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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES: DEC 31, 2007 (article first published : 2008-01-5)

The peculiar charm of the winelands of the Western Cape is their combination of natural beauty and practical productivity, allied to a strong sense of history and tradition. Plaisir de Merle, the well-known wine farm at Simondium, between Paarl and Franschhoek, is a good example. It is old (the original farm was established 320 years ago and its gabled manor house dates from 1764), it has a splendidly lush setting, and it produces some of the finest of the Cape wines.

Plaisir de Merle’s 400 hectares of vineyards produce about 40,000 cases of wine a years, 80 percent of it red (cabernet, merlot, shiraz). But its white wines are also of top quality, and the cellarmaster, Niel Bester, has just produced his fourteenth vintage of chardonnay since the farm’s existing cellar was opened in 1993.

Niel Bester says he is particularly proud of this 2006 vintage because it won a gold medal at the Swiss International Airline Awards in 2007. His comments give some idea of the complexities of wine making and the enormous care taken by winemakers.

Discussing his chardonnay, he says: “Over the years we have renewed, replanted and widened the selection of vineyards and planted totally new ones. We still have our stalwart vines which form the nucleus of our blend, but the lovely young vineyards, planted in 1999/2000 and introduced into the blend from 2005/2006 onwards, add the freshness and crispness that make all the difference.

“The vineyards with the different chardonnay clones are all situated on different locations, ranging from 200 to 500 metres above sea level.

“Before harvesting I personally evaluated the grapes on the vines and then they were hand selected and put into small crates. On delivery to the cellar they were again inspected and any unwanted fruit was removed. After crushing, the juice was transferred into individually selected barrels to match the different clones.

“Four different coopers supplied new French oak barrels to my specifications --- barrels that enhance the grape characteristics. Older barrels were also used to broaden the flavours”.

The wine was matured in these 300-litre barrels for eight months.

The result of all this effort is the Plaisir de Merle Chardonnay 2006, an outstanding dry white wine with the citrus/lime character typical of chardonnay, plus a rich, nutty, slightly almond flavour. The wine is a light yellow straw colour with a green tint, and it has an irresistible zing, a conspicuous freshness, thanks no doubt to the high quality of grapes used.

The Plaisir de Merle Chardonnay retails at about R60 a bottle. If you are in the Cape the farm is well worth a visit (tastings, sales, tours of the premises). Phone 021 874 1071. – Michael Green




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