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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #188 (article first published : 2007-12-4)

A writer in the London Times, Jane MacQuitty, has used rather extreme language to attack the quality of South African wines sold in Britain. She has described them as having a “peculiar, savage, burnt rubber and dirt odour” and says they have a “rubbery, rotten, egg-scented hydrogen sulphide infection”.

To their credit, South African wine people seem to be more amused than outraged at this invective, and they can afford to smile. The fact is that Cape wines are once again achieving a growth in export sales after a setback last year, when sales dipped 5 percent.

For the twelve months to September 2007, total wine export volumes were up 9 percent, according to Su Birch, the chief executive of the export organisation Wines of South Africa (WOSA). The industry has achieved particular success in Sweden, Germany, Denmark and Canada.

Su Birch says: “Premium wines are doing very well in the United States. Sales in Britain are back on track with record exports in October. Volumes exported reached 36 million litres, which is five million litres up on the previous record for a month, set in May 2007”.

The marketing of South African wines abroad is based, correctly, on their quality, diversity and value for money. It is easy to be critical of the unfamiliar; and highly developed palates that are used to the wines of France or Germany or Italy may have to adjust to the tastes and scents from the southern hemisphere. But an increasing number of Europeans like South African wines very well (and those from Australia, New Zealand and Chile). Comical abuse is probably good publicity, really.

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The Cape wine industry is nothing if not enterprising. The KWV’s newest red wine is called Café Culture. It is a pinotage and it derives its usual name from its distinctive taste. KWV’s senior winemaker Bertus Fourie, who made this wine, says that three months of oak maturation account for “its mocha and chocolate flavours --- the richness of coffee beans, the smoothness of creamy chocolate and the freshness of ripe fruit. It is an every time of the day every day of the week wine for modern consumers”.

The wine was released two months ago and it has already won gold medals at the Michelangelo International Wine Awards and at the International Wine Challenge held in Vietnam, where it was judged best South African red wine.

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Plaisir de Merle, in the Groot Drakenstein area of Paarl, is one of the loveliest farms in the Western Cape (and it produces some of the area’s loveliest wines). It has renovated its tasting centre, which was once a barn, built in 1823, adjoining the eighteenth century homestead. The tasting centre now has a relaxed lounge atmosphere where visitors can sample wines at their leisure, seated on comfortable settees and in very pleasant surroundings.

The Plaisir de Merle wines available for tasting (and sale) include chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. The tasting fee is R20 and cellar tours can be booked in advance. Plaisir de Merle is half way between Paarl and Franschhoek at Simondium on the R45, about 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town. Well worth a visit if you are on holiday in the Cape. Phone 021 874 1071. – Michael Green




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