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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2001-08-24)

A weekend of fine wines and fine food was presented recently by Lythwood Lodge, one of the most imposing and beautiful of the many accommodation establishments in the KZN Midlands.

Lythwood Lodge is owned and run by Michael and Ann Peacock, and their enthusiasm and concern for wine may be judged by the fact that they have just won, not for the first time, a Diner’s Club award for the quality of their wine list. Lythwood is a manor house about one and a half hour’s drive from Durban. Turning off the N3 immediately after passing Midmar Dam, you take the R103 (the old main road to Johannesburg of many years ago) as far as Lidgetton and then follow the signs to Lythwood.

This area was first settled by Boer farmers about 1840. They moved out when Natal became British in 1843, and an enterprising ship owner named John Lidget brought 104 English immigrants here in 1849, hence Lidgetton. Lythwood Lodge - there was once a stone quarry here, and the Greek word lith means stone - had its beginnings a century ago but its grand style dates back to the 1940’s when it was owned by Dr L.V. Pearson of Pietermaritzburg. He used Italian prisoner-of-war labour to expand the old house and add ornamental iron and stone work. The Peacocks, who were formerly in business in Johannesburg, bought it four and a half years ago and added an extension which brings the number of en-suite guest rooms up to 11.

The place is set in the foothills of the Drakensberg, lushly wooded and well watered, and Lythwood’s guests, who include many overseas visitors, enjoy lovely walks, trout fishing, and explorations by car of the Midlands Meander, an area full of interesting and diverse shops, pubs and scenic spots.

In this agreeable environment I was asked to present the wines at the Lythwood gourmet weekend. It was a pleasant task. Wines from the Morgenhof estate at Stellenbosch were offered for the Friday night dinner. Here is the menu, with the wines: tomato and prawn gateau --- sauvignon blanc 2001; cream of baby marrow and green pepper soup --- chardonnay 1998; litchi sorbet; casserole of guinea fowl --- Premiere Selection 1997; tiramisu --- noble late harvest 1998.

On Saturday night the wines came from Klein Constantia and the menu was: Coquilles St Jacques --- sauvignon blanc 2000; carrot and parsnip soup --- pinot noir 1998; fillet of ostrich --- Marlbrook 1997; blueberry ice cream --- Vin de Constance 1996.

These two estates are among the Cape’s top wine cellars, and these superior wines were matched by the elegant cuisine. Both Morgenhof and Klein Constantia are owned by people with deep roots in the liquor world. Anne Cointreau-Huchon, the Frenchwoman who bought Morgenhof nine years ago, has a grandfather who founded the Remy Martin cognac house and a great-grandfather who devised Cointreau liqueur. Duggie Jooste, who owns Klein Constantia (with his son Lowell), is from a family who have been in the Cape wine industry for four generations.

As I pointed out to the Lythwood diners, all these wines are top-class. I think the favourites of the two evenings were the two Bordeaux blend reds, the Klein Constantia sauvignon blanc (a premium wine since the first vintage in 1986) and the two late harvest dessert wines. The Morgenhof Premiere Selection is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, and so is the KC Marlbrook (the name comes from a riverside vineyard named thus in the 18th century in honour of Winston Churchill’s ancestor, the celebrated Duke of Marlborough) but the proportions are different. Both wines are excellent, the Morgenhof with chocolatey, redcurrant flavours, the Marlbrook with black cherries and a suggestion of eucalyptus. The two sweet wines were likewise delicious, the Morgenhof with touches of citrus, the Vin de Constance (modelled on the seventeenth and eighteenth century wines that made Constantia famous in Europe) with flavours of honey and apricots.

The Lythwood weekend included two nights of luxury accommodation, the two dinners listed above, all the wines, and two large English breakfasts, and it cost R1,100 per person. Good value, I thought. – Michael Green




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