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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 GREENíS WINE NOTES # 201 (article first published : 2008-07-30)

Plaisir de Merle is a beautiful old farm just off the road between Paarl and Franschhoek and it produces beautiful wines.

The area in which the farm lies is called Simondium. Pierre Simond was a French clergyman who accompanied the Huguenots when they came to South Africa in 1688 as religious refugees. He ministered to them, was given two farms in the Franschhoek area, and returned to Europe in 1702.

The farmland of Plaisir de Merle was granted in 1693 to Charles Marais, one of the immigrants from France and the founding father of the Marais family in South Africa. His grandson, Jacob Marais, built the handsome gabled manor house, which is still in fine condition. Today the farm is owned by the big Distell liquor company.

Many people think, reasonably enough, that Plaisir de Merle means Pleasure of Merle, and they wonder who Merle was and what her pleasure was. In fact the name of the farm is a corruption of Le Plessis Marle, and this was Charles Maraisís home town in France.

The latest wine release from this distinguished old place is a splendid prize-winning cabernet. The 2005 vintage Plaisir de Merle cabernet sauvignon won gold medals at the 2008 Swiss International Airline awards and the 2008 Concours Mondial in Brussels, and it is now available in South Africa.

Like many top-class cabernets, it is not a 100 percent single cultivar wine. It is 86 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent malbec, 5 percent merlot, 1,5 per cent cabernet franc and 1,5 percent petit verdot. The winemaker, Niel Bester, says that the addition of these small quantities of other wines has improved the intense berry flavours of the cabernet sauvignon.

The cabernet grapes used to make this wine came from six different vineyards on Plaisir de Merle. In an unusually dry season, the vines had the benefit of moisture seeping down the slopes of the Simonsberg and feeding the roots. The wine was matured in French oak barrels.

The result is a full-bodied but smooth and gentle wine with a dark ruby colour, a quite spicy berry aroma and a lovely rich, fruity taste. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Excellent now, but with correct cellarage it should improve in the bottle over the next few years.

It is a wine for the special occasion; its retail price is about R120 a bottle.

Plaisir de Merle, which is about an hourís drive from Cape Town, is open for tasting and sales. Phone 021 874 1071. Ė Michael Green




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