of showing real traditional Swiss cheeses to the outside world. For the American market, these cheeses should create a new association with what people think of as “Swiss cheese”.

Here is some information on the cheeses we tasted last Sunday:

EMMENTALER – raw cow’s milk; semi-hard to hard; aged 6-10 months (young) & 18-24 (aged) ~ both were available at the tasting so you could experience the difference. As the Swiss say, Emmentaler is a tradition and a way of life.  I can concur that the German’s have the same opinion, with this cheese being a staple for my family growing up and for Julie and me when we lived there.
Notes from the cheesemaker:
Texture:  elastic, non-sticky with fine to semi-fine crystals
Taste: delicate and mild (hay)
Flavors:  slightly salty and milky, fresh butter and jelly
Odor:  slightly spicy, pungent persistence (body)
Culinary note: the ultimate fondue cheese
Produced by: Master Cheese Maker Glauser, Bergkäserei; Oberhünigen, Switzerland
Wine/beer pairings:  fruity beer (such as Belgian ales: Regenboog Wostynj Spicy Ale or La Chouffe Golden Ale) or rounder, fuller-bodied white wines such as Côte du Rhône Blanc or (not too oaky) Chardonnay such as Domaine de Vic 2005 Chardonnay (Vin de Pays d’Oc, France) $15

APPENBERGER – raw cow’s milk; semi-hard; aged 4-5 months (young) & 8-9 months (aged).  This famous cheese hails from the Appenberger region. Its aroma is dominated by flowery notes from wild mountain flowers. The flavor of the cheese intensifies as it ages.
Notes from the cheesemaker:
Texture:  smooth paste, supple and slightly sticky with little holes
Flavors:  slightly salty, buttery and creamy.  The palate will be stimulated by fresh butter and slightly acidic (sour/lactic) notes.
Culinary note: Appenberger lends itself to imaginative combinations. For example, with sliced fresh tomatoes or with prune or fig preserves. It is also very well suited for fondue.
Produced by: Master Cheese Maker Fromagerie Glauser; Oberhünigen, Switzerland
Wine pairings:  a big Côte du Rhône such as Ogier 2005 Côte du Rhône Caves des Papes or a nice red from neighboring  Vacqueyras, all spicy, earthy reds from the Southern Rhône Valley in France. 

– raw cow’s milk, chives, onions; semi-hard; aged 4 months
In the Vacherin Fribourgeois region, semi-hard cheeses are an old tradition. Knoschi is an original and very sought after semi-hard cheese embedded with onions and chives. The raw milk, artisan process and aging impart a dominant, beefy aroma which is in full harmony with onion and chive flavors.
Notes from the cheesemaker:
Texture:  elastic paste, smooth and crisp
Flavors:  taste of broth highlighted with chive/caramelized onion flavors
Culinary note: after 4 months of aging, this cheese is ready for fondue and shows enhanced characteristics with heating and melting
Produced by: Master Cheese Maker Fromagerie Glauser; Giffers (Freiburg), Switzerland
Wine pairings:  this cheese has a lot of chivy, garlic flavors, so stick with a white such as Chenin Blanc or a nice Viognier/Roussanne blend such as Jean-Luc Colombo 2006 La Redonne $17.50, which is what we served at the tasting and is also available at the wine bar if you’d like to try a glass first.

BELPER KNOLLE – cow’s milk, garlic, pepper powder, Himalajasalt; semi-soft; aged 1 week or more. Around 17 years ago, the first “Belper Knolle” was made by hand and it is handmade to this day. The milk and garlic are also from Belp (where the name originates).  The pepper is from the “Oberland” and the salt from the Himalayas.
Notes from the cheesemaker:
Texture:  easy to spread, a light delicate consistency
Taste:  slightly spicy with refreshing herbal background notes
Good to know: the intensity of this cheese is reduced when the pepper/salt is brushed off. At the tasting, Mike told customers to grate this cheese over pasta or risotto.
Produced by: Käserei Belp; Bern, Switzerland
Wine pairings:  this is an acidic, herbal cheese, so it’s white all the way.  Try a white from the Loire Valley such as Benedicte de Rycke 2005 Jasnières $28

The Belper Knolle sold out at the tasting.  People loved it!  I purchased some of Appenberger, which we melted and served over boiled red potatoes with a side salad.  We paired it with a  Jean-Luc Colombo declassified Cornas from the cellar.  It was a delicious meal, especially since it’s still chilly weather here in Seattle.  If you are interested in purchasing these cheeses, they are available or can be ordered at the following cheese counters: Big John’s PFI (ask for Donna), Village Market Thriftway, Magnolia Thriftway, The Cheese Cellar (near the Space Needle), DeLaurenti (Pike Place Market), some Whole Foods Markets.

Contributor:  Jens Strecker