Q&A: Wilhelm Pienaar

We chatted to Nederburg red winemaker Wilhelm Pienaar about the winery's new ranges and the importance of pairing wine and food correctly. When did you decide you wanted to be a winemaker? It was more a case of falling into this career. Although my father is a winemaker, it was never something I considered for myself. That was until I spent a few months in 1997 during my gap year, in Scandinavia. For a while, I worked for a wine importing company in Denmark. It was an experience that made me fall in love with wine and so I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps. Tell us more about the Nederburg Heritage Heroes range. How were the names of each varietal chosen? It's a small, hand-crafted range of very food-friendly wines that honours some of the personalities who have helped shape Nederburg and its reputation. Philippus Wolvaart, who acquired the land near Paarl he was to call Nederburg in 1791, is remembered as the founder of our winery. The Anchorman, a wooded Chenin blanc pays tribute to him. The farm changed hands many times after Wolvaart sold it as a flourishing enterprise in 1810. In 1937, it was acquired by multi-talented Johann Graue, a German immigrant, who had previously owned a brewery and had been a tea specialist. His background taught him how important it was to ensure the availability of top-quality fruit to make superior wine and he set about introducing significant viticultural improvements that were to have a major impact on South African winemaking. He is honoured by The Brew Master, a red Bordeaux-style blend, while his gracious and lovely wife, Ilse is remembered by The Beautiful Lady Gewürztraminer. Their son, Arnold was set to succeed his father and had all the makings of a winemaker of exceptional talent. He had studied in Germany, travelled extensively, brought his own innovations to Nederburg and continued the award-winning legacy begun by his father. Tragically, he was killed in a light aircraft crash in the 1950s. Nederburg pays tribute to him with The Young Airhawk, a wooded Sauvignon blanc. Graue looked to Germany once again for a successor and found him in Günter Brözel, who was to bring still further fame and acclaim to Nederburg, as cellar master from 1956 to 1989. Up at first light on his 250cc motorcycle to check on the vineyards and his team, he was an absolute perfectionist. He also pioneered many innovations. The Motorcycle Marvel, an intense but also finessed Rhône-style red, honours him. It was a very moving experience for the Nederburg team to present him with a bottle of the maiden vintage, launched last year. He still keeps in regular contact with us and is an inspiration to all of us. Spring is almost upon us! Which wines are top of the list for the season? I am always a great fan of uncomplicated wines to enjoy after work and/or over weekends. Our bright and fresh 56HUNDRED wines are perfect for this. Spring it is also the ideal time for light meals and salads, which I enjoy with the Young Airhawk or The Anchorman. My house is never without some bottles of Anchorman… And then let’s not forget the Ingenuity White, a beautiful blend made from eight varietals with Sauvignon blanc in the lead. It's the ultimate food wine. Many people are choosing to drink their red wine chilled. What are your thoughts on this? The convention of drinking red wine at room temperature was developed in Europe, where the climate, in the northern part of the continent is very different from our own. It's actually not uncommon for people in Spain, southern Italy or southern France to drink their reds lightly chilled, when the weather gets warmer. Locally, it's sometimes necessary to chill reds down to around 16°C to 18 °C to enjoy them at their best. Pairing can be a tricky business. What is the most important aspect of pairing food and wine correctly? Be guided by your instinct and match the palate weight of the wine with the palate weight of the food. Don't pair a big and bold wine with a delicate salad or serve a light white with a hearty casserole. Let the wine and the food be evenly matched in terms of impact. Sometimes it's good to mirror the qualities of a wine in the food you are serving, so a Sauvignon blanc, for example, which can have a fair amount of zestiness, will work well with tomatoes in a case of acid meeting acid. Other times, it's a good idea to create pleasing contrasts, like a blue cheese which is quite salty, with a dessert wine or a fruity off-dry wine with Asian food prepared with a bit of a bite. It's more about trial and error. There are no hard and fast rules but try to pick out the most dominant flavour in a dish: sweet, sour, bitter, salty or umami and give this the most consideration when you are thinking of a wine to match. Which wines would you pair with the following foods? The best is to consider the way a dish is flavoured before making a match. If you take the approach that all fish must be served with white wine, you miss out on exciting flavour experiences. Is it a light, gamey or oily fish? How is it being prepared? Those are the questions that will lead you to the right match.

  • Spicy dishes?  These generally fairly well with more fragrant, aromatic and fruitier wines.
  • Soup?  It would totally depend on the soup. A light courgette soup could work with a Chenin blanc or a Sauvignon blanc. A robust bean soup might be better with a red wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage or Shiraz.
  • Chocolate desserts? Chocolate is actually very difficult to match. It depends on the cocoa content but a dark chocolate is usually good with Merlot, Pinotage or Cabernet Sauvignon. Another alternative is a really good potstill brandy like our Nederburg Solera Potstilled.
  • Red meat?  Usually, but not always red wines.
  • Roast chicken?  Here you could go for a white or a lighter style red like a Merlot.
  • Venison?  Depending on how it is prepared, it can work well with Shiraz, Pinotage or Cabernet Sauvignon and with many blends.
Interviewed by Lindi Brownell Meiring