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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES - No.128 (article first published : 2005-04-27)

Biodiversity and biodynamics were the buzz-words at the recent Nederburg wine auction at Paarl. The first referred to the range of plant life, especially grape vines, in South Africa, the second to the theory that natural methods of cultivation were greatly preferable to the artificial enhancement of growing conditions.

This was the theme of the auction’s opening speaker, Nicolas Joly, a distinguished wine grower from the Loire Valley in France. In an erudite and philosophical address ranging from Plato and Goethe to contemporary farming methods, he stated his fervent belief that four elements, soil, heat, light, rain, should be the factors determining the type and quality of grapes and wines, not chemicals, fertilisers and weed-killers.

Monsieur Joly owns Clos de la Coulee de Serrant, which must be one of the oldest wine estates in the world. He said: “Like great music, outstanding wine requires three components: a gifted winegrower (the musician), a superior vineyard site (the instrument) and the best possible vineyard and cellar practices (the acoustics). The Cistercian monks who planted Coulee de Serrant in 1130 knew all this --- 2004 was our 874th harvest”.

Nicolas Joly went on to say that South African winegrowers had identified unique sites that expressed unique characteristics which were inimitable anywhere in the world.

The truth of this is self-evident to wine drinkers who have perceived the differences between wines from South Africa and those from, say, France or New Zealand, and who have noted the different tastes of wines from various parts of our own country.

The point was well illustrated at a tasting at a pre-auction dinner held at the five-star Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl. Razvan Macici, the Romanian-born cellarmaster at Nederburg, presented four sauvignon blanc wines from Durbanville, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Darling. The differences were striking, and they were differences attributable to climate and soil conditions, “terroir”.

The wines were fresh from this year’s vintage, unfiltered, unbottled, cloudy in appearance but splendid in taste. Those from Durbanville and Darling came from identical vine rootstock, but you would not have said so. The Durbanville wine had the grassy, asparagus aroma typical of sauvignon blanc but it also tasted of apricots and peaches and was slightly sweetish. The Darling wine, from a cool site close to the Atlantic Ocean, was much more flinty and peppery and had a longer aftertaste.

The auction itself was adorned by the usual elaborate fashion show and a rather complicated lunch consisting of nine courses each prepared by a distinguished chef. Because the proceedings ran late the 1,400 guests were served lunch in a somewhat random order which varied from table to table.

This was the order of service at our table: lamb cutlets; curried aubergine; goat’s cheese spring roll; gazpacho soup; grilled beef and mushrooms; perlemoen Nicoise; vegetable phyllo basket with a cabernet sauvignon poached quail’s egg and truffle Hollandaise: peri-peri crayfish and banana samoosas; white chocolate and vanilla brulee. It sounds monumental but the helpings were small, and most of them were (to my palate) delicious.

The wine tastings, lunch and fashion show were repeated the next day, Sunday, for charity, and 1,375 people paid R500 each for the pleasure of attending. – Michael Green.




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