Champagne & oyster brunch – 20 years on
27 May 2016
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Welcome to Old Mutual Live Wine Edition, I’m Jenny Crwys–Williams. For more years than I can count residents of Joburg have been treated to one of the most sumptuous brunches on the planet. Bookings for Michael Fridjhon’s 2016 champagne tasting and brunch are now open, so I thought you’d like to know about it. It’s Sunday September the 18th and yes you do need to book now. Michael and Janice Fridjhon look back on a history of sumptuous champagne brunches.
A short a while ago I introduced Michael Fridjhon and we were talking about the 20th anniversary of the Michael Fridjhon Wine Experience. Part of that Wine Experience or the penultimate, oh I suppose it’s the ultimate part of the Wine Experience is the champagne brunch. I can honestly say to both of you because I’m sitting with Michael and Janice Fridjhon who plays a large part in organising this absolutely brilliant morning, I have honestly never seen piles of oysters.
Michael, you were speaking a short while ago about importing four different kinds of oysters from France. You still bring in four different kinds or three different kinds. Whether it’s from the West Coast or wherever it comes from. They are these mountains of oysters.
There are food stations, it is something that you just stand there and look and think I have never seen anything like this before. The Hyatt really coming to the party in no small way. Tell us a little bit about some of the memories the two of you have of, well, 20 years of the champagne brunch.
Janice Fridjhon: The very first event we had we only had 50 guests. We had half a ballroom for tasting, half a ballroom for dinner.
A truly unique experience
JCW: There’s nothing like this elsewhere in South Africa, is there?
Michael Fridjhon: No and I don’t think there’s anything quite like this now anywhere in the world. Because we have friends who come from France, we have customers, we have people who used to come from Singapore to be at this.
They say you know well even if they don’t buy the air ticket using airline miles, the price of something vaguely equal to this in Europe or in the East is so much more than the South African cost. That it’s actually worth the trip just to come and do it. But we haven’t lost that completely tangible sense of value at the event itself.
You know obviously there are beautifully printed menus and there is also something which we didn’t realise when we started, was going to become essential even collateral. That’s the apron, the apron which records the names of the wines. The apron which in the old days because of the slow postal system where you used to have to get the label. Then get somebody to make a screen print of the label, so that the aprons had all the labels of all the products.
JCW: Well, those black aprons, I must say, I am very anxious when I get up to help myself to food that someone’s going to nick it. So I very often tuck it underneath my arm because they have got to be some of the most wanted aprons.
Guys can wear them just as much as girls can wear them. They are, they’ve just got a certain je ne sais quoi to them. They are wonderful. But we must have been drinking here in South Africa some extraordinary champagnes at this breakfast.
A fine ensemble of champagnes
MF: I cannot think of a single sort of great name in champagne that hasn’t been served. Without making a boring discussion about it, talked about because we’ve had several vintages of Cristal, of Krug, of Dom Pérignon, of Gosset, of Taittinger, of Pol Roger, of Perrier-Jouët, of Laurent-Perrier. Sometimes it’s lovely as we do at the benchmark tasting of the Saturday evening, you compare the apples and pears to decide which fruit you prefer most of.
JCW: South Africa has got the reputation of being a whisky drinking country, other than beers of course. But whisky, people are prepared to spend huge amounts of money on. What is it going to take to get South Africans to recognise the sheer deliciousness of champagne?
MF: I think they are recognising it. You know South Africa’s year on year growth as a purchaser of Champagne, champagne from France has been significant. At the time we started this event I would guess South Africa was a R200 000 – R300 000 bottle a year market. It’s now touching R700 000 bottles and growing at the rate of about 10% despite exchange rates.
What we have yet to learn is the distinction between buying the label for the sake of the label, buying the champagne for the tasting occasion. Then buying champagne for celebratory occasions. Champagne is not an all-purpose beverage in itself, the category offers that. But some champagnes lend themselves better to food, some champagnes lend themselves better to a celebratory mood.
That’s one of the things we, strangely enough think the brunch should illustrate. That you sit and taste the three prestige cuvee’s right at the beginning and give them serious focus. So that you are comparing the Krug to the Cristal, to the Dom Pérignon, to Grand Siècle, to the Bollinger R.D., whatever it is. That you’re comparing and then when you sit down to the meal there is a decent Rosé and either a vintage or non-vintage on the table. So as you get your Alaskan king crab legs you think I will have some Rosè with this.
