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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES #129 (article first published : 2005-05-9)

Wine made from the sap of a palm tree originated, as far as I know, in West Africa a long time ago. So it is appropriate that a new drink, Ilala Cream, should be marketed as “the cream of African liqueurs”.

Ilala Cream is made from the sap of the Ilala palm (Hyphaene coriacea), a species indigenous to sub-tropical Southern Africa. Apparently rural communities have used the palm for centuries. The sap is used to make liquor for home consumption and for sale, and the leaves are woven for rooftops, baskets and mats.

The belief was that these brews gave warriors the strength and courage to hunt lions, and that, in a different context, the palm wine was an effective aphrodisiac.

Pernod Ricard South Africa, the makers of Ilala Cream, don’t claim these results for their product, but it is certainly a very pleasant liqueur-type drink. The modern method is to tap the Ilala palm for two to three weeks of fermentation, then filter and double distil the sap to obtain a clear spirit. Fresh cream and hazelnut essence are added to form a blend which has subtle toffee flavours. Ilala is lower in fat and does not have the thick gooey feel of some other cream liqueurs.

It is potent, 17 percent alcohol (compared with 12 to 13 percent for most table wines) and you can drink it is a liqueur after dinner with coffee, or as a sundowner on ice or cocktail mixer. And it goes very well on ice-cream or frozen desserts.

The cream liqueur market is a big and profitable one, judging by the recent annual report of one of the country’s big liquor firms. At about R49 a bottle Ilala Cream is reasonably priced, and this distinctive local drink should make an impact on that market.

**** **** ****

Ingwe is a farm at Sir Lowry’s pass, near Somerset West in the Helderberg area, which is classified as part of the Stellenbosch wine region. It is owned by a Bordeaux winegrower, Alain Mouiex, who believes that blends are more interesting than single cultivar wines.

His latest release is an impressive contribution to this theory, a white wine called Amehlo, which is Xhosa for the eye of a leopard. The wine is a 60/40 blend of sauvignon blanc and wood-fermented semillon. The combination works very well. The peppery, flinty character of sauvignon is prominent, but it seems to be softened by the more bland tones of the semillon. The result is a distinguished wine.

The grapes were grown in the Schaapenberg Hills above Somerset West, good territory for white cultivars with its sea breezes, light winter rainfall, cool temperatures and gravel soils. The wine retails for about R50.

Ingwe is a relatively small-scale producer, about 18,000 cases a year, and it concentrates on high quality. Other wines from this cellar are two reds: a merlot/cabernet sauvignon blend called Ingwe (retail price about R115) and another Amehlo label, a cabernet/merlot/shiraz/malbec blend, about R75. – Michael Green




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