It is customary – justifiably, in my view – to have something to drink before dinner. Our forefathers have done so from time immemorial. A pimpeltjie of wine before the meal was the expression in the old days, when that seaman’s term still had currency. Today, nobody knows what a pimpeltjie is. But when I was young, the old ayahs in the cool deep-shade of the vegetable market that used to be one of the sights of Cape Town used that term for what we would now call a pierinkievol; they also spoke of a pimpeltjie when referring to a ‘small bunch’ of something. But originally a pimpeltjie was a measure of wine, a small glass taken before the meal.
From a health point of view, there is something to be said for having a sip of wine before the main meal of the day. It is not just that alcohol stimulates the stomach to produce its digestive juices, but probably also the way in which the amino acids and oils in the wine enable you, twenty minutes later, to appreciate good food better.
The question, then, is not whether to drink, but what to drink. Definitely not those heavy mixtures of fortified wines, liqueurs, gins, Canadian grain-spirits, English beer-brandies, or even Russian vodkas, and absolutely not the one-hundred-and-three variations of the American cocktail. They spoil your sense of taste and ruin your appetite. The only possible exception – but I would question even that – is the mixture consisting of one-third lime juice and two-thirds first-class Bols.
No, the very best drink before dinner is a small glass of genuine sherry. It contains everything you need for the preparatory stimulation of the stomach lining, and too little alcohol to have a damaging effect on the appetite. Sherry it is, then.
Sherry is a wine that can be exposed to the air without harm. Indeed, it is preferable to uncork a bottle of sherry a few hours before drinking it, and it should be enjoyed at room temperature, which is sufficient to enable the oily taste to come fully into its own. The unfalsified fino – almost colourless, aromatic, bone-dry, and bitter without any trace of brackishness – is not easy to get hold of. You need to be able to coax it from the KWV.
The excellence of sherry is due to the quality of its various components, the most important being the oils, fatty acids and amino acids, and the least important the alcohol content. It is a wine that should be sipped slowly and emphatically, preferably on its own. As a table wine I recommend it just before the meal, possibly with soup (unless the taste of the soup is too floury – so not with a purée), and possibly even with a fish like barracuda or yellowtail. It does not go with anything sugary, and it is far too proud of its own flavour to keep the inferior company of fruit and walnuts – its own nuttiness and its own fruity oils are sufficient, thank you very much.
Enjoy it therefore as a pimpeltjie before the meal – preferably not the sweet variety – or as a drink on its own, for which the oleroso, darker, or semi-sweet varieties are best. Try it at about eleven in the morning, especially on a beautiful sunny day when the vygies are blossoming and the sheaves of wheat are being brought in from the fields.
29 May 1942