Monday, July 27, 2015

Groot Dinner

It's always impressive when you start dating a man who pegs your interests without being obvious about it.

After a perfectly pleasant first date, a guy bowled me over by showing up for our second date with tickets in hand. One pair was for the ballet the following month, one pair was for the theater two months hence and the last set was for a performance by the National Symphony three months later.

Flippin' brilliant. Not only had he already ascertained three ways I enjoyed spending time, but he'd ensured we'd be dating for the next three months.

In a similar, albeit much later and grander, vein, I'd only been dating a guy for a few months when he invited me to travel with him to South Africa for two weeks. At the time he requested the pleasure of my company, the trip was six months away. He'd put the younger man's hubris to shame.

Needles to say, those two weeks in South Africa were so far beyond anything I'd experienced up until that point that I was soon enchanted with everything about it.

The time spent in wine country, days lost in a thrilling haze of tasting rooms and tours at centuries old as well as modern wineries. We drank wines in caves, on hilltops, in glass-walled dining rooms, at quaint restaurants hugging the mountainside. Evenings meant meals in fields, local restaurants and, of course, at vineyards.

Time spent in cosmopolitan Capetown where it was no exaggeration to say that most people were not only drop dead gorgeous but bilingual, something we were not. One night was spent inside the thick walls of the first Dutch fort where we wandered table to table because each one offered another South African chef's signature dish impeccably paired with the perfect wine. A side trip so I could put my feet in the Indian Ocean.

The last of our fortnight was spent at a game preserve where we stayed in a luxurious lodge that slept four (a young bachelor our only housemate) by night and were driven around to see wildlife - hippos standing in a river, giraffes on a plain, big cats sunning themselves - by day.

By the time we headed home, I was devoted to South African wine and not for nothing. And why not? They'd been doing it since the mid-1600s and were damn good at it, not that we got much of a taste of it in the U.S. during the Apartheid years.

As a result of that trip, I never fail to notice when a wine list includes South African wines, almost always opting to order one when I can.

So of course I'm going to attend a South African wine dinner at Camden's tonight, along with a tableful of familiar faces, winos and the one friend who's as passionate about South African wines as me, naturally because he's also visited.

Our septet was seated under the stairway again, this time alongside a group of eleven women. As projected by one in our group, there were times their shrillness completely obliterated our conversation, not necessarily a bad thing given discussions of who among us was a Rose slut (raises hand proudly), who engages in beer trading (for a plasma TV, no less- one he no longer wanted, I added) and who has a beer named after her (an empress, no less).

The newbies to the group were immediately impressed with the chef's pairing ability once they tasted the briny towers of crab, shrimp, avocado and mussel paired with Cape Point Stonehaven Sauvignon Blanc and doubly so once the basket of housemade breads showed up to sop the plate with.

The non-seafood eater in our group was seduced by fish and chips of grouper and the atypical De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay that had everyone impressed with its delicate citrus nose.

When ramekins of baked rabbit au gratin arrived, the handsome one and I stuck our noses over them like they were wine, taking in the earthy, rich aroma before devouring them with brilliantly pink Badenhorst Secateurs Rose.

One person moaned a little, saying, "Can I have this tomorrow, too?" The fruit was more pronounced because of the wine's time in concrete wine tanks, a subject that took flight since some had never heard of them.

As the evening wore on, conversations went in many directions and it wasn't always possible for everyone to hear or engage in every conversation. While busy talking with those to my left, one on my right waved her hand to get my attention.

"For your blog, he just said, "You're not as important as me." This, apparently, was his response when she chided him for being on his phone after I'd made it known we don't use phones at my table during these dinners.

For any South African wine lover, the star of the evening was Warwick Estates Pinotage, a beautifully balanced expression of the native grape and perfectly lovely with venison carpaccio (spring bok is soooo hard to come by in RVA) with a luscious berry compote and spicy micro greens.

When the subject of monogamy came up as it is wont to do in mixed and slightly loopy company, the men split on its imprint on male DNA, one saying he'd never allowed himself to think anything but monogamously and the other two insisting it's a battle to stick with one woman.

Dessert of bruleed peaches wrapped in house-cured ham (started last December) caused orgasmic reactions for the sublime balance of sweet and salty, even if it was paired with the evening's only non-South African wine.

When the empress tried to make a case for how beautifully the peaches paired with the Ferreira white port, her partner (who'd earlier blundered by tactlessly announcing, "Next week we would have been together for 14 years." Would have?) responded, "Without the ham, this pairing would be like "Pulp Fiction" without Samuel L. Jackson."

Without this ragtag bunch of food and drink lovers, five courses of pairings would have been just a means to eat and drink for four hours. And my face wouldn't be sore from smiling and laughing all night.

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