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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2001-09-10)

The late winter months are usually a quiet time for winemakers, and that is why there are so many big tastings and presentations at this time of the year. Here are some of the recent events in Durban:

Makro at Springfield is one of Durban’s biggest retail liquor outlets and its wine consultant, Faith Armstrong, recently organised a tasting of wines from the shop’s very considerable range. Most of the big names were there, including such prestige labels as Morgenhof, L’Avenir, Jordan, Middelvlei, Boschendal and De Wetshof but I concentrated my tasting efforts on Makro’s own range of wines, called Babbling Brook. These wines come from various cellars which produce them specifically for Makro, and they offer good quality at a reasonable price. Among those I sampled were an excellent Babbling Brook Grand Vin Rouge, cabernet and merlot, priced at R24,55; a Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, rich and fruity, at R35; and a 1999 Pinotage at R27,95. These are all good value; prices of red wines are depressingly high these days. Among the Babbling Brook whites was a very pleasant Grand Vin Blanc selling at R14,95.

An imported product that caught my eye was Grandin Brut, a sparkling wine from France, made by the traditional champagne method (but it is not champagne because it comes from the Loire valley and is made from chenin blanc grapes). This was most attractive and a convincing French substitute for true champagne. Champagne proper sells for about R180 a bottle upwards. The Grandin is R38, and well worth the money.

The annual Stellenbosch Winemakers’ Road Show came to KwaZulu/Natal with large presentations at the Kloof Country Club and the Durban Country Club. The second of these attracted a huge crowd; it is not often that I have to park on the golf course because all the more formal parking space is full.

Twenty-six producers from the Stellenbosch area displayed their wares, and more than a hundred wines were available for tasting. With such an embarrassment of riches it is best to be cautious and selective, and I tend to concentrate on unfamiliar wines. Among the novelties (for me) was Dellrust sauvignon blanc 2001. Dellrust is an old farm that has only recently released, for the first time, its own wines. This sauvignon was attractive, quite challenging on the nose and palate, with grassy and nettle features. Retail price is about R28.

Knorhoek Wines was also new territory for me. I tried the Knorhoek cabernet sauvignon of 1998 and found it very good: mulberry flavours, quite woody, with, I think, the potential to improve in the bottle for some years. The Bellevue wine estate offered an excellent Bordeaux blend red called Tumara, plus two appealing whites, a chardonnay and a chenin blanc.

I could not resist having a sip of an old favourite, Zonnebloem chardonnay. It was full-bodied and fruity, with butterscotch and toasty flavours as well, and it competes well with the many other chardonnays on the market, including some very expensive items from “boutique’ cellars.

The Vinimark wine company, which represents about 25 producers, held a tasting at the Durban Country Club for members of the liquor trade. About 125 wines were there for the sampling, and I tried some lesser-known products as well as the familiar names. In the former category were two excellent pinotages, one from the Goede Hoop estate at Stellenbosch, a wine with a brilliant bright colour and rich plummy flavours, and the other from Franschhoek Vineyards, this one with raspberry and mint features. These two wines are about R30 a bottle.

I had not heard the name Keerweder before. This is a chenin blanc from De Trafford Wines of Stellenbosch, a rich and complex wine, and potent at 14 percent alcohol. Price: about R30. And from the Fairview cellar at Paarl comes the humorously named Goats do Roam, a blended red which does indeed taste like a young French Cotes du Rhone (about R29).

Jordan Vineyards of Stellenbosch showed their beautiful chardonnay, with citrus and nuts on the palate, at about R45 a bottle. And at the other end of the price scale was Stellenbosch Vineyards’ Versus white, chenin blanc with some sauvignon, most palatable, especially at R17 for a handsome one-litre bottle. Small wonder that it is now the second biggest selling bottled white wine in South Africa – Michael Green




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