Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Osso Buco With Port Wine

A good wine needs good food and visa versa. In a recent post I mentioned that I will not be keeping my wines for longer than 10 years anymore after what happened to a bottle of 1990 Delheim Grand Reserve that I had for 13 years. I simply do not have the perfect storage conditions and although I can created the right conditions, living in Kentucky with its Internet wine buying restrictions and being far away from good wine producing regions like California, it just doesn’t seem worth my while creating an area for aging wines. So during the past two months since coming back from South Africa I didn’t look for a specific special occasions to drink my aged wines, I simply spoilt myself whenever the mood for a good bottle of wine overcame me. Since then I have consumed a 1996 L’Ormaris Optima, 2001 Glen Carlou Grand Classique (a double gold Veritas medal winner) and a 2001 Rust en Vrede Shiraz.
Quick review:

The L'Ormarins Optima was over its best, but still drinkable. Not worth reporting on.
The Glen Carlou, is a blend of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot, 3.5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 0.5% Petit Verdot. I think I opened it slightly too early. I struggled getting the cork out, kept on breaking up (I eventually had to push half the cork into the bottle and decanter it through a wine strainer), and it had a lot of “sifsels” and was slight murky. The wine was “not too bad.” I am probably being harsh, but I was put off by the fine residue. The wine was slightly complicated as can be expected from a Bordeaux style blend. It tasted much better the next day, more fruitful on the nose and palate and much smoother with less tannins than when I opened the bottle.
Digging up the Past of Rust en Vrede

The historical town of Stellenbosch has a winemaking history which stretches back to the last quarter of the 17th-century. The mountainous terrain, the cool breezes from False Bay and good rainfall, the deep well-drained soils and diversity of terroirs make this a perfect grape-growing and wine-producing region.

The detailed history of Rust en Vrede is rather vague and seems to intertwine with the neighboring farm Bonterivier. Based on my research the farm Bonterivier was granted to Willem Jansz van de Werelt in 1684 by the then Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, Simon van der Stel. In 1694 the farm Rust en Vrede was granted by Willem Adrian van der Stel, Simon’s son and successor, but to whom it was granted I cannot find any direct notice of. It seems that Bonterivier was divided in the early 1700’s into two farms and one of them became Rust en Vrede while the original farm stayed Bonterivier. Today Bonterivier houses the Bilton Wine estate.

Notes: Some sources on the Internet claims Rust en Vrede was originally granted to a Huguenot named Jacques de Savoye, but I think these websites are wrong. Historical documents show that Jacques de Savoye was granted a different farm, named Vrede en Lust in the Drakenstein (now Franchhoek) region. (The closeness of the words Lust en Rust could easily have led to the incorrect recording of history.)

See The First Fifty Years Project and My Huguenot Heritage, Huguenot's and farms in Cape, South Africa, by A.M. van Rensburg, for why I believe Jacques De Savoye was granted Vrede en Lust and not Rust en Vrede. After all, the modern day Vrede en Lust Winery sells a wine they call Jacques De Savoye Classic.

The websites that quoted this history incorrectly are A different history of Franschhoek and the Drakenstein district and the book Historic houses of South Africa by Dorothea Fairbridge, published in 1922.
Seeing that the first house on Rust en Vrede, “Rest and Peace” in Dutch, was only built in 1780, it seems the farm at the foothills of the Helderberg mountain was initially used only for planting grapes (around 1726-1730) and not for producing wine. This probably changed after 1780 because a barrel cellar was built in 1785 and is still standing. Today the cellar houses one of South Africa’s best fine dining restaurants. In 1790 a larger manor house was built, but in 1823 a fire destroy the gable of the manor house and it was rebuilt in 1825, hence the date of 1825 on the current gable.

Rust en Vrede views
Photo from Virtual (Off the beaten path)

A Wine Needs To Stand Up To The Food

Because I planned to open the 2001 Rust en Vrede Shiraz I thought a good osso buco made with beef shanks instead of veal would be the ideal. The food and the wine have to standup to each other. I had a bottle of Rooiberg Winery port which was on its last legs so to speak and I used 1 cup of that, together with some onion, garlic and black pepper to marinade the meat for a few hours. Overnight will be even better. The Rooiberg was beyond drinking but still good enough for the marinade. I was not going to use my Boplaas port for the marinade and then throw it away again. It was bad enough that I had to use some Boplaas in the stew. I am always stingy to use a good wine in food preparation.

Making Modern Classics

The modern history of Rust en Vrede and the production of top quality wines on this estate starts in 1977 when Jannie Engelbrecht, a well known Springbok rugby player purchase the farm. Apart from restoring all the old buildings, he also replanted the vineyard and decided to focus just on one type of wine, namely red wines.

