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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2004-07-31)

Shiraz is one of the most ancient of wine types, supposedly originating in the Persian (now Iranian) city of Shiraz, also famous for its carpets, a couple of thousand years ago. Since then it has spread to most wine-growing countries, and is now a red wine to be reckoned with internationally in terms of quality. Australia probably leads the way and has developed a significant export market in shiraz.

South Africa was a late starter in this field. The shiraz grape, also known as syrah, has been grown here for a long time, but not on a large scale. Fifteen years ago less than 1 percent of the total South African vineyard was under shiraz grapes. Today the figure is about 7 percent and growing.

It is difficult to understand why in this country the grape should have lagged behind cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinotage and cinsaut among the red cultivars. It can produce excellent red wines and the Cape wine industry has now recognised this. Nearly 300 shiraz labels are listed in the current John Platter Wine Guide, and about 80 of them are graded as four to five stars in quality.

As is the way with wine bibbers, a wide range of extravagant terms has been assembled to describe the characteristics of shiraz. Here are some of them: smoky, plum, savoury, blackcurrant, pepper, spice, liquorice, leathery, tobacco, fruit cake, damp earth, violets, bay leaf, nutmeg, mineral, eucalyptus, gamey, grilled meat, chocolate and tar, take your choice.

When our private tasting group met recently at the home, in Durban North, of Vanda Davies and Dennis Banks the hosts gave us ample opportunity to explore the smells and tastes and colours of shiraz. Seven wines were presented for tasting: two pure shiraz, three shiraz-cabernet sauvignon blends, one straight cabernet, and one shiraz-merlot blend. Of course it’s easy to identify the wines when you see the labels, but we don’t see them. Identification was a hit and miss affair, as it often is when the wines are of consistently good quality. In the end, on our blind scoring, top marks went to the lone cabernet sauvignon, Bushbuck Ridge 2002, and to the well-known Nederburg Baronne 2002 vintage, a blend of shiraz and cabernet.

The Baronne must constitute good value, as it retails at my local store for just under R30 a bottle. Bushbuck Ridge is a name still unknown on the local wine scene. It is a new range being launched by the Long Mountain company of Stellenbosch and is aimed initially at meeting a strong demand in Europe for premium wines from the Cape. The label will probably appear in South African bottle stores towards the end of this year. Bushbuck Ridge cabernet, a rich, powerful wine with mulberry and coffee flavours, will probably cost R50 to R60 a bottle, and Bushbuck Ridge Shiraz 2002 about the same. The shiraz also featured in our tasting: a lovely wine, smoky, full-bodied blackberry flavours, a bright purple-tinged colour. It came marginally behind the top two in our scoring.

Nederburg is a huge producer, and Baronne is one of its big numbers. The shiraz component in the blend has been increased recently and the wine has benefited. It was described by one of our tasters as “gutsy”, and that it is, a good mouthful.

Long Mountain Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 was another good scorer at the tasting, with berry and plum character. Again, a big wine at 14 percent alcohol. Another Long Mountain blend, Merlot Shiraz 2003, proved most agreeable, with a particularly bright cherry red colour, and with an intriguing black pepper aroma, this contributed by the shiraz. Both these wines are good value at just under R40 a bottle.

The other wines tasted were both well received: Bubbling Brook Shiraz 2002, made for the Makro stores (R35) and the quaintly named Paddarotti Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz (R34), made by Paddagang Wines of Tulbagh.

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The commercially competitive nature of the wine industry is well illustrated by the appointment of Johan Bestbier as managing director of KWV International, which sells wines and brandies in 28 markets worldwide and is the wholly owned subsidiary of KWV Limited.

Mr Bestbier does not come from the vineyard or the cellar but from a high technology engineering company called Somchem, where he worked for 20 years as an engineer, manager and project leader. He helped that company to re-establish its profitability and played a key role in several transformation initiatives.

Dr Willem Barnard, chief executive of KWV Ltd, says he believes Johan Bestbier is the right man to lead KWV International in expanding its global market share. – Michael Green




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