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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2004-11-9)

Spier, near Stellenbosch, on the banks of the Eerste Rivier, is one of the best-known wine properties in the Western Cape, probably because it is much more than simply a farm with vineyards.

It has an hotel, an entertainments amphitheatre, five restaurants, a conference centre, golf course, summer arts festival and, for good measure, a veteran train. But the wine is the thing, basically, as it has been since a German settler named Arnout Janz planted the first vines in 1692. And today one of the farm’s most treasured possessions is a wine cellar dated 1767.

Spier means “muscle” in Afrikaans but I think that in this case the name came from the home town in Europe of the original owner.

Today Spier is big business. It is owned by Winecorp, which produces about 300,000 cases of wine a year, 70 percent of it exported, and whose brand names include Spier, Longridge, Bay View, Capelands and Savanha. Spier is responsible for 200,000 of those cases (60 percent red, 40 percent white), which makes it one of the biggest producers in the Western Cape.

Most Spier wines are in the medium to upper price bracket (they have won several gold medals at international wine shows) but, like most sensible business people, the owners are aware of the needs and potential of a wider market. With this in mind Spier has now introduced a new range called Discover. I have been able to sample two of these wines and they are highly acceptable and very good value.

Spier Discover White 2004 is a blend. I don’t know the components but I would guess that they contain a good measure of chenin blanc. The wine is crisp and fruity and has an attractive pale colour. It would go with almost any food but particularly with fish and white meat. It is attractively labelled and retails at less than R20 a bottle.

Discover Red 2004 is a blend of pinotage and shiraz. The wine is a rich dark colour and it has aromas and tastes of plums and blackberries. Very appealing, and ready to drink now (with red meat and cheese) or any time within the next two or three years. Price: somewhere under R30 a bottle.

A third wine in the range is Discover Sweet 2004, a blend of Bukettraube and Weisser Riesling. It has flavours of peaches, pineapple, honey, muscadel, and would go well with spicy foods such as curries, or with dessert or cheese. Not as potent as it tastes, a modest 12,3 percent alcohol. Price: under R20.

Spier’s main range, called Classic, includes cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinotage, chardonnay, chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc, wines that retail at between R32 and R48. A recent addition is Spier Shiraz 2003. This is a big, powerful wine, 15 percent alcohol, with a slightly peppery bouquet and hints of tropical fruit and coffee on the palate. Would go well with almost any food or by itself. A wine for a big occasion.

Spier attracts a large number of visitors throughout the year. It is only about 40 minutes’ drive from Cape Town and is well worth a visit if you are in the Cape this summer. Phone 021 809 1100. – Michael Green




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