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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2003-08-9)

Bianco means white in Italian, and one might expect wine farmers of that name to produce chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. But the Bianco family of Tulbagh, in the mountains of the Western Cape, 130 kilometres north-east of Cape Town, concentrate on red wines, and with great success too, although their name is not yet widely known.

The Bianco clan hails originally from Piedmont in Northern Italy but they have been in Tulbagh for a long time, having owned a wine estate there since 1990. This property is called De Heuvel (The Hill), and it now produces 5,000 cases of wine a year, all of it red. The firm, Bianco Wines, is very much a family business. The owner and winemaker is Antonio (Toni) Bianco and his son Craig Bianco is the viticulturalist, the man who looks after the grapes.

There is a delightfully Italian aspect; in addition to wine the Biancos have 30 hectares of olive groves and they produce every year about 5,000 litres of extra virgin olive oil and five tons of processed olives.

De Heuvel was first registered as a farm in 1714 and has been a wine grape producer for nearly three centuries. Deciding that the climate of Tulbagh and the soils were suitable for red wine grapes, the Biancos built a new cellar in 1996 and concentrated their efforts on cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and pinotage.

All three wines are first-rate and they have won awards in South Africa and overseas. The 2001 vintage of the cabernet has a lovely bouquet and strong herbal and berry flavours. In good shape now but will probably improve in the bottle for another four or five years. The pinotage, also 2001, has the mulberry, plum finish typical of this cultivar. Again, most enjoyable now but will probably reward another two or three years of cellarage. The fruity shiraz probably needs another three or four years to reach its best.

All three wines were matured for 10 to 12 months in French and American oak barrels.

These wines are fairly expensive, retail price about R60 a bottle, but they are well worth trying as something different and individual. In KwaZulu-Natal the wines are available from Colin Lavery of Ridgeview Wines on 031 562 8169 or David Brough of Cape Exclusive Wines on 031 303 1582, and the olives and oil from Eva Muller at Earthmother, Hillcrest, on 031 765 3386. – Michael Green




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