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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES No. 125 (article first published : 2005-03-10)

The annual pre-Nederburg Auction wine tastings proved to be both jolly and informative. Two were held in Durban, conducted by the auction’s wine consultants Bennie Howard and Dave Hughes, and others were held in various parts of the country. Dave Hughes, who adds a sharp wit to his imposing knowledge of wine, described the tastings as “the Howard Hughes Wine Flying Circus”, a reference to the film The Aviator, about the eccentric American billionaire Howard Hughes.

Dave Hughes, who has been involved in the wine industry for more than 30 years, has a phrase for everything. At one of the Durban tastings he said that a sauvignon blanc wine was “vivacious”, an unusual yet highly appropriate adjective. He is an old hand, and he knows that as the tasting progresses the conversational level rises. He expresses this as Hughes’s Law of Volume: the greater the volume of wine consumed, the greater the volume of noise. And he offers the thought that he drinks wine because it makes his friends seem so much more interesting.

Small wonder that he is in demand as a presenter of wines. He will be in Vancouver, Canada, on March 19, conducting a “satellite auction” of 38 Nederburg auction wines. This will be part of the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival, which features 174 wineries from 17 countries, and it is a further indication of how South African wines are reaching into North America.

The tasting I attended at the Holiday Inn Elangeni was an ample affair. We sampled 14 wines, and towards the end palate fatigue had set in for some incautious tasters. Tasting should mean just that, not drinking. All these wines were among the 147 to be auctioned at Paarl on April 9. The auction will be conducted for the 31st time by Patrick Grubb from England. As a guide to buyers he compiles tasting notes on all the wines to be sold. Here are some of the wines we tasted, with my own comments and some of Patrick’s.

Nederburg Auction Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon D252. This is a 2003 vintage white with a strong, deep flavour and a pale, greenish colour. Interestingly enough, the blend (sauvignon and semillon) is the same as that used for Graca, the very popular low-cost wine.

Nederburg Auction Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc D234. Another 2003 vintage, unwooded, grassy taste, gooseberry bouquet, quite aggressive. Last year the equivalent wine of an earlier vintage went for an average of R43 a bottle. You don’t have to be a Howard Hughes to buy on the auction. (Only licensed liquor dealers may bid. You must speak to your bottle store if you are interested).

Jordan Nine Yards Chadonnay 2002. A rare and brilliant wine. Patrick Grubb says: “Fine coconut with a hint of citrus”. Only 15 cases will be auctioned. The equivalent wine last year went for R420 a bottle.

Nederburg Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon R115, 1999. A dark, quite sweet, delicious red wine. Patrick Grubb: “Great impact on the palate of ripe fruit, hint of tar”. Last year’s version averaged R46 a bottle, a bargain price.

Sentinel Shiraz 2000. From a winery at Stellenbosch that has, among other things, 20 antique cannons. Patrick Grubb on the wine: “Deep cherry. Brilliant spicy nose, with cherry tones. Well crafted and a delight”.

Plaisir de Merle Cabernet Franc Cellar Master’s Release 2003. According to Dave Hughes, this has been the sensation of the pre-auction tastings. Only 150 cases were bottled. Patrick Grubb: “Very rich, sweet redcurrant nose. Excellent depth of fruit flavours”.

And the lovely noble late harvest ”stickies”, Nederburg Eminence 2003 (muscadel) and the celebrated Nederburg Edelkeur 2002 (chenin blanc). These wines taste of honey, grape jam, marmalade, and they are utterly delicious. They taste really potent but in fact their alcohol content, about 10,5 percent, is lower than that of most red and white wines. All the same, they are dessert wines, for sipping. At last year’s auction the Edelkeur averaged R94 for a half-bottle. – Michael Green




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