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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #157 (article first published : 2006-09-7)

“The best South African wines really can compare with the best in the world”, said one of our tasters when our private group met recently, this after an appreciative sip of the 2005 vintage of Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc Reserve.

We were at a tasting at the home of Peter and Annette Hoyer, who offered six white wines from the Cape, each of a different type. They called the occasion Cultivar Recognition, the aim in the blind tasting being to identify each wine. Easy, isn’t it? Not so easy, when you can’t see the label. I have the theory that wines of high quality, and all of these were, are not quite as recognizably dissimilar in their cultivar differences as wines of more straightforward character.

Be that as it may, one of our number correctly identified four out of the six. The rest of us didn’t do as well, and we think we know something about wines!

In the scoring the Steenberg was a comfortable winner, with a very high average mark of 18,9 points out of 20. This wine comes from Steenberg Vineyards at Constantia, a relatively new cellar that bottled its first wine in 1996. The Sauvignon Blanc Reserve is its star turn, achieving the rare five-star award in John Platter’s wine guide. It is a powerful, rich, assertive wine, with the grassy bouquet typical of sauvignon plus a distinctive passion fruit character.

It sells, I think, for about R100 a bottle, expensive but worth the money if you are in the mood. If you are not in the mood, there are plenty of good sauvignons that sell at R25 to R50 a bottle, but I don’t think they quite match this one.

Second place in our scoring was taken by the Thelema Rhine Riesling of 2006, a four-star wine from one of the Cape’s most distinguished cellars. Unlike some Rhine rieslings this one is absolutely dry, with a lovely limey zest and spiciness. Good value at about R45 a bottle.

Next came a chardonnay from Hartenberg at Stellenbosch, this one called The Eleanor (after Eleanor Finlayson, a former owner of the estate), and selling at about R135 a bottle. This wine is lightly oaked and has well balanced peach and citrus flavours.

The other wines tasted were the Klein Constantia Semillon 2006, tastes of lemon and honey, price R69; Fairview Viognier 2006, a grape widely grown in the Rhone Valley in France but not here, accounting for less than one percent of all the vines in South Africa, R50; and Waterford Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc 2005, pear, apple and melon scents and flavours, R40.

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Wine companies show considerable ingenuity in trying to find distinctive names for their products. The KWV, which turns out two million cases a year, has launched a range of four wines --- sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz --- in the Canadian market and has given them the brand name Ubuntu. This means to share, the idea being that these fruity, easy-drinking wines should be part of a shared lifestyle of family and friends.

KWV International, the export arm of the KWV group, has invested in two big German liquor companies with the aim of consolidating its position in the German wine market. Willem Barnard, chief executive of KWV, says Germany is one of its top four markets. - Michael Green




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