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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #176 (article first published : 2007-06-18)

As it is midwinter let us turn our thoughts briefly away from cool white wine to that delightfully warming drink, brandy.

South African brandy has come a long way from the days when it was a kind of firewater sometimes called Cape smoke. Today our best brandies are very good, perhaps comparable with cognac from France and the “ordinary” brandies at ordinary prices are a refined and sophisticated drink, even if many drinkers are still addicted to brandy and coke. (In contrast, some people reckon that brandy, neat or with water, is the right pre-dinner drink before wine).

One of those in the top league is Laborie Alambic Brandy, which recently won a gold medal at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, one of the world’s foremost wine and spirit competitions, held annually in Belgium.

This brandy, which has previously won other international awards, is made at Laborie, an historic cellar at Paarl which is owned by the KWV. The brandy was produced from chardonnay base wine and was double distilled in a copper potstill dating from the eighteenth century, after which it was matured in small French oak barrels for five years. An alambic, or alembic, is part of a distilling apparatus.

The result is a coppery-coloured, rich, fruity, nutty brandy with chocolate aromas. It comes in a particularly elegant tall, slim bottle with a metal label. As is often the case, you have to pay for top quality, in this instance about R125 a bottle. It is available in Durban, or you can get it from the winery, phone 021 807 3390.

Klipdrift is a name familiar to brandy-drinkers and it is widely regarded as one of the best. It is made at Robertson, about two hours’ drive from Cape Town, and the distillery now has a brandy-tasting area in its original farmhouse, just off the main road through Robertson.

It was here that a man named Kosie Marais made his first brandy in 1938. The first drops of his brandy emerged from the copper potstill at precisely 08.02, and today every wall clock in the bar area of the house --- a collection of timepieces found in South African homes over the past 70 years --- is set at 08.02. The label on the original Klipdrift Export brandy also bears a clock set at 08.02.

Visitors can taste the four brandies made by Klipdrift, take conducted tours, view old brandy-making equipment and learn something about the eccentric Kosie Marais, who saw himself as something of an engineer and planned many ambitious inventions, including a one-man submarine. Phone 023 626 3027. – Michael Green




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