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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MICHAEL GREENíS WINE NOTES No. 131 (article first published : 2005-06-7)

Chardonnay and chenin blanc are of course very different white wines. Or are they? It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between cultivars when the wines are of high quality.

Anyway, I thought chardonnay and chenin blanc would be an interesting theme for a recent gathering at our home of our private tasting group. I served four chardonnays, three chenins and one unusual chardonnay/chenin blanc bend that has its origins in France and South Africa. The wines were chosen more or less at random, the common thread being that they are all among my favourites. Prices per bottle ranged from about R22 to about R65.

The tasting was, as usual blind. The tasters were given a list with descriptions of the wine but the order in which they were served was known only to me, the pourer and non-taster. We are all experienced tasters but it was not always easy to identify one type from another.

The first wine poured was the De Wetshof Bon Vallon chardonnay 2004, an unwooded, luscious, fruity wine that some of the tasters thought was a chenin blanc. One mustnít be hard on them. Itís easy to be a know-all when you see the label and easy to go wrong when you donít, which is the reason why people in the wine business tend to avoid blind tastings whenever they can.

As usual, the wines were scored out of 20 points and on average the clear winner was Zonnebloem chardonnay 2003. Zonnebloem, a name that has been around for about 60 years, is not a fashionable boutique wine but simply offers good value, as exemplified by this chardonnay, which retails for about R34 a bottle. It is full-bodied, 14 percent alcohol, with a limey, citrusy flavour and a lovely creamy finish.

Second place in the markings went to another reasonably priced wine, Saxenburg Grand Vin Blanc. This is a curiosity, a blend of 60 percent Saxenburg chenin blanc from the Western Cape and 40 percent chardonnay from Chateau Capion in the south of France. It is certainly a distinctive wine, lemony, minerally, and you can buy it for about R23 a bottle.

The De Wetshof (price about R34) came third and then followed, in close order, Vergelegen chardonnay 2003, at R65 the most expensive wine tasted; Moreson chenin blanc 2004, an unwooded wine (R38); Boschendal chardonnay 2004, a beautifully balanced wine (R43); LíAvenir chenin blanc 2004, one of the Capeís most celebrated chenins, with honey and melon flavours (R47); and Simonsvlei Premier Chenin Blanc 2004, another good value wine at about R22.

At another tasting of our group, held at the home in Durban North of Vanda Davies and Dennis Banks, the hosts served four cabernet sauvignon wines, two shirazes and one cabernet/shiraz blend.

Top marks went to Rooiberg cabernet sauvignon, which sells at about R38. Rooiberg, a winery in the Robertson area, has long been a favourite source with bargain-hunters like me. For 40 years this cellar has produced good quality wines at attractive prices, and this cabernet was excellent: fruity, medium-bodied with berry flavours.

Second in our marking was the Darling Cellars cabernet, also about R38. From the Swartland region north of Cape Town, this is another fruity wine, with blackcurrant character. Long Mountain cabernet, made with grapes from Worcester and Robertson, was placed third. Berry flavours with a touch of mint, slightly drier than the two wines mentioned above, elegant and attractive. Also about R38. Another example of good value.

The other wines tasted were Bushbuck Ridge cabernet, another wine from the Long Mountain company at Stellenbosch (about R60); Fat Bastard shiraz, from Robertson (R52); Zandvliet shiraz, from an estate at Robertson (R60); and Long Mountain shiraz/cabernet sauvignon (R37). All the wines tasted were from the 2003 vintage.

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

Diners Club International have re-launched their Winelist of the Year awards. All licensed restaurants in South Africa are invited to submit their winelists, which will be judged in August by a panel of experts. Entry forms are on the website www.dinersclub.co.za




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