On the Vine: What to pair with crocodile and other African cuisine

Pinotage is a signature grape in South Africa, created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University.

The Diemersdal Estate near Capetown covers 840 acres of which nearly 450 is planted under vine with pinotage, merlot, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and others. (Courtesy photo)

A few years back, we purchased a South African photo safari at a fundraising auction and decided, this August, to schedule the trip and add three days at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Upon arrival at the Zulu Nyala Game Preserve in South Africa’s northeastern Zulu province, we discovered that all guests purchased their excursion by supporting a non-profit. It’s part of their business model and something rewarding to be a part of.

The food was quite good, but commonly included such dishes as crocodile meatballs, ostrich filets and grilled Eland, Africa’s largest antelope. Seeking a wine to pair with this new cuisine, I was delightfully surprised with a Diemersdal Pinotage 2017, from an historic winery in the Durbanville Valley region near Capetown, and began to rely upon their brand for the remainder of our African adventure.

Pinotage is a signature grape in South Africa, created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University. It is a marriage of pinot noir and cinsault, a popular varietal used in southern Rhone-style blends and known in its homeland as hermitage. The Pinotage 2017 and other red and white varietals from the Diemersdal Estate became a familiar name among many unfamiliar choices.

Wines have been produced at the Estate for over three centuries and six generations of the Louws family have artistically and meticulously farmed the land for over 130 years.

The Diemersdal Estate near Capetown covers 840 acres of which nearly 450 is planted under vine with pinotage, merlot, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and others. (Courtesy photo)

The Diemersdal Estate covers 840 acres, of which nearly 450 is planted under vine with pinotage, merlot, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and others. Of note, many of the remaining acres are used for grazing and the preservation of Renosterveld, a threatened vegetation type in southernmost Africa’s Cape Floristic Region. The hillside vineyards at the Estate welcome cool, misty afternoon breezes that permit dry-farming, culminating in fully ripened fruit.

To accompany fresh-caught grilled bream and crocodile frikadelle at the Palm Restaurant in the Ilala Hotel at Victoria Falls, we fortunately chose the definitively styled Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc 2018 with layered tropical fruit on the nose and palate and a vibrant minerality on the finish. The reasonable price made this wine even more appealing.

For the record, crocodile does taste like chicken and we had served as a meatball, then grilled and diced, potentially popular in the states when served in a taco. crocodile tacos, an idea before its time?

For the record, crocodile (Crocodile Frikadelle, pictured here) does taste like chicken. (Lyle Norton/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Diemersdal also produces a high-end sauvignon blanc reserve and the Diemersdal Winter Ferment 2019, described as a “new world style of sauvignon blanc” with tropical flavors, a hint of grapefruit and a rich, vibrant acidity throughout.

Days later, seeking a white wine that we could pair with a buffet featuring an array of fish, meat and game dishes as well as fresh sushi, we selected the elegantly aromatic Diemersdal Chardonnay Unwooded 2017. The rich, creamy texture of the wine is balanced with melon and citrus flavors that linger. I now can forever brag to my “foodie” friends of eating sushi in Zimbabwe.

In addition to the red pinotage, we selected a bottle of Diemersdal Merlot 2017 for dinner one evening at the game preserve. Aged twelve months in 30 percent new French oak, this wine is still young but delivered very evident spice overtones throughout the nose and palate.

Once again relying on Diemersdal for our last dinner in Johannesburg, we reached out for a bold, nicely structured Diemersdal Shiraz 2017, a complex wine with strong spice overtones and a full palate of flavors that paired well with everything from a venison stew to a cheese plate.

Wines from the Diemersdal Estate carried us through South Africa and Zimbabwe, but a search upon our return found them available on numerous online wine sites but very limited access in local outlets.

However, for those seeking to explore the pinotage varietal, your options are wide open. K&L Wines in San Francisco and Redwood City offers a 2015 Beaumont Pinotage Bot River South Africa ($28), awarded 92 points from James Suckling describing flavors of “blueberry, violets, orange peel and citrus.”

For a local option, wine.com sells a Fort Ross Vineyard Pinotage Sonoma Coast ($37) from northwest Sonoma County, boasting ratings in the nineties and, most appropriate for our recent adventure, the Graham Beck Game Reserve Pinotage 2015 ($16) from beautiful South Africa.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com. He is a guest columnist.

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