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Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Screw tops are becoming increasingly popular among South African winemakers, and the day is long past when a screw top was regarded as the mark of an inexpensive plonk.

Many high quality South African white wines now come in screw top bottles, and a recent addition to this trend is Plaisir de Merle Sauvignon Blanc 2010, from the Franschhoek farm that is one of the most beautiful properties in the Western Cape. This wine retails at about R77 a bottle. For that you get a sauvignon with aromas and tastes of green figs, peas, green peppers and ripe tropical flavours, with a lingering aftertaste. It is excellent now but, interestingly enough (considering that it is a screw top), it should develop in the bottle for one to two years, according to the Plaisir de Merle cellarmaster, Niel Bester.

Cork from the bark of trees grown mainly in Portugal has been used for centuries for wine bottles but in recent years the screw top has gained rapidly in popularity. A good screw top has a lining which expands and provides a tight seal for the wine in the bottle. And of course it is easier to open a bottle and to keep the wine in a refrigerator for a day or two once it has been opened. The advantage of cork is that it allows small amounts of air to penetrate and assist the natural ageing of the wine. Cork is still the closure of choice for a good red wine that can be laid down to mature for several years.

The solemn truth, however, is that these days very few wines, red or white, are kept for a significant period. In South Africa a very high percentage of all wines is consumed within 24 hours of purchase, and it is unusual indeed to find people keeping red wines for up to ten years, as they did two or three decades ago. The winemakers are well aware of this trend, and most South African reds are now made for early consumption, ready to drink on the day they are bought.

With white wines maturation is hardly an issue, and this is why dozens of expensive whites now have screw tops.

For everyday wines I prefer screw tops. The old ritual of drawing a cork slowly, examining it, sniffing it, is fun (provided the cork doesn’t crumble or break) but the screw top is really much easier.

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Wine tastings are available these days at a great many Cape estates, but Plaisir de Merle has taken this pleasant entertainment a step further with a choice of five different tastings. It offers a standard tasting for R20; a flavour tasting for R50, in which bite-sized items of food are matched with wine; a wine and chocolate tasting for R50, in which wines such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz are paired with chocolates; an exclusive tasting for R100, where limited releases of red wines from Plaisir de Merle are tasted; and a blind tasting at R100, in which the winner takes home a bottle of merlot as a prize.

Plaisir de Merle is open most days for tastings and wine sales. It is about 40 minutes’ drive from Cape Town. Phone 021 874 1071.- Michael Green