Pinotage, Pumpkin, Mole Tamales? A South Africa and SoCal Xmas Mashup

Both Southern California and South Africa are defined in large part by their exquisite and expansive coastlines — and by having warm weather for the holidays! Throughout the world, Northern European holiday traditions get mixed up with local — and sometimes warm weather cuisines too.

For both regions, Southern California and South Africa, being coastal means seafood becomes part of the mix, with both areas celebrating with bubbly and oysters. But on Christmas eve, many in South Africa go with seafood while here in Southern California you will find homes marking the occasion by making TAMALES and then enjoying them on Christmas Eve. For some of us, like me, we love TAMALES with MOLE sauce!

Imagine my surprise in my research to find that Tamales with Mole sauce pairs with Pinotage, the South African hybrid of pinot noir and cinsault. The first and only South African cultivar and one of the most successful South African exports, Pinotage was created in South Africa in 1925. The name combines Pinot from Pinot Noir and  “tage” from Hermitage which is Cinsault what called at that time. Since Pinot was hard to grow in South Africa but cinsault did well, Scientist Abraham Perold at Stellenbosch University hoped for a hardy hybrid and here he succeeded: Pinotage is less susceptible to mildew, ripens early, and avoids other challenges prone to grapes. The resulting wines are darker and denser than Pinot Noir with more raspberry and blueberry notes as well as spiced chocolate and tobacco.

I was also surprised to learn that pumpkin and pinotage is a thing too! Thus our hybrid meal of mole tamales and pinotage was born, along with South African sides of a curried pumpkin soup and a salad with pumpkin and pancetta.

  • MAN Méthode Cap Classique 100% Chenin Blanc (SRP $25)
  • MAN Family Wines Pinotage 2017 (SRP $11.99)
  • Southern Right Pinotage 2018 (SRP $32.99)
  • Ashbourne Pinotage 2016 (SRP $57.99)
  • appetizers: oysters, caviar, cheese, sushi
  • curry pumpkin/squash soup
  • pumpkin and pancetta (bacon) salad
    we found several intriguing recipes including this HEARTY WINTER SALAD
  • chicken tamales with mole sauce (purchased from Maria Bonita in downtown Ventura)
  • cheese and chile tamales, pork tamales (purchased from Grocery Outlet) with enchilada and mole sauce

MAN Family Wines Méthode Cap Classique Brut – 12% alcohol SRP $25
100% Chenin Blanc
Sample provided by Vineyard Brands for my review consideration.

MAN stands for the first initials of the wives of the three partners behind the wine: José Conde’s wife Marie and the wives of brothers Tyrrel (Anette)  and Philip Myburgh (Nicky). The three men began making wine together in 2001.

Méthode Cap Classique is what they call the traditional method (aka what is used in Champagne); they require it to be on ether lees for a minimum of 12 months.  The dry farmed, untrellised (bush vine) Chenin blanc grapes in this Brut were grown in the shale of the Agtar-Paarl Coastal Region of South Africa. Distributed in the US by Vineyard Brands, MAN Family Wines produces over 175,000 cases per year and exports to 25 countries.

Nose: Brioche, and lemons, citrus flower

Color: Golden, buttercup, has much more color than your usual sparkling

Palate: Soft and delicate, yet persistent bubbles, Clean up front, fresh, nice acidity, Lemon curd on the finish, like a lemon or key lime pie.

Pairing: What a great food wine!

With a Langres cheese, there is a beautiful dance that happens. It brings out a rich nuttiness in the cheese, and intensifies the fruit in the wine. We also tried it with a blueberry stilton thinking it would not work, but it was really nice. We loved how well it went with the blueberry stilton: a salad featuring blueberries and this cheese would be a lovely pair. Fantastic with our Baja fresh oysters really bringing out the sea. Really nice sweetness is added to the wine when paired with a California roll. We had a bit of Caviar with the wine, but did not find it as satisfying of a combination as when paired with traditional Champagne. After trying it with a little caviar, we decided that we should put a little caviar on the sushi, and it did work quite well.

With the salad, this sparkling went nicely with the garlic, lemon and salt from the bacon and the creaminess from the squash. I was not sure it went so well with the asparagus in the salad, but Sue liked it a lot. The cinnamon, the curry powder, and the seasonings in the soup went so well with this wine.

Sparkling wine loves fatty foods and it likes them even better when there are baking spices involved!

With most meals you would not generally take a sparkling wine through all the courses, however because of the spices and the lightness of the meal, this sparkling went well from beginning to end. It loves the spice of the mole, and is fantastic with the green chile and cheese tamales; it even went well with the pork tamales. The wine is bright and light and cuts through the heaviness, bringing out a lovely earthiness from the corn in the masa. It takes the sweet to a very sweet. The complex spicy flavors of the food are complimented by the straightforwardness in the wine. The wine and the food complete each other.

We would have never thought about Pinotage if we knew this wine would go so well with this meal! You should definitely consider sparkling wine when pairing with tamales!

PS If you’re  a fan of chenin blanc, tune in again on Saturday when I publish about our visit to Vincent Careme in Vouvray in the Loire where we tasted both still and sparkling chenin blanc — and then we enjoyed the sparkling with lunch at Chateau de Pray, a Michelin starred castle in a truffeau cave!

