Young Pinotage Wines Show Grace Under Pressure

The prospect of tasting 14 Pinotage wines barely out of their nappies is about as daunting as engaging in a bit of face-sucking with a komodo dragon. At the best of times, three-month-old red wines are a tad tough on the mouth of any human not involved with the profession of tasting barrel samples before the day’s All Bran. And in its youth Pinotage can be an especially trying customer due to its penchant for infantile volatility and the wine’s love of,clinging onto any trace of wood like baby-shit to a Pep Stores blanket.
It was thus with meek-mannered trepidation that I this week answered the Pinotage Association’s call to duty and reported for duty at Doornbosch in Stellenbosch where 14 Pinotages from the 2011 vintage were to be tasted. This annual event, attended by winemakers, interested parties and the odd hack, aims to give attendees an indication of the vintage in question as well as to offer insight into how the newer breed of winemakers are dealing with this South African variety.
The 14 wines chosen represented all Pinotage-producing areas, including far-flung spreads such as the Olifants River and the Northern Cape’s Orange River region.
I must say, it was all a jolly pleasant surprise.
The first flight of five wines was bright, judiciously oaked and remarkably fresh. All had the wine-gum sweet-core concentration and finished as cleanly as a Lux model. No after-burn or gruff bitter notes.
Seeing as 2011 was one of the hottest Western Cape vintages on record, it was a great surprise to see these restrained and understated wines originating from hellishly hot areas such as Swartland (Riebeek Cellar) and Rawsonville (Badsberg). Even a gringo knows that hot weather leads to sluttish alcohols and steroid-like palate weight.
Not so, said the winemakers when asked. Seems as though the hot weather led to the opposite ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ insufficient structure and no balls on the mid-palate. If they sounded disappointed, I sure was not. The wines from the first flight were beautiful, although there were some heavier ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ yet no less charming – items later on courtesy of Fairview, Neil Ellis and Robertson Winery.
The event was convivial and spirited, and the Association’s love of corny canned music to accompany the tasting continues unabated.
The One and Only, Duimpie Bayly.
In closing, former Pinotage Association Chairman Duimpie Bayly commented on the forthcoming nature of today’s winemakers. “In the old days when the industry was dominated by three or four players you never saw winemakers sharing information or raising opinions in each other’s company,” he said. “You kept your cards close to your chest in those days. But the openness and camaraderie of today’s generation is a benefit to the South African wine industry and especially pronounced amongst the Pinotage fraternity.”
Duimpie also expressed admiration for the winemakers’ handling of the heat of Vintage 2011.
“This thing about wine being made in the vineyard is a lot of nonsense. Have you ever seen a horse winning the Durban July without a jockey? I think the winemakers showed remarkable skill in the cellar and understanding of the grape to produce fragrant, elegant wines under trying circumstances.”
But when all is said and done, I can’t wait to get my hands on the Riebeek Cellars Pinotage 2011. It actually reminds me of the Etna Rosso I am drinking at this very moment.

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