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Thursday, July 21, 2011


Ten interesting and delectable wines from foreign parts were on the list for our private tasting group when we met recently at the home of Vanda Davies and Dennis Banks.

Vanda and Dennis both work for Pernod Ricard South Africa, which was established in 1994 as the local subsidiary of one of the world’s biggest liquor companies. Pernod Ricard, based in France, has roots that go back 200 years. Today it makes and sells a wide range of wines and spirits. Jameson Irish whiskey, Absolut vodka, Beefeater gin, Chivas Regal Scotch whisky, Martell cognac, Mumm champagne are among their big names. The company employs 18,000 people in 70 countries.

It has launched a new international division called Premium Wine Brands, and at our tasting we sampled some of their products, red wines and white. They came from Spain, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand and were all of high quality, as our scoring in the blind tasting indicated. Scores ranged from 18 out of 20 (maximum) to 16,3. Anything above 16 is generally reckoned to be very good.

Top mark went to a white wine from New Zealand, the Brancott Estate Marlborough sauvignon blanc of 2010. New Zealand is famous for its sauvignon, and this wine from the South Island was a prime example: pale straw colour, gooseberry and melon aromas and flavours, and a modest 12.5 percent alcohol. Everybody liked it and everybody correctly identified it.

Hot on its heels in the scoring were the other white wines tasted: Jacob’s Creek Reserve chardonnay 2009 from South Australia, intense, fruity, buttery, with citrus flavours, 13,5 percent alcohol; and Graffigna Pinot Grigio Reserve 2007 from Argentina, citrus character with some tropical fruit, fresh-flavoured.

The pick of the reds, in our view, was another Jacob’s Creek wine, a 2007 shiraz with plum, fruit cake aromas and tastes and 14 percent alcohol. Somebody remarked that our palates were probably more attuned to Australian wines than to some of the more exotic items, and this was no doubt true. Another Jacob’s Creek shiraz, the 2008 vintage, also scored well.

Spain was represented by three reds from the Campo Viejo winery in the Rioja region in northern Spain. Campo Viejo is probably the best-known name among Spanish wines, and these three blended reds were all well received. They were the Campo Viejo Crianza 2007, the Rioja Reserva 2005 and the Rioja Gran Reserva 2003. They are blends of Spanish grapes which are not used in South Africa, the main one being a variety called tempranillo. Crianza means the wine has been barrel-aged for one year, Reserva mean two years in barrels, and Gran Reserva means two years’ maturation in oak and three years in the bottle.

A red from Argentina completed our quite formidable tasting list. This was the Graffigna Centenario Malbec Reserve 2009, a deep red, complex wine with spicy aromas and flavours of coffee, vanilla and toast. It comes from the San Juan wine region in western Argentina, not far from the border with Chile. The Graffigna winery was established in 1870 by an Italian immigrant named Santiago Graffigna.

These Premium Wine Brands wines are not sold in South Africa, not yet anyway. They are reasonably priced in overseas terms but the exchange rate is against us, and those we tasted would, I guess, probably cost R70 to R120 a bottle in South Africa. Maybe they can be imported at competitive prices. We shall see. – Michael Green