MAN Family Wines Pinotage 2017 (SRP $11.99) – 14% alcohol
Sample from Vineyard Brands

With a goal of producing bold, fruity, modern, and distinctively South African wines that express the uniqueness of the rocky shale and old tough soils of the Agter-Paarl at a price point affordable for wine geeks, MAN’s Pinotage accomplishes this and then some. The name “Bosstok” refers to the untrellised bush-vine vineyards in over half of the vineyards in the area. They note that “the bosstok Pinotage vineyards grow close to the ground, producing lower yields of concentrated, flavorful grapes.”

Nose: Sue detected baking spices like cardamon, cinnamon, kind of like a chai spice in her glass. In my glass I got dry, wood, moss, more forest floor and violets.

Color: Black cherry Koolaid translucent; light travels well through the wine. Pale pink rim.

Palate: For $12 this wine delivers more than we ever expected. Bright cherry, with the spices that came through on the nose. Rootbeer, sasparilla, Dr Pepper.

Satiny smooth — what a great mouthfeel! Totally overdelivers for the price.

Pairing:  Curious, I tried it with a bit of sushi and was not disappointed, but with a piece of blueberry stilton it was over the top; think dessert plate. With the pumpkin soup, a rich earthy quality between the two brings out the baking spices in both. Not  exciting with the salad, but not bad: the baking spices dissipate leaving the palate with a richness from the olive oils and the citrus in the dressing.

 With the tamales it was fabulous. The sweetness in both enhanced  each other, and the savory in both was fantastic together.

Southern Right Pinotage 2018 (SRP $32.99) 13.5% alcohol
Sample from Vineyard Brands

Named after the rare Southern Right whales which hang out in the nearby the cool South Atlantic Walker Bay, the winery contributes to their conservation. The vineyards and winery are adjacent to those of founder Anthony Hamilton Russell of Hamilton Russell Vineyards as well as Ashbourne (see below), and he seeks to combine distinct South African profile with a classic style.

This is a super interesting yet accessible wine to an American palate.

Nose: Dirty socks, barnyard, pinot funk, cherry and rhubarb, sulphur. Some of the funk blows off, but still remains.

Color: There is more density to this wine than a Pinot which is a giveaway that it is pinotage.

Palate: Sue got more cherry with sulphur while I got apricot on the finish with a nice tartness. We tried it in a pinot noir glass and in a rhone glass and found more minerals and silt in the  Rhone glass. With also tried it with a “Celebrate party” glass, and were less impressed. With a nice glass, it really shines.

Pairing: Try it with blueberry stilton! Sue thought a pork tenderloin with a cherry sauce would be compliment the wine and be a special holiday meal, and it might be good with smoked salmon. This pinotage loves the spicy sweetness, and the complexity of the soup, and goes well very well with the tamales, especially with the spices in the mole. Unexpectedly great with the salad: it was a surprise with the asparagus, but the savory spices in the dressing and the earthy sweetness of the squash worked well for this pinotage.

The pinot has the earth and the cinsault has the spice!

Ashbourne Pinotage 2016 (SRP $57.99) – 14% alcohol
Sample from Vineyard Brands

Like Southern Right (above), Ashbourne is also one of Anthony Hamilton Russell’s projects. Founded in 1996,  this one is named after his great, great grandfather Lord Ashbourne who was Lord Chancellor of Ireland in the late 1800’s.

“Ashbourne began as a quest to make something extraordinary out of Pinotage in ancient, unusually clay-rich, shale-derived soils. It remains our goal to grow and make unusual, age-worthy, classically styled wines with a true South African personality, that belong in the company of the world’s benchmarks,” says Anthony Hamilton Russell.

Grapes are grown on extremely clay-rich, stony soils which brings refinement and a classic style. out of Pinotage. Intense, rich, and savory with anunderlying minerality, this benchmark wine has redefined South Africa’s own red grape variety.

Nose: Really depends on the glass. Sue found cherry. I found cherry cola in a Cinsault glass, more cherry, and sarsaparilla and more alcohol in the pinot noir glass.

Color: Maroon with a coral or tawny rim.

Palate: Up front there is tart cranberry with earthy cocoa nib finish on the back. Sue also found rhubarb and salinity on the back end. We both appreciated the minerality.

Pairing: Fabulous with the blueberry stilton cheese bringing such a balance with both the cheese and the wine. This simple salad brings out such a complexity of flavors in this Pinotage. There are no spices or vinegars in this salad, but with the Pinotage it all seems that these flavors are on the forefront. When Sue took a sip of the wine while eating the pumpkin soup she understood why there was a recommendation to pair South African wines with South African Pumpkin Soup. Great with the tamales. The earthy chocolate goodness of the mole goes so fantastic with the pinotage. What a fantastic wine with this menu. On a later evening, I tried this wine with Italian meatballs with spaghetti and red sauce, and again works well with these complex flavors.

So who is Anthony Hamilton Russell? In 2020, we will be writing about his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir — and if you’re looking for more “traditional” wines but want something different, consider them as I bet they’d do well with turkey… or with salmon!

We are also looking to do more with Pinotage in 2020 — I found a South African recipe for a venison shoulder that Sue is willing to make and we have more to share about South African wine from a seminar we attended.

And I must say, after traveling to Tanzania last summer, attending the South Africa wine seminar, and now researching for this article, I want to pop on a plane and visit there myself!



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