Image and premier status should be non-negotiables for Stellenbosch. But the manner in which the region’s wine authorities are allowing the prostituting of its integrity is placing an increasing amount of pressure on producers intent on marketing their wines as deriving from Stellenbosch grapes instead of the trucked-in versions sold by an increasing amount of wineries based in this area.
Take Pinot Noir, for example. Despite a number of excellent Pinots made and bottled in Stellenbosch – David Finlayson, Muratie, Vriesenhof – Hemel and Aarde and, to a lesser extent, Elgin are always going to be identified with this variety, largely due to these areas’ commitment to making wines from fruit rooted in their own soils.
With nobody knowing where more than half of wines bottled under Stellenbosch brands are coming from, the area is losing its grip as a trustworthy proponent of regionally expressive wines. This is going to allow – as Hemel and Aarde has done with Pinot – for other regions to take ownership of cultivars and wine styles, leaving Stellenbosch in an anonymous dark pit when it should be the country’s leading wine light.
This is possibly one of the reasons why Giorgio Dalla Cia’s superb Dalla Cia Pinot Noir – or any Stellenbosch Pinot for that matter- features nowhere in discussions of great South African Pinot Noirs.
Two years ago I bought a couple of bottles of the maiden 2011 vintage and after finishing one during a viewing of The Godfather Part 11, I stashed the remaining five in a dark, cool place lined with stones.
This week I revisited Dalla Cia Pinot Noir and while my initial introduction had been pleasant enough, this five year old wine is now in magnificent condition.
Grapes are important, yes, and they were cut from vines on Stellenbosch’s Polkadraai. Loam, clay and stones. Breezy when facing south. A good piece of Pinot turf, all-round. The man – Giorgio Dalla Cia – knows much more about Pinot Noir than most Italians combined. Sure, that’s not saying a lot, but still one has to remember the vast number of vintages made from the heartbreak grape bottled under the Meerlust label under his watch.
Giorgio tilted this Pinot juice into new French oak for 18 months, believing – and quite rightly so – that a structured fine wine needs new wood.
To drink it, now, is real joy. The colour is a combination of deep crimson, blood spurting from the severed jugular of a disloyal Mafia Don and the purple-black skin of an indigenous African maiden, hence the apparent popularity of this wine among German customers.
The smell is dense and murky (the wine’s, that is), dank and feral with a few petunia petals and Namaqualand daisies wafting through the profoundly impenetrable aroma a Pinot Noir is known for.
Onto the palate, and it was just too intoxicating for obtaining a first impression. So I decanted the bottle, ate a white truffle omelette and revisited.
Structurally the wine slides onto the palate like a Moor princess illicitly entering the chamber of a sleeping secret lover at midnight. Flowing slyly yet with focus and assertion, it is followed by classic Pinot Noir flavours which I would peg as a combination of Burgundy’s Pommard and the eastern vineyards of Beaune.
A lavish swish of berry and plum brings fruit purity. The mysterious edges of dried porcini, truffle and sun-baked moss caress the outer edges of the palate. It is a wine you want to chew as there is a sappy umami crunch to it, a lovely cool, delicate yet forceful wine experience. And as you swallow, you are met with a finish longer than the cry of a wolf who has been on an all-juice and yoghurt diet for six weeks. The taste of wine, forest, grapes and wild fruits lingers forever, bringing memories pulsating through the mind and images of wonder flashing before your very eyes.
The earth moves. Pity it is not always Stellenbosch earth – as this is, and will stay.