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MICHAEL GREEN'S WINE NOTES #167 (article first published : 2007-02-16)

Quoin Rock is an unusual name for a winery, and indeed this is a distinctly unusual winemaking operation, with vineyards about 100 kilometres apart in very different climatic and soil conditions. The Quoin Rock Estate is based in Stellenbosch, where it has a 200-hectare farm, but it also has an extensive property, about 1,900 hectares, near Quoin Point at Cape Agulhas.

Quoin Point itself is a dangerous reef that has caused many shipwrecks over the years. A quoin is an old English term for a wedge of timber used to raise or lower the barrel of a gun. And Quoin Rock is a specific rock in the reef at Agulhas.

The winery is relatively new - it bottled wine for the first time six years ago - but under the direction of a young winemaker/general manager named Carl van der Merwe, it has swiftly established a reputation for quality.

Carl van der Merwe is a Stellenbosch University graduate who has worked in the French wine industry and has done a three-month stint in the United States. He has a minimalist approach to winemaking, interfering as little as possible with natural processes and giving full expression to the diversity of the grapes available to him. His white wines come from the Cape Agulhas region, where there are cooler growing conditions and ocean breezes. His reds are from Stellenbosch, which has a warmer micro-climate and different soil types.

Three wines recently released by the cellar are interesting evidence of these differences. The Quoin Rock Sauvignon Blanc 2006 has the gooseberry/flinty character typical of this cultivar and has a most appealing freshness and vigour, a consequence no doubt of those cool weather conditions. Alcohol content is 13 percent and the recommended retail price is R62 a bottle.

The Quoin Rock Cape Agulhas Chardonnay 2003 was fermented in French oak barrels and aged on the fermentation lees (sediment) for twelve months. The result is a big, bold wine (14,2 percent alcohol) with lemon, apple and spice aromas and flavours. It would go well with most foods, especially richer dishes. Excellent now but it should improve in the bottle for another two or three years. Price: R75.

Quoin Rock Simonsberg Syrah 2004 is a rich, savoury shiraz from the Stellenbosch farm. The grapes in this wine grow in rich red, granite-derived soils and you can almost taste the good earth in this wine, which was aged in oak barrels for 19 months. The wine is dark, fruity, spicy, peppery, and it would go well with a wide range of dishes, especially the more substantial, rich foods. Alcohol content is 14,5 percent and the wine is first-rate now but could improve in the bottle over the next four or five years. Price: about R120 a bottle.

The Quoin Rock Estate at Stellenbosch is open to the public for sales and tastings, and platters of cured meats and cheeses are available. The tasting fee is R15, which is cancelled if wine is bought. Phone 021 888 4740. Michael Green




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