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MICHAEL GREENíS WINE NOTES (article first published : 2001-12-9)

A new name on the Cape wine scene is a bold and extraordinary, but nevertheless euphonious, fusion of Italian and Xhosa. This is a farm near Stellenbosch called Stellekaya, stella being Italian for star and kaya Xhosa for home: home of the stars. The name was devised by the farmís owner, Dave Lello, an information technology man who has a love of Italian culture and who has fulfilled an ambition by buying this 110-hectare farm on the south-western slopes of the Stellenbosch mountain, overlooking the town of Stellenbosch and with a good view of Table Mountain.

The first wines from this property were made 300 years ago and a long succession of owners bought, sold, sub-divided and consolidated the land. Dave Lello bought his piece in 1998 and engaged the well-known Jan Boland Coetzee to make his first wine. This has now been released, a 1999 merlot made in Jan Bolandís cellar at Vriesenhof, not far away, from Dave Lelloís grapes (other cultivars grown at Stellekaya include cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, pinotage and shiraz, but these wines are yet to come).

The merlot is delicious, a tribute to Daveís enthusiasm and Jan Bolandís skill. The wine, which was matured in French oak barrels for 16 months, is medium-bodied (13,5 percent alcohol) and has plummy, chocolate flavours. Excellent now but will improve in the bottle for the next three years. Retail price is about R60 a bottle.

* * * * *

Long Mountain wines, which are made at Stellenbosch under the direction of Jacques Kruger, one of the countryís most experienced winemakers, offer high quality at reasonable prices, as our private tasting group confirmed recently at the Durban North home of Vanda Davies and Dennis Banks. Vanda is sales director in South Africa of the Pernod-Ricard international liquor organisation, which owns the Long Mountain company, and Dennis is regional manager of the organisation. They presented various vintages of three of the Long Mountain reds: cabernet sauvignon, ruby cabernet and a merlot-shiraz blend.

Cabernet sauvignon, originating in France, is the grape which produces many celebrated red wines in different parts of the world, including the Cape. Ruby cabernet is an American cross between the cabernet sauvignon and carignan grapes, designed to withstand hot vineyard conditions. It is a prolific bearer and produces wines that are traditionally regarded as being of a lower standard than cabernet sauvignon. Merlot and shiraz are red wine grapes from France that usually stand on their own but are sometimes blended, as in the case of Long Mountain.

All very different, and they should in theory all taste very different. However, itís not so easy if you donít see the label, as our group discovered, not for the first time. Top marks in our blind scoring went to the 1988 and 1999 vintages of the Long Mountain cabernet sauvignon.

The scores for the eight wines tasted were close, and the ruby cabernets fared well. Rubies usually cost a good deal less than authentic cabernet and sometimes that price difference shows up in less subtle flavours and aromas. It says a good deal for the skill of winemakers like Jacques Kruger that many ruby cabernets have now come into their own as viable quality reds that you could serve to all but the most toffee-nosed guests.

Approximate Long Mountain retail prices: cabernet sauvignon R35, ruby cabernet R28, merlot-shiraz R37. Ė Michael Green




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