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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 #202 (article first published : 2008-08-11)

South African red wines have recently elicited some savagely critical comments from one or two superior wine writers in Britain, but there is nothing wrong with them, especially the top products, judging by a tasting which our private wine group held at the home of Peter and Annette Hoyer.

Peter and Annette offered six red wines which were all winners of double-gold medals in the Veritas wine awards or the Michelangelo international awards. As usual we judged them “blind”, with no sight of the labels. The average scores of the tasters were consistently high, ranging from 16,9 to 18,6 points out of 20. And as usual, to my secret amusement, top marks happened to go to the wine that had the highest alcohol content.

This was a splendid Saronsberg Shiraz 2004, winner of double-golds in both the Veritas and Michelangelo awards. The Saronsberg Cellar at Tulbagh, about 130 kilometres north-east of Cape Town, is a relative newcomer; its first bottling of wines was in 2004. It was established by a Pretoria business man and its winemaker, Dewalt Heyns, has quickly come to prominence.

This shiraz, which was matured in oak for 18 months, is rich and powerful (15 percent alcohol) but at the same time subtle with a fruity, spicy, floral character, and touches of mulberry on the palate. We all loved it; every taster gave it top marks.

In second place was a wine from a much better known property, the Backsberg estate at Paarl. This was the Backsberg Klein Babylons Toren 2004, a blend of equal proportions of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Here there were flavours of blackberry, cinnamon, vanilla.

Backsberg was established in 1916 and it has always produced wines of high quality. Backsberg Dry Red, which is particularly good value, is part of the staple diet of another organisation I belong to.

Third in our tasting was an unfamiliar name, Edgebaston Shiraz 2004. Edgebaston (spelled differently from the cricket ground at Birmingham) is the label of the Finlayson family, who are well known in the Cape wine industry. David Finlayson, son of the veteran Walter Finlayson, is the winemaker. This shiraz had rich berry flavours, with the smoky, spicy finish so typical of shiraz.

The other wines tasted were:

Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2003, a full-bodied, luscious wine and a good example of how the once widely disparaged pinotage grape, South Africa’s own cultivar, a cross between pinot noir and hermitage (cinsaut), has improved over the years. The Kaapzicht estate at Stellenbosch turns out about 40 000 cases of wine, two-thirds of it red, every year.

Tokara Red 2003, from a cellar at Stellenbosch owned by the business man G.T. Ferreira. This wine is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc. It has a strong bouquet and is fruity, with a dry finish.

Raka Figurehead 2004. Another blend, of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, pinotage, malbec and petit verdot. Raka is a farm near Stanford, not far from Hermanus, and they have been making wine for the past six years.

There is a story behind its unusual name. Raka is a long narrative poem by the Afrikaans writer N.P. van Wyk Louw, about a strange creature (Raka) that has a dark influence on an African people. The owner of the farm, Piet Dreyer, ran a fishing business for many years (now managed by his son) and he had a boat which was painted black to conceal the black ink squirted by squid hauled on board. The boat was called Raka, hence the name of the farm. Be all that as it may, this wine was excellent, with a scent of raspberries and with plum and berry flavours on the palate.

All six of these wines are in the upper price bracket, ranging from about R100 to R150 a bottle. And they all pack a punch, 14 to 15 percent alcohol. They are wines for special occasions, to be savoured, not gulped. – Michael Green




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