Marking up Muscadel Magic

Monday, 26 April, 2004
Melvyn Minnaar
Very old treats and youthful verve
It is the Cape’s quiet original: lingering, somewhat silently perhaps, in the shadow of the buffy bigger brands and blends that want to boast being the true wines of South Africa.

Maybe silent seduction is its intrinsic quality: it is, after all, a grape that epitomises the concept of perfume. Didn’t the ancient Greeks call it anathelicon moschaton – ‘grapes that lure the bees’? And as Jancis Robinson points out in a time of wood flavours, treatments and additives, it’s the one grape that actually results in wine that taste of the original fruit.

Muscat blanc à petit grains could make a strong argument for being South Africa’s national wine grape. But being of quiet, challenging character, muscadel – as we all call it - has not hogged the limelight despite the double medals and accolades it regularly picks up in shows and tastings. And consumer support, to use a euphemism, has dipped. In short, it has developed an image problem: ‘Rooi Muskadel’ or ‘White Muscadel’ on the label, no matter how sweet and sensual the stuff inside, or how poetically part of the Cape’s vino culture, just doesn’t ring bells anymore.

Recently, on a high-end, sunny vintage day when some dedicated winemakers were still waiting for the last golden grapes to absorb more sunny sugars, a group of devotees drew a line in the vineyard soil to swing the mood, attitude and perceptions of Cape Muscadel into an upbeat.

If the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, the members of the Muscadel Association were going to make sure that message in the bottle gets through loud and clear.

There was a sense of achievement among the lunchers gathered in the Café Delvera garden. All enthusiasts and very knowledgeable about the fortified or natural sweet wines made from a grape also known as Muscat de Frontignan, they had come to judge the best on the market for a new award, to be announced next month. It is meant to boost its market image.

Driven by passion to upgrade image of the elixir, judging included a packaging component. Those wines that have ‘the look’ for a contemporary market-to-be will be given additional acknowledgement.

Hosted by mover and shaker of the MA, Swepie le Roux, the cheerful meal took a delightful turn when Peter Bishop, himself an M-flagwaver, uncorked two old beauties.

From a beer bottle, filled in the time of World War Two, came a sixty-year-old muscadel made on Delheim. Rich, dense and aromatic, it inspired respect for the wine’s staying power and allure. A middle-ager was next. Marked with the unobtrusive bureaucratic label of Nietvoorby’s experiments, was a magnificent muscat de frontignan from the 1974 vintage. Golden and glorious.

Around the shadow-dappled lunch table, there was no better way to toast the special efforts of the invigorated Muscadel Association. Watch this space.