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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #194 (article first published : 2008-04-14)

This is a column about wine, not spirits, but brandy is a first cousin to wine –- both come from the grape - and I think there will be considerable interest in some research conduced by the liquor company Distell.

Contrary to a popular and traditional perception, brandy is not the preserve of middle-aged pale males. More than three-quarters of the brandy sold in South Africa is consumed by black people. Only 12 percent of the market is aged over 50, and more and more women are drinking brandy.

Caroline Snyman, who heads Distell’s spirits division and is chairman of the South African Brandy Foundation, says that brandy remains South Africa’s most popular spirit and that it crosses cultural differences.

It is estimated that 48,7 million litres of brandy were sold in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland in the 12 months to October 2007. Brandy accounts for 40 percent of the total national expenditure on spirits, estimated at R7,7 billion (other spirits include imported whisky and the so-called white spirits --- gin, vodka, cane and so forth).

Caroline Snyman says that brandy has migrated from the living rooms of white Afrikaners into the homes of South Africans across the country. Women now represent 25 percent of the local market, compared with 20 percent a year ago.

Seventy-six percent of all brandy drinkers are black, and 17 percent are white, 6 percent Coloured and 1 percent Asian; and 87 percent of them all are under the age of 50.

At present about 80 brandies are produced commercially in South Africa. And there has recently been a distinct growth at the luxury end of the market, such as one 20 year-old product that sells at R900 a bottle.

South African brandies have done well in international competitions, and no doubt this will be emphasised at a brandy festival to be held in Johannesburg next month. South African brandy is certainly a versatile drink. You can have it with anything from coke to ginger ale, or with water, or just by itself. I myself have never been a regular brandy drinker, but I enjoy it when I have it. And South African brandy has come a long way from the days long ago when it was rough and raw and known by the rather forbidding name Cape Smoke.

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The Plaisir de Merle farm at Simondium has won two gold medals with its 2005 Merlot and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon at the 2008 Swiss International Airlines Wine Awards. The wines were selected by a distinguished panel of judges headed by a respected British wine personality, Robert Joseph. – Michael Green




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