Truffles and champagne
JCW: Truffled scrambled eggs.
MF: The truffled scrambled eggs, yes.
JCW: You need another kind of champagne. I’ve seen people steal the truffles, just lean over and sort of scoop around a little bit while the chef’s not watching.
MF: They are real truffles, this is not truffled oil scrambling. These are truffles and lots of them.
JCW: There was one here in August 2007 where you had Dom Pérignon 1998, Champagne Paul Rocher vintage 1996, and Louis Roederer at Cristal in 1995. Was that one of your best years or not?
JM: Wow, it’s hard to… I think once, when you look back at the lists and lists of champagnes that we’ve almost forgotten that we drank. I mean it’s always so memorable at the time and it does create sense of feast and sense of indulgence when you’re there. It is remarkable that we had such extraordinary and old champagnes even 10 years ago. So I don’t know was it our best year? I think every year feels a bit like the best.
MF: You know what was interesting is that’s presented by Tom Stevenson who is certainly, in the English-speaking world, the champagne guru. Who writes the encyclopaedias of champagne and makes a career out of tasting champagne.
The one thing he wanted to illustrate was the definitive difference between early and late disgorgement of champagne. For all the, airfreight the stuff, make sure it’s treated as perishable cargo etcetera, etcetera. He didn’t get it to finish the result from the room.
Half the people like the earlier disgorgement half like the later ones. It was quite fun to watch because I think he was so certain that that would be the obvious outcome. It wasn’t that way because champagne is really a living beverage. While you treat it in a certain way to get a certain result each bottle is different. The bottles on the day didn’t sing the song you wanted them to. I certainly remember it.
What does 2016 hold?
JCW: What are you going to be serving this year or do you not reveal that until people sit down at those tables?
MF: Well, the prestige cuvee selection is in place. It will have the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2005. The very first year in 1997 we served Comtes de Champagne in 1971.
We will have Cristal, Louis Roederer Cristal, probably the same vintage, that’s what we’re trying to secure. So that we really are comparing vintage for vintage. Then we have the Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle. Laurent-Perrier’s been present several times in the past 20 years and the Grand Siècle is a non-vintage prestige cuvee.
So it will be, if you like, a discussion around single vintage or as most of champagne really is, a blend of vintages in order to arrive at the definitive house style. So that’ll be the prestige cuvee.
Then we will have Laurent-Perrier as the blanc champagne with the brunch and a Rosé, either from Benoit Lahaye who was the first of the Grand Cru producers to be represented or from Valche Bremont who are Grand Cru producers in the Champagne district. So we can once again build the Grand Cru, Grand Marquis discussion into the brunch as well as the prestige tasting.
JCW: Janice, I guess at the moment the Hyatt is already coming up with recipes, trying this and trying that because they have to. This is when they are absolutely on the line.
JF: Yes, and they really are. I must say we’ve been working with Andrew Atkinson who joined the Hyatt three years ago, I think.
JCW: Two years ago.
Getting the pairings just right
JF: No, two years ago, so this will be his third. He literally I think joined at the week or the month that we had that Wine Experience. So he is always very excited. He likes to try and get an idea of the wines certainly for the Saturday night dinner before we present a whole range of tastings.
It’s always a little tricky because you don’t want to be too rude about the colour of the saffron or the texture of whatever the chef thinks is fabulous. But there’s always a lot of give and take experimentation that doesn’t work, that will work. Certainly two months ago already I gave him a list literally of 19 years’ worth of menus for him to start working on and looking at.
In terms of the champagne brunch, there are one or two standards which we just absolutely have to have. That is the truffled scrambled eggs, the oysters. I mean there used to be a sort of competition with sort of oyster versus guests, who was going to win. Were the guests going to eat, finish the oysters, were we going to run out of oysters, were there going to be oysters left?
So oysters, the shellfish is always a big draw card. Then every year they either add more or less vegetarian, sushi’s you know they sort of, he stays with the trends of what the new food is. Whether it’s going to be fabulous to eat with champagne which most things are. Well I mean it’s true.
Get your tickets here
JCW: Well, it is, as we started off this conversation. I’ve never seen anything quite like that, and it is magnificent. If somebody would like not come for the weekend, the Michael Fridjhon Wine Experience but wanted to come to the champagne brunch, how do they go about booking?
