Pesto and Play at Neil Ellis
Chocolate and wine, cupcakes and wine, cheese and wine, nougat and wine, biltong and wine, even pizza and wine. We’ve heard it all and tasted it all. So…to blow it all out of the water, this past summer Neil Ellis Wines introduced a brand new kid to the food and wine pairing block: pesto and wine. Yes, my lovelies, be prepared to play with your food.
Towards the end of the year, things always start to get frantic and everyone goes into panic mode when they realise just how much admin there is to tie up before the staff parties and Christmas lunches. The invitation from Neil Ellis couldn’t have come at a better time; it was a little reminder to slow down and enjoy the longer summer days before the silly season ensues. I was (yes, we all know!) childishly excited to visit the home of everyone’s favourite wine family, and indulge in an experience that definitely piqued my curiosity at the mere mention of it’s name.
Neil Ellis Wines, the family owned winery on the slopes of the Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, is a must-visit this summer. In addition to a wide range of highly-acclaimed wines, food and wine lovers can embark on an epicurean journey with a unique food and wine adventure, aptly called “Pesto & Wine Play”.
The Neil Ellis team, along with the help of a chef friend, dreamed up a selection of recipes which have been tweaked over time to create four yummy pestos to cross-pair with four of the highly-acclaimed Neil Ellis Terrain-Specific Wines.
I was lucky enough to share this experience with a handful of Cape Town’s most gorgeous social media personalities and from the get-go, I had a feeling this was going to be a stunning day spent in good company. I was not wrong. It was a lovely, sunny Friday and the whole of Stellenbosch greeted us with cobalt blue skies and impossibly green vineyards on the drive up to Neil Ellis Wines.
On arrival, we tasted a few of their estate wines, backed by their experienced sommeliers, whilst we waited for everyone to arrive. Their tasting venue is uber modern without losing the rustic touches you expect from a Stellenbosch wine farm. Exposed brick walls and wooden accents are complimented with subtle down-lighting and classic black line sketch drawings on the walls behind the tasting area. It’s a contemporary mix of clean lines and environmentally conscious finishes that makes this tasting venue’s architecture so aesthetically pleasing to visitors and locals alike.
As you leave the tasting foyer, you enter two sit-down areas; one with a gorgeous fire place and couches for warming winter indulgences, and a summer tasting room with large glass doors that open up right onto the vineyards and a handful of outside tables on the lawn. You are spoilt for choice really.
You can also catch a glimpse of their very impressive Vinoteque, which holds 3,000 bottles of their best and older vintages which can be enjoyed by visitors during a special tasting.
We settled down at a long table in the summer tasting room, with views of the vines and mountains, and dappled sunlight filtered in through the glass doors. We were promptly introduced to our sommelier for the day, who quickly and effortlessly filled our tasting glasses before giving us the run-down on the selection we will be pairing with the pestos.
Enter the most colourful and bold food pairing presentation I’ve ever seen; it was absolutely delightful! A feast for the eyes! Delicately cradled on a curved barrel plank, we were presented with four home-made pestos, served with wedges of warm pita bread.
The four pestos included:
- Chickpea Curry Pesto
- Beetroot & Almond Pesto
- Mint & Pecan Nuts Pesto
- Kale & Cashew Nuts Pesto
Now hold up. Before you go all “20 questions” on me with big eyes. Each of these pestos were carefully developed alongside the in-house chefs and winemakers, to ensure the flavours and textures not only balance, but compliment, the four wines they are paired with. So just bear with me.
We are also using the word “pairing” very loosely here, which is where the fun starts. They recommend you try each pesto with the suggested paired wine once, and then you are free to play with your food! As all our individual palettes are in different stages of development, Neil Ellis Wines encourages you to find your own personal favourite pairing. Mix and match between red and white, between chickpea curry and kale. Whatever takes your fancy, that is your pairing.
The four Neil Ellis wines you can look forward to are:
- Amica Sauvignon Blanc: A complex, vibrant, barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc from a single vineyard in the Jonkershoek Valley with notes of white florals, nectarines, lime and lemongrass.
- Whitehall Chardonnay: An elegant Burgundian-style Chardonnay from a single vineyard in the Elgin Valley with youthful lime and melon aromatics, gorgeous ripe citrus notes, great texture and freshness.
- Bottelary Hills Pinotage: A multi-faceted Pinotage from 20-year-old bush vine vineyards in the Bottelary Hills, showing dark plum, cherry and blackberry fruit with elegant floral notes and a touch of dark chocolate.
- Jonkershoek Cabernet Sauvignon: The estate’s signature Cabernet Sauvignon with all the hallmarks of the Jonkershoek Valley. Known for its classical structure and perfect balance of elegance and fruit power, it has complex notes of blue and black small berry fruit with touches of cedar and mint.
The table was a giggle of excitement as we compared tasting notes and shared suggestions for pairings, whilst ooh’ing and aah’ing at the pure beauty of the laden table. It might have been a bit naughty, but we were treated to tastings of the full range of Neil Ellis wines (which is also an absolute must) and the kitchen topped up our pita breads a few times!
I particularly enjoyed the beetroot and mint pestos, but the vibrant chickpea curry pesto left me absolutely speechless! I think the only way I’ll ever enjoy kale, is in this very fresh and more-ish pesto. The surprise factor was high, and the pay-off great. I absolutely love being flummoxed by food; especially when I’m expecting one thing and I get something completely different. The “play” element is fantastic – it brings out a bit of your child-like wonder and amazement at the flavour combinations, whilst being allowed to play with your plate. This is not just a food and wine pairing; it’s an absolute all-round interactive experience. And how much does this all cost, you ask? A hundred bucks per person, is all.
As if round one wasn’t enough, Neil Ellis Wines generously treated us to a lunch of cheese and charcuterie platters. We were presented with no less than three boards of freshly baked ciabatta bread, coppa (Italian cured meat), a selection of three cheeses, olives, orange preserve and seasonal fruit. At R150 a platter, it’s plenty for two and the perfect space filler as an interlude whilst wine tasting.
Our glasses were kept full whilst we enjoyed the first of many long summer’s days. We ate and laughed and shared and clinked our glasses together on a prosperous 2019.
I would like to thank Neil Ellis Wines, not only for their phenomenal range of wines and commitment to the environtment, but also for keeping things innovative and fun; for not losing that very important element of playfulness in their approach to wine-making. That playfulness can also be seen running through the branding and naming of their “Op sy Moer” white wine, which, in my humble opinion, is one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted to date!
So, if you are looking for a food and wine experience to fill a lazy afternoon, rain or shine, summer or winter, make sure Neil Ellis Wines is at the top of your list. Slow down for a few hours in the most tranquil setting imaginable; fill your heart and soul with some of the best wines available in our beautiful country, and forget your troubles as you soak in the genuine hospitality we’ve come to know is an integral part of the Ellis family ethos.
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 10h00 – 16h30; Saturdays and Public Holidays 10h00 – 17h00; Closed on Sundays
Tel: 021 887 0649 · Email: firstname.lastname@example.org · Website: www.neilelllis.com
The Little Hedonist has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, I do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, menu changes, opening times, and contact details.
Disclaimer: I was invited to this event in my personal capacity. There was no expectation for platform coverage in the form of a blog, or social media posts. This is my honest and truthful opinion and review thereof. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are solely those of The Little Hedonist, given in good faith and in no way influenced by the company or its affiliates. All images, unless otherwise stated/credited, are also my own.