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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 # 171 (article first published : 2007-04-6)

The Meerendal estate at Durbanville, about 30 minutes’ drive north-east of Cape Town, is more than 300 years old and the labels on its wines have a feature that is unusual in a country that has been a republic for nearly fifty years: a royal crown.

The crown commemorates a pre-republican event. When the British Royal family visited South Africa in 1947 the then Queen, later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, visited Meerendal with her entourage and had tea there. It was a big mark of distinction, and the estate remembers the occasion by putting a crown on its labels.

It is appropriate, for the wines from Meerendal are quite regal in their quality and character, especially three special wines that have been produced to mark the estate’s 305 years (it was founded in 1702 with a grant of land to Jan Meerland by Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel --- the original document has survived).

The estate was owned for many years by the Starke family, well-known farmers in the Western Cape. A group of five South African businessmen took over the farm from the Starkes three years ago, and since then they have spent R25 million on developing it.

Over the past 35 years Meerendal has been known for its pinotage and shiraz wines. The range has widened now to about a dozen different wines, including the three new prestige releases. These three wines were presented at a tasting conducted in Durban recently by Bennie Howard, a well-known personality in the wine industry who is now marketing manager for Meerendal.

Meerendal Bin242 Sauvignon Blanc 2006 comes from a vineyard planted in 1980. It is bone dry but creamy, with tastes of pineapple, litchi and spice.

Meerendal Heritage Block Pinotage 2005 comes from the farm’s cool slopes, where there are old vines with roots going down about 2˝ metres. The wine is very dry, elegant, with a purplish colour and plum, fruit cake flavours, and Bennie thinks it could last in the bottle for many years (he recently tried a 1969 pinotage from Meerendal and it was still good).

Meerendal Bin 159 Shiraz 2005 is, at 15,1 percent alcohol, not for the faint-hearted. Black pepper, dark chocolate, herbs, spice on the nose and palate. It will probably be at its best in ten years’ time.

These are prestige wines at prestige prices, respectively R115 a bottle, R250 and R150. The bottle alone, in the case of the pinotage, costs R19,50 (imported from France). The wines have been produced in small quantities, 3 600 bottles of the pinotage, 5 500 of the shiraz. If you are an enthusiast with deep pockets you can buy them from the farm.

For the more normal wine-drinker Meerendal has an excellent range of reds and whites that are widely available (its annual output is about 25,000 cases). And if you are in the Cape the farm, easy distance from Cape Town, is worth a visit. It has a restaurant in the manor house for lunch and dinner, a bistro for breakfast, lunch and tea, and a delicatessen. Phone 021 975 1655. – Michael Green




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