Raw dry-aged beef.
Raw dry-aged beef.
Image: 123RF / Heinz Leitner

I recently attended a very special evening co-hosted by Nederburg wines and media personality Dan Nicholl. The purpose being to showcase the difference age makes to both meat and wine. Nederburg, naturally, brought the wine, while The Local Grill’s Steve Maresch served up the steaks.

Taking place at Maresch’s newest space, a venue called Canvas, in Parktown North, the event delved into the effects that a good bit of time makes to both drink and food.

The evening kicked off with a range of Nederburg’s premium selection each with both a back vintage and a more recent one.

What was particularly of interest were the white wines. South Africans, as Nicholl quipped “think of vintages on bottle as sell by dates”, a comment on the consumers penchant to buy very young, current vintage white wines and leave the ones with a year or two-bottle-age on shelf.

Having long been a proponent for aging white wines, I was eager to taste the elder vintages alongside their more recent counter parts. On the whole, the exercise did not disappoint, and overall, most guests, perhaps surprisingly, preferred the older wines.

The single varietals were where this experience shone best — blends becoming slightly more difficult to compare one-to-one based on variation in composition per vintage. Standouts include the 2011 vintages of Chenin and Riesling, both of which maintained their freshness while developing some wonderful more complex tertiary notes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the red wines benefited from aging across the board too. Cellar master of Nederburg Wines, Niël Groenewald explained why: "red wine contains phenolic compounds (tannin) which with time bind to other compounds"; resulting in a smoother wine.

South Africans, think of vintages on bottle as sell by dates, [and have a] penchant to buy very young, current vintage white wines and leave the ones with a year or two-bottle-age on shelf
Dan Nicholl

In layman’s terms, he spoke of thinking of taste buds as little pockets and the bigger (older wine) compounds slide over them rather than into them (like the smaller compounds) hence, softer less tannic-tasting wine.

Once we had all had our share of wines both young and old, it was onto the meat. Maresch, whose Parktown North institution is known for their ‘field to fork’ sourcing and on site aging, took us through the aging process. Essentially, it’s about the breaking down of intramuscular fat (marbling) to offer a tender, tastier cut of meat through one of two processes.

Dry-aging is done for whole sides of beef and prime cuts, the outside of the meat is exposed to air and naturally oxidises creating robust and umami flavours. Dry-aging can take place over a matter of weeks.

Wet-aging is done in a vacuum-pac under pressure and allows the cuts of meat to age in their own juices. This result is a more metallic and fresh tasting meat that retains a lot more of the meats' natural juices than dry-aging where the meat dehydrates — as a result wet-aging can usually go on aging longer too.

Both have their merits and much like wine it is a matter of personal taste and preference.

We finished off the evening by indulging in a wet-aged picanha steak and rib-eye dry-aged on the bone with a selection of wonderfully curated Nederburg wines ... a reminder that age isn’t all that bad.

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