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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2001-06-14)

The question I am asked more often than any other is: Can you give us the names of some good value wines?

Well, there are plenty on the market in South Africa, good wines at reasonable prices. One label that offers consistently good value is Long Mountain of Stellenbosch . This is a big cellar, producing about 270,000 cases of wine every year and it is under the direction of Robin Day, an Australian who made his name at the celebrated Jacob’s Creek winery, and Jacques Kruger, one of the Cape’s best-known winemakers, who put in many years at Blaauwklippen. Long Mountain is owned by the big international liquor group Pernod Ricard and its wines are sold in about 30 different countries. The grapes used for these wines come from various sources in the Western Cape, including Stellenbosch, Robertson and Worcester.

At a recent tasting of our private group Vanda Davies and Dennis Banks presented nine Long Mountain wines, four whites and five reds. Vanda works for Pernod Ricard and is understandably enthusiastic about Long Mountain. So were the rest of us. Three of the red wines each scored more than 17 points out of 20, very high by our own niggardly standards, and no wine scored less than 15,2. The tasting was of course blind, and top marks went to the 2000 Long Mountain cabernet sauvignon, cherry red with a slightly purple tinge, berry fruit with a little smokiness on the palate.

Excellent, and you can buy it in Durban for about R34, not cheap but good value. Most cabernets cost about R40 and upwards these days.

Second place went to the 1998 Ruby Cabernet. This grape is a cross between cabernet sauvignon and carignan and it was developed in California about 50 years ago. The purists tend to look down their noses at it, but it can produce splendid ruby-coloured wines which are generally lower in price than cabernet sauvignon. This was a splendid example, fruity, spicy. The 1999 vintage of this wine won a silver medal at last year’s Veritas Wine Awards.

Third was a lovely dark Merlot-Shiraz blend of the 2000 vintage, plummy and slightly peppery, and full-bodied at just over 13 percent alcohol. Inevitably, perhaps, the white wines scored less formidably than the reds. Why is it, a hostess asked me the other day, that everybody prefers red wine and red wine is so expensive? Never mind, there are many fine whites and our favourite among those offered was a 2000 Long Mountain chardonnay, greenish-gold with peach and fig flavours, and another high alcohol wine (13,55 percent). Retail price about R27.

Not far behind it were a 2000 Sauvignon Blanc with lime and grapefruit flavours and an unusual and distinctive Semillon/Chardonnay blend with tropical fruit, honey and nuts on the palate (that’s if you can believe the observations of our tasters). Another nice wine was the 2000 Long Mountain Chenin Blanc, pale green and dry, with fresh fruity flavours. You can buy this one at my neighbourhood shop for R18,20.

For once your humble scribe won the bottle of wine presented to the most accurate wine detective. I identified correctly seven of the nine wines tasted, an event so rare that it warrants mention here.

KWV products have won major international prizes recently. The celebrated KWV 10-year-old brandy has won the world’s best brandy award at the International Spirits Challenge in London, the third time it has gained this distinction, the other occasions being in 1981 and 1991. This brandy has been produced by the KWV, Paarl, since 1936 and is double distilled in a French copper pot still. The brandy is then matured in Limousin oak barrels for at least 10 years. What emerges at the end is a deep, amber-coloured liquid with dried fruit and port wine aromas and spicy, nutty flavours.

KWV’s Cathedral Cellar chardonnay, 2000 vintage, has won a gold medal at the Chardonnay-du-Monde competition held at Burgundy in France. This is the eighth year that the competition, aimed at finding the best chardonnay in the world, has been held and it attracted a record number of entries. Altogether 987 wines were entered from around the world and 30 percent received medals. Only 19 gold medals were awarded, so KWV’s chardonnay, which was matured in French oak barrels for eight months, is right up there with the best of them.

The regular tastings and dinners organised by Belinda Croxon’s The Wine Glass at the Durban Country Club have proved very popular. The next gathering is on Wednesday June 27 when two top wine personalities from two estates will present their products. They are Jean Engelbrecht of Rust en Vrede, Stellenbosch, and Paul Cluver of Paul Cluver Wines, Elgin. Rust en Vrede specialises in red wines and Paul Cluver in whites, hence the double invitation (though Paul Cluver will be presenting one of his first reds, a pinot noir).

Jean Engelbrecht, a former airline pilot, is the son of Jannie Engelbrecht, ex-Springbok rugby player and owner of Rust en Vrede. With him will be his marketing man Neil Buchner, both fresh from attending the famous Vinexpo wine competition held annually in Bordeaux. Paul Cluver junior will be accompanying his father.

The wines to be tasted are: Rust en Vrede – 1996 Estate Blend, 1998 Shiraz, 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, l999 Tinta Barocca, plus some barrel samples. The wines from Paul Cluver will be: Chardonnay, Weisser Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and Special Late Harvest. A three-course dinner will be served and the cost is R120 for Country Club members and R130 for non-members. Booking Belinda Croxon, phone (031) 208-2567 or 082 896-3317. – Michael Green




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