Going through a range of old Pinotage wines at a 50 Years of Pinotage tasting, the older wines reminded me of Lauren Bacall or Elizabeth Taylor: just because they’re alive doesn’t mean you can do anything with them.
The first two wines were Lanzerac ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ 1963 and 1969. In those days Lanzerac’s PInotages were made from top grapes grown on inter alia Bellevue and Kanonkop. The bottles looked like bowling skittles and the pink labels were way ahead of their time.
The two wines had been superbly stored and were, yes, alive. Neither had been oxidised to death. There was still a core of acidity on which layers of fruit ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ albeit of the tired fruit variety ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ drifted. There was a tarrish-figpaste character one often finds in old Bordeaux, but no discernible Pinotage character. But these wines were clearly over the hill, heading towards some porty pasture having left vinous credibility and accessibility behind.
Sure, the 1960’s exercise showed that Pinotage made from good grapes can live, despite the fact that no wood treatment was given. But apart from being conversation pieces, these are not the kind of spectacularly aged and accessible wines, as is the case with, say, George Spies 1966.
Moving onto the 1970’s, the Zonnebloem 1974 was the star of the flight, if not the entire tasting. Despite being thrashed by the British Lions, 1974 was a spectacular wine vintage. And it shows. The Zonnebloem Pinotage, all of 35 years old, exuded a distinct Burgundian character with a sweet core and a bright rim of red fruit. Spectacular.
The 1980’s also had a humdinger in the Zonnebloem 1988. The first whiff gave me a hit of bacon and mulberry, and the taste was all fruit mince and spice. The wood regimen the wine had been subjected to was not on hand, but the way the tannins stood firm yet plush and velvety made me wonder whether the barrels had not received extra curing in a salt-air region of France.
The nineties were big: we tasted Kanonkop, and L’Avenir, and now alcohols were up and wines were getting hefty.
And the current decade produced a stand-out in Red Hill 2003, Simonsig’s iconic Pinotage aimed at taking the variety by the scruff of its neck and pushing it to the forefront of big huge, modern South African wines.
I have never doubted Pinotage’s credentials, so was not surprised to find such an enjoyable set of wines under the Pinotage banner. In fact, besides the wines from the 1960’s I gave up that awful spitting habit and left the tasting purple-toothed, in good humour and with my shirt hanging out.
What excited me, however, was the energy around the table. De Wet Viljoen from Neethlingshof, Hannes Storm from Hamilton Russel and Altydgedacht’s Etienne Louw joined Beyers Truter in enthusing on the wines, the vintages as well as Pinotage techniques. This really is the South African variety, and if there is a crusade going, count me in and bring on the Holy Grail.
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