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Saturday, August 18, 2012


The 34th Mercury Wine Week was as good as ever, with a hundred exhibitors offering several hundred wines for tasting and sales. (Review by Michael Green)

The big marquee at the Suncoast Casino was an admirable venue, attractively decorated for the occasion and solid enough to keep out sharp sea breezes.

A tasting should mean just that, and sensible people know better than to over indulge, especially bearing in mind the drive home. I restricted myself to half a dozen stands displaying wines from some of the lesser known cellars. The big names were all there – Nederburg, Simonsvlei, Villiera, KWV, Fleur du Cap, Boschendal, JC le Roux, Swartland, etcetera - and they attracted plenty of attention. But I took the opportunity to sample some unfamiliar wines, and I found it a gratifying venture.

La Vierge was my first port of call. This is a “private cellar” in the Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth) valley near Hermanus, an area that was unknown in the wine sense 40 years ago but is now celebrated for its pinot noir and its white wines. La vierge means “the virgin” and the names of its wines carry on this rather intriguing theme. I sampled a 2010 wooded chardonnay called Jezebelle, after a Phoenician princess who lived and died violently nearly three thousand years ago.

It was very good, lively and full of flavour, retail price about R90. Then I had a sauvignon blanc called Original Sin, another enjoyable wine, fruity with the mineral background often associated with sauvignon blanc. Price about R75.

Other wines from this cellar are called Nymphomane, Satyricon (a Latin porn novel written about 100 AD) and The Last Temptation. Saucy wines, you might say. At least they show a knowledge of classical literature.

Asara was my next stop. This is an old Stellenbosch farm that has come into prominence in recent years with some excellent wines and with a luxury 37-bedroom hotel. The name is an amalgam of three African gods with roots in ancient Egypt: Astar (god of the earth), Asis (the sun) and Asase (the sky).

From this unusual background I sampled a highly unusual wine, a white made from a famous black grape. This was Asara Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc, a most palatable and distinctive wine with tastes of apples, peaches and pears. About R60 a bottle.

The Mount Vernon estate at Paarl is a relative newcomer; it bottled its first wine in 2005. There is a strong KwaZulu-Natal connection here. The owners, David and Debbie Hooper are originally from Durban. Debbie is one of the few women winemakers in the Cape.

Mount Vernon is the name of George Washington’s home in Virginia, and it is also a recurrent name in the Hooper family. The estate at Paarl produces seven wines, two of them under the label Three Peaks and all of them offering good value. I tried a red wine called Cantata, a blend of six grape varieties: pinotage, shiraz, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec. It was very attractive, with berry flavours, and it sells at about R42 a bottle.

My mini-tour included one old friend, Welmoed (“Courage”), a Stellenbosch farm which goes back to the late 17th century and which in the modern era is a big producer of good value wines. I sampled a lightly wooded 2010 Welmoed Chardonnay, and it was very good at a good price, about R36 a bottle. – Michael Green