If I was in the game of casting bones or polishing crystal balls to seek insight into the future, the word “Pinotage” is sure to come up as a wine on which a large part of the South African wine industry’s fortunes will hang. This locally bred variety, a cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage (Cinsaut), still has more detractors than a culturally appropriating hair-style. But even those with the most Calvinistic restrained sensual detectors will admit that the Pinotage wines currently being made in South Africa are right up there among the very best the country has to offer.
My prediction, thus, is that with a healthy secondary market developing for Cape wines, good Pinotage is a thing the pundits of the future will be clamouring for when appraising local wine offerings. Do watch that space.
Two Pinotage wines recently consumed with delight, joy and wonder were both from Stellenbosch, and both from estates known for the quality of wine they make from this grape.
Bellevue was one of the first farms to plant Pinotage. It is from this Bottelary property that the grapes originated for the world’s first commercial Pinotage, this be Lanzerac 1959. The wine in question is the Bellevue Reserve Pinotage 2016. Bushvines of between 20 and 63 years in age deliver the grapes to an average yield of four tons per hectare. After the quick ferment for which Pinotage is known – four days in the case for this wine – ageing occurs in a combination of new and used French oak. For a hefty 18 months.
Perceptions resulting from Bellevue provenance, bush-vines and concentrated berries tends for one to expect a deep and big wine. But no. Deep it is on a cerebral level, and big in the impression it leaves. Dense, heavy and hefty it is not. Bright and vivacious to the extent of playful, yes.
Potpourri of fynbos leads the aroma, supported by a heady whiff of mushed grape-skins. The wine attacks the palate with a blast of fresh, perky tannins and surge of red fruit. This all settles down as the mouth warms the wine, opening the senses to cranberries and damson, a lick of candied apple-peel and some mysterious spiciness, especially evident on the finish. The total experience is of an accurately crafted red wine, bred classically to provide excitement, taste and immense joy in a beautiful glass of red wine.
The second Pinotage up for mention is L’Avenir’s Single Block 2018. This estate on the lower-end of Stellenbosch Simonsberg is, of course, one of the modern legends when talk of Pinotage is done. Great terroir comes in spades, and through the 1990s and early 2000s the legendary winemaker Francois Naudé helped cement the farm’s reputation for good Pinotage.
This wine is now in the hands of L’Avenir’s very skilled winemaker Dirk Coetzee who has polished this liquid expression of earth, air and soil into something truly marvellous. Maturation was done in 300l barrels of French oak, 15% of which were new.
It really is a fine wine, and stylistically very far removed from the Bellevue offering, a fact underscoring Pinotage’s ability to grab onto its terroir and show it in the wine.
L’Avenir Single Block is opulent in aroma, exuding cedar wood, crushed mulberry with a hint of cigar-box. It is the kind of wine you fall in love with from the first sip as that gentle, silky juice slips between the lips. From here it is pure seduction, an exotic sweetness holding together tastes of Dutch liquorice, purple-ripe plums, cherry and fresh fennel. Pure and linear, the wine has not an inkling of rough-edged, the tannins beautifully integrated with the complexity of tastes leading to the drinker becoming involved and exhilarated by the wonder of it all. Amazing.
Bring on the sunglasses, because for Pinotage, the future is brighter than ever.
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