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MICHAEL GREENíS WINE NOTES (article first published : 2004-09-27)

Nearly 20 different red wine grapes are grown in South Africa, offering a wide range of wines (to say nothing of the vast number of blends of different combinations of those wines). Only a handful, however, are familiar ground to all wine-drinkers: cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, pinotage, ruby cabernet, maybe pinot noir, the latter a somewhat rare and expensive local version of a vine famous in Burgundy.

For the most recent gathering of our private tasting group Peter and Annette Hoyer had the good idea of presenting six unusual red varieties, territory that is not exactly unknown but is seldom traversed.

In the blind tasting they all scored well, and so did the tasters, with four of us correctly identifying three or more of the wines.

First place went to a Five Heirs 2000 vintage cabernet franc which, at R60 a bottle retail, was the most expensive wine in the tasting. Five Heirs is a label from the Lanzerac cellar at Stellenbosch, now owned by the prominent business man ChristoWiese. Cabernet franc is widely used as a blending component, especially in the so-called Bordeaux blend wines, but does not often appear in South Africa as a single-cultivar wine. This one was very attractive, with berry flavours and a hint of sweetness underneath.

Second place went to the next most expensive wine (our palates seem to be tuned in to the price tags), Bellevue Malbec 2002 (59,95). Bellevue is a Stellenbosch estate that was established 300 years ago and it produces several high-quality red wines. Malbec is a grape widely cultivated in Bordeaux and California. This example was easy on the palate, with quite distinctive chocolate and mint flavours.

Zinfandel, a red wine with a bright colour and fruity characteristics, is associated mainly with California. Seven examples are made in South Africa, and we sampled Hartenbergís 1999 vintage, from Stellenbsoch. Tastes of cherries, currants and spices earned it third place in our estimation. This wine, which sells at R41, is shortly to be discontinued by the producer.

Tinta barocca is a Portuguese grape used mainly in port. The Allesverloren estate in the Swartland, north of Cape Town, has made a red table wine from it for many years. We had the 2002 vintage (price R53), savoury and tangy on the palate.

Barbera is a grape grown in Italy, but there are only three examples of the wine in the Cape. We had the Altydgedacht, 2001 vintage, dry with a slightly almond taste (R50).

Cinsaut, formerly known as hermitage, is quite widely planted at the Cape but is used mainly as a blend in inexpensive wines, including the box wines, Chateau Cardboard. There are a few serious examples as a single-cultivar wine and we tried a 2002 vintage from Wamakersvallei Winery at Wellington, with the label Bainís Way, a reference to the great builder of mountain passes. The wine, which costs R25, was a lighter colour than the others, with a hint of strawberry flavour. One of our tasters thought it had an aroma of seaweed on the beach. It has high alcohol, 14,5 percent. You donít get that from seaweed. Ė Michael Green




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