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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2002-12-9)

South African wine producers continue to explore export opportunities in Europe and North America.

Pernod Ricard South Africa is among the companies that are energetically looking for new markets abroad. Its export director, Vanda Davies of Durban, has recently returned from a trip to North America and Europe to promote the company’s wines, which, she said, were very well received by the liquor trade.

The parent company of P R South Africa is the French based international liquor firm Pernod Ricard which owns, among other interests, the well-known Australian Jacobs Creek winery. Robin Day of Jacobs Creek, who is perhaps Australia’s best-known winemaker, is a consultant to Pernod Ricard South Africa on the production of its two main wine brands, Long Mountain and Gecko Ridge.

Vanda Davies visited the recent Vinexpo liquor trade exhibition in New York and presented newly released vintages of Long Mountain whites and reds. She says they were received with considerable enthusiasm, and this success was repeated in Canada. Long Mountain is already a big seller in Ireland, Denmark, Holland, Iceland and Latvia.

Long Mountain shiraz/cabernet 2001 recently won an award at the International Wine and Spirits Challenge in London, and Long Mountain ruby cabernet 2001 has just been listed by South African Airways for service on its domestic and international flights.

The LM wines presented to the expert tasters in New York were deliberately made in the New World style of Australian wines: fruity, low in acids and tannins, fuller-bodied, not austere, designed for early drinking.

After Vanda’s return from America and Europe our private tasting group tried six of the Long Mountain wines which are being marketed abroad, three whites and three reds. In the blind tasting they all scored well, and among the reds top marks went to the ruby cabernet of 2001. I found this interesting. Ruby cabernet is a cross between the cabernet sauvignon and carignan grapes, developed in California about 50 years ago, and it is sometimes regarded as a kind of poor relation to cabernet sauvignon, perhaps because it costs a good deal less (the vine is a more prolific bearer). For a long time I have thought that there are some splendid examples in South Africa, and they are very good value at their prices. Typically the wine has a deep rich ruby colour (hence its name) and aromatic berry flavours and aromas, often with a touch of sweetness. It accounts for a very small percentage of planted vineyards in South Africa, but no doubt this will change.

The Long Mountain merlot/shiraz, 2001 and 2000 vintages, scored marginally less in our tasting, and the whites, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc of the 2001 and 2002 vintages, all fared well, many tasters commenting on the fuller-bodied style of these wines. For example, the sauvignon blanc had little of the grassy, rather astringent character often associated with this cultivar.

Long Mountain wines, which are of consistently good quality, are of course available locally. Here are approximate Durban prices: Long Mountain chenin blanc, R20; sauvignon blanc, R25; chardonnay R27; ruby cabernet R28; merlot/shiraz R38,50; cabernet sauvignon R40. – Michael Green




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