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Sunday, September 16, 2012


Durban has had three or four major wine exhibitions/tastings in recent weeks, and I think they have all seemed to prove one thing: South African wines are now at a stage of development when many of them can compare with the best in the world.

Comparisons are difficult, of course, and they are complicated further by the fact that wine drinkers become accustomed to the products of their own countries and may have a degree of built-in bias towards them.

Nevertheless, I think it fair to say that the wines I have tasted have been of exceptionally high quality. The most recent show in Durban has been the wine trade fair of the Vinimark marketing organization. About 40 producers represented by Vinimark had about 220 wines available for tasting at the Coastlands on the Ridge hotel. Confronted with such an embarrassment of riches, one has to taste slowly and carefully. Here are my notes on some of these wines. As usual, I chose wines that are a little off the beaten track.

Muratie Laurens Campher 2011. Muratie is an estate at Stellenbosch, established in 1685 and one of the oldest in the country. It has a special interest for me because long years ago I knew G.P. Canitz, who owned the farm for 30 years and who was a distinguished landscape and portrait painter as well as a winemaker.

The Laurens Campher wine is named after the young German soldier who was given the original grant of the farmland by Simon van der Stel. This oak-matured white wine is a just off-dry blend of chenin blanc, verdelho (a grape grown mainly in Portugal and Madeira), viognier and sauvignon blanc. Strong aroma and a hint of pineapple in the flavour. Very good on its own or with most dishes, particularly spicy food. Retail price: about R100 a bottle.

Val de Vie 1783 – 2007. This blended red wine, from an estate at Paarl established in 1783 (hence the name of the wine), is excellent and expensive, about R260 a bottle. Fifty percent of the blend is mourvedre, a French grape which is grown in small quantities here . The other cultivars used are shiraz, grenache noir, carignan and cinsaut.

The wine is a lovely dark colour and has plum and cherry flavours, with touches of cloves and cinnamon. An admirable accompaniment to meat dishes and cheeses. Obviously this is a luxury item for special occasions.

Val de Vie means valley of life.

The Warwick estate at Stellenbosch was established by Stan Ratcliffe in 1964 and has been owned and managed by the Ratcliffe family for three generations. It is one of the prime producers of the Western Cape. The Warwick Chardonnay 2010, which I sampled, is a beautiful oak-matured wine, a pale gold colour with pineapple, almonds, citrus tastes. It would go well with seafood, obviously, and with pasta, roast duck and many other dishes. Alcohol volume is 14 percent. Price: about R170 a bottle.

Fish Hoek Pinotage 2011. An improbable name for a wine, considering that there are no vineyards in Fish Hoek. Fish Hoek Wines is a Stellenbosch cellar owned by a firm called Accolade Wines of South Africa, which also owns the Flagstone and Kumala brands. The Fish Hoek Pinotage is a very pleasant, slightly spicy wine that would go well with almost any food. Good value at about R45 a bottle.

Creation Sauvignon Blanc 2011. Creation Wines is a relatively new cellar (established 2002) in the Hemel-en-Aarde area near Hermanus. Like most products from this part of the world, its eleven wines, red and white, are not cheap but they are of uniformly high quality. The sauvignon blanc is fresh, flinty, crisp and lemony. Price: about R85 a bottle. – Michael Green