This specialization and concentration on just red wines would be further refined when his son, Jean Engelbrecht took over the management of the farm. Jean Engelbrecht, who worked for several years in the United States, would base his vision for a future Rust en Vrede on the way they produce quality top class wines in Napa Valley, California. In an interview with George M. Taber during the research for his book, In Search of Bacchus, Wanderings in the Wonderful World of Wine Tourism, Engelbrecht said: “I just stole what the Californians did and brought it over here and made it fit with what we do.” Especially from the Silver Oak Cellars, which then produced only one type of wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, which is high-quality and low volume.

Another issue that Rust en Vrede had to overcome was to make a wine that would satisfy both the European and the American palates. This was very important because Rust en Vrede exports most of their wine to Europe and America. They had to find a middle way seeing that these two palates differ in taste preference. Today Rust en Vrede has achieved that middle way.

Entrance to Rust en Vrede in Stellenbosch
Photo from Trip Advisor

On the twisting road that takes you to Rust en Vrede wine estate you get the distinct impression of quality from the smoothly paved road, the immaculately maintained vineyards, and the well manicured patches of flowers that enhance the views of the surroundings. The impression of quality is not surprising if one consider that the wines of Rust en Vrede have won the highest accolades in South Africa, was the first wine estate in South Africa to produce a wine that scored 90+ points by the Wine Spectator magazine, are now ranked in the top 100 best wines in the world and their wines were selected to be served at a special dinner in Oslo when Nelson Mandele received his Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. In 2010 Rust en Vrede’s restaurant won all the major top awards at the annual Eat Out Awards ceremony when it was named the Restaurant of the Year, and received the Service Excellence award. Its chef, David Higgs, was named Chef of the Year.

Here is the recipe I used.

Osso Buco with Port Wine


3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large beef shanks on the bone (about 300g each, marinated)
2 onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, trimmed and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and shopped
410 g tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine (I used a Vidal Fleury Cotes-du-Rhone)
1 cup port wine
2 bay leaves
1½ teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1½ teaspoon South Africa Braai (Barbeque) spices
(I used Robertson Steak and Chops spices, but any good steak spices can be used)
Salt and black pepper to taste
3 cups of beef stock


In a large Dutch oven, heat EVOO over high heat. Remove meat from marinade, season with the spices, and transfer to Dutch oven and cook until browned on both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. I didn’t dry the meat but left the marinade and some of the onions on them. Remove shanks to a plate and set aside.

Now make the soffritto, the Italian version of the famous flavor trinity that is the basis for so many dished, especially stews; onions, carrots & celery. (If you use butter instead of olive oil you would be making a mirepoix, the French version of this flavor base.) Add a little more EVOO to the Dutch oven, if needed, then add the onion, celery, carrots and cook, stirring regularly, until vegetables are soft and caramelized, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Add the red wine and the port and stir well with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any bits. Add tomato paste, the tin of tomatoes, the beef stock, and salt and black pepper if desired. Stir well to combine.

Return shanks to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally, or until shanks are tender. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary. The sauce must be rich in taste and have a smooth, gelatinous texture. I usually remove the bones, scrape out the marrow and add it to the sauce, if it makes it past my taste test.

I let it stand for a while because stews are always better if the flavors have time “to get to know each other better” in the “afterplay” process.” It also gave me time to prepare the rice, steak fries and spinach that I served up with the osso buco.

And the Wine?

And what a wine it was!

In the glass the Rust en Vrede 2001 Shiraz was a deep and very dark burgundy in color with blackish purples on the rim. On the nose the aromas were strong and distinct and it was a mixture of plums, black currents and leather with hints for mocha, dark bitter chocolate and smoke. All of those were transferred from nose to palate with the addition of the typical Shiraz pepperiness… very distinctly peppery and spicy. But it was very smooth with a long full body after taste.

I feel the wine was opened at a perfect time. The tannins had just the right length of time to do their mellowing, of course, helped on by the 18 months it spent in the barrel, 50% in new American oak barrels and the rest in second fill oak barrels, before the different batches were blended and then matured a further 20 months in the bottle. Thereafter it spent another 6 years in my wine rack. It certainly had time to mellow and get melodious.

From start to finish the wine was a seamless balance between fruit, wood and tannins. It was truly complex in taste and, being from South Africa I might be a bit biased here, but it was one of the best wines that I ever tasted. Now that doesn’t necessarily say much, because I am not a sommelier, but I have drunk enough bottles of wine to know the difference between a good wine and a bottle what I call glug-glug wine.

If I consider that the 2004 and especially the 2006 vintage of Rust en Vrede Shiraz are rated even higher than the 2001 I will be on a shopping spree to look out for these.


Anonymous said...

Inderdaad 'n "lekker" inskrywing! My mond water! :)

En ja, hedendaagse wyne word nie meer "gebou" om te hou nie. Maar Rust en Vrede bly 'n uitstekende keuse!


BluegrassBaobab said...

Toe ek daar was in Desember het die wynverkopers van Rust en Vrede my aangeraai om hul nuwe wyne vir nie langer as 8 jaar te hou nie. Uitsluitende die Rust en Vrede Estate wyne. So dis net soos jy se, wyne word nie meer gebou om te hou nie