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Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Before our private wine tasting group met recently the hosts, Dennis Banks and Vanda Davies, promised us “something different”.

This turned out to be a tasting of port and other dessert wines. Port is a splendid drink, originating in the Douro valley of northern Portugal. It is the most famous of all dessert wines, heavy, sweet and delicious.  It is made for after-dinner sipping.

To sample eight bottles of port and similar wines before lunch called for a certain fortitude on the part of our tasters, but we gladly accepted the challenge and sipped cautiously at wines ranging in alcohol content from 12 per cent to 21 percent (compared with the 10 to 14 percent of most dry wines).

The eight wines were all products of the Western Cape and they covered a wide variety of styles and flavours. Cape ports, to use the technically correct title, have improved greatly in general quality over the last 25 years, and our scoring of the wines tasted “blind” (we were given descriptions but did not know the order in which they were served) was consistently high.

Top mark went to a celebrated Cape wine that is not really a port but a late harvest dessert wine:  the Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, 2000 vintage. The Klein Constantia estate has produced this wine over the past 25 years as a kind of tribute to famous Constantia sweet wines that had a big reputation in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Jane Austen wrote in one of her novels:  “Constantia wines have tremendous healing power on a disappointed heart”.

This 2000 vintage of Vin de Constance, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, has an orange-gold colour, floral aromas and rich, spicy flavours. Alcohol volume is 14 percent. I can’t give an exact price for this vintage but it would be expensive, about R500 a bottle, maybe more.

Second place, in our judgment, was shared by Nuy White Muscadel 1982 and Kanu Kia-Ora 2006. Nuy is a cellar in the Worcester area and its White Muscadel is regarded as a classic South African dessert wine. This too was a gold colour, with an aroma of marmalade, cinnamon and dried peach, with honey flavours on the palate. Alcohol:  17 percent. Good value at about R50 a bottle.

The Kanu winery, named after a mythical African bird, has a cellar and vineyards at Stellenbosch.  The exotically named Kia-Ora has a bouquet of apricots, pineapple, honey and almonds, and a full, rich flavour. It is made from chenin blanc and viognier grapes. Alcohol is 11.5 percent.  Price: about R90. Kia-ora is a Maori term from New Zealand.  It means “be well”, informally “hello”.

An unusual item was the Adoro Natural Sweet Mourvedre, made from a red wine grape that is grown in France and California but is a rarity in South Africa.  Off-sweet.

The other wines tasted were true Cape ports, among them: Groot Constantia Vintage Port 1986, a blend of shiraz and tinta barocca, velvety, fruity; Allesverloren Vintage Port 2008, berry and spice flavours, from the oldest estate in the Swartland wine district, alcohol a formidable 21 percent; Boplaas Chocolate Vintage Port 2010, from Calitzdorp, the name tells you about the dominant flavour; and Boplaas Cape Pink Port, rose-petal pink with a strawberry aroma.

When the identity of the wines was revealed at the end I thought I had done rather well by correctly guessing six out of the eight. However, three of the other tasters had eight out of eight correctly identified. Quite an achievement.  – Michael Green