JM: They can go onto our website if they just Google Michael Fridjhon Wine Experience, they will end up at our website. On which there is a booking form. Up until the 15th of June there is an early bird deal for couples. Which is obviously a better deal than after that and that is R6 750, which is a couple price. So for two people and that is the whole day session from 10:00 until 14:00-15:00, whenever you leave.
JCW: That’s specifically for the champagne brunch.
JM: For the champagne brunch, yes.
JCW: Well, it sounds to me like a good deal and Uber has arrived.
JCW: So on the 20th anniversary of all of this there now is Uber, so do not drive there by yourself. Just Uber it because then you can go home rolling in the backseat of the car.
This weekend’s wines with sommelier Mandla Patson Mathonsi
Sommelier Patson has broken the mould by choosing not one but two weekend wines. So let’s start with a lip smacking one, a 2014 Louis Latour Chablis. Then the next wine is the 2015 Warwick Dry Rosé. What is your choice for the last weekend in May where the weather is definitely getting cooler?
Mandla Patson Mathonsi: Yes, look, it’s quite funny Jenny because I’m going to go on the opposite side. I’ll try and introduce two wines and I’m going to go abroad. You know we’ve been talking about South African wines and of which we actually make fantastic wines in South Africa. So I will actually suggest a Louis Latour Chablis and everyone knows Louis Latour.
JCW: I don’t think everybody does, so it’s a lovely journey for some people.
MPM: A lot of people, let me see. Yes, they are one of the best negotiants in the Burgundy region and you know I’m actually I’m working for Reciprocal Wine Trading Company now, representing their wines in Gauteng. I’ve had a pleasure and I’ve been honoured to test fabulous wines from all over the world.
But that Louis Latour Chablis, a 100% Chardonnay, has got a little bit of choccie characteristics that comes through and it’s got that creaminess. That’s why I’m suggesting that Chablis today because it’s winter. But I’m actually having a starter which is maybe scallops with cauliflower purée, with hazelnut dressing. I’m not going to go for red wine.
I will actually look for something lighter but not very light like a Riesling or like a Sauvignon Blanc. So it’s a very, very well-balanced wine from Chablis which is actually next to Burgundy. A lot people don’t separate Chablis and Burgundy but it’s very important to separate it.
Like I was saying it’s got that choccie characteristics, it’s got that lime flavour that comes through, Granny Smith green apple flavour. On the palate it’s dry on the entry but the mid-palate has a little bit of like a stone fruit characteristic that those peaches and apricots coming through. On the finish that stone fruit comes through as like a spicy stone fruit characteristic. Very high fresh acidity but very, very well-balanced high fresh acidity, outstanding wine.
I know it’s not available everywhere but selected, like Norman Goodfellows has it. Very top liquor stores actually have them. Look out for those, for that Chablis and also like I said from the beginning, I would like to suggest two wines.
I’ve discovered an outstanding Rosé, the Warwick 100% Pinotage Rosé. I don’t know if you’ve tasted it, very low on alcohol, very low in sugar as well. I’ve got very, very big respect to Mark Radcliffe from Warwick. He’s a very, very good gentleman and he knows what he’s doing.
So they have, actually I think It’s going to be this year, it’s their third vintage or their second vintage, I’m not sure. But I’ve actually just recently tested that Warwick Rosé. It’s very light, very easy drinking. If you don’t feel like white wine, if you don’t feel like red wine, and if you don’t feel like Pinot Noir which is still considered as red wine. That Rosé is outstanding, still dry, low sugar, low alcohol as well.
JCW: I was just thinking of Highveld winter’s days where it’s perfectly warm enough on some occasions. I mean I’ve seen some people’s makeup running into their necks, it’s been so hot. But that would be perfect for that Rosé, wouldn’t it?
MPM: Yes, definitely. That Rosè, that Chablis as well that we spoke about because both wines, they’re actually very refreshing. We spoke about the limestones and the grape with like that Granny Smith green apple flavour in the Louis Latour Chablis. You know they are very refreshing wines, so in moderate winter days have some of those.
JCW: Mandla, what wonderful choices you’ve given us for May. Thank you very much indeed and we’ll be chatting to you a little again, a little bit later on in the year for some more of your wonderful, very idiosyncratic choices, so thank you very much indeed.
MPM: Awesome, thank you. It’s only a pleasure Jenny, any time, yes.
JCW: Thank you.
MPM: Thank you.
JCW: Thanks for listening to this episode of Old Mutual Live Wine Edition. If you’d like to get in touch with comments, questions or suggestions you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.