The Irrelevance of Scoring Wine

As the svelte brunette, a sommelier at one of my favourite restaurants in the Stellenbosch winelands says: “If I want to score, I’ll head for the bars just off Main Road in Sea Point.” This irreverent, yet weight-bearing reference, usually comes up when she is asked an opinion on the score a specific bottle achieved at the hands of critics tasked with adorning wines with points and star ratings. Like me, the lady in question is an utter agnostic when it comes to the religious fervour with which wine-drinkers follow the ratings of wines handed out by the disciples of vinous judging.

It was a film that convinced me art is un-rateable. And my conviction that the use of points to “score” what is in the glass, stems from the fact that I am truly convinced that wine is an art-form. For reasons I have stated in the past and will not go into at this moment in time, suffice to say that Ernest Hemingway does it for me by saying that “good wine is the most civilised thing on earth”.

In the early 1990s I was a film-reviewer for Die Burger, an Afrikaans language daily newspaper, where house-style dictated the judging of films using a one-to-five-star system. One and two stars usually went the way of movies featuring Leon Schuster or Jean-Claude van Damme. When reviewing modern classics such as Dead Poets Society, Goodfellas, Philadelphia and Silence of the Lambs, I spent more time sweating over deciding between a 4- and 5-star rating than writing the actual 600-word review.

One night I was tasked to check-out an art-house flick called Barton Fink made by the then up-and-coming brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. Half-way through this extraordinary film about a New York playwright’s internal struggles resulting from him having sold his artistic soul to 1940’s Hollywood, I started wondering: How the hell was I going to confine this piece of film marvel to 5-stars? The acting (John Turturro, John Goodman and Judy Davis), the intense originality of the storyline, the power of the script….all the other movies I was reviewing and had handed 5-star ratings to paled and withered when compared with what I was watching here.

When it came to ending the writing of that review and listlessly typing in the 5-star rating, it was with a feeling of dishonesty to the readers. For despite my – I think – powerfully positive appraisal of the film, those 5-stars seemed a lacklustre and lazy cop-out, a restrictive and stuffy way with which to rate, recommend or review an exceptional experience.

Which brings me back to wine. The rating of wine with a score, a practice that Robert Parker made acceptable, is to me an incomplete and sluggish way with which to end-out one’s appraisal of a wine. Sure, ratings are motivated by critics claiming their scores are driven by virtue, the defining of the points-score being the generous offering of the reviewer’s insight and knowledge in order to guide the consumer who – obviously – needs such expert guidance in order to gain an informed opinion.

But this I don’t buy and certainly don’t follow. Points ratings are for air-fryers, flat-screen television sets, and wireless head-phones. Would one use a points-rating to guide a reader to a novel by Lionel Shriver, Douglas Stuart or Etienne van Heerden? If Irma Stern, Pierneef and Walter Meyer are 5-star artists, what about Gauguin and Picasso? The same goes for music, drama; poetry and sculpture.

Art is not followed by scores and ratings, although monetary value has today become a popular and shallow guide to its perceived merit.

John Turturro in Barton Fink.

This is why social media is changing the face of wine reviewing and rating for the better. Two sentence-tweets containing real and heart-felt words and enthusiastic Instagram pictures are becoming more convincing and more relatable to consumers than a 92pt rating. Sure, the conveyers of these social media opinions and recommendations are mostly nowhere near the lofty heights where informed and educated wine critics reside. But their raw and spontaneous reaction to wine succeeds in conveying what a score cannot do, and that is emotion and experience. The sharing of this emotion and experience, in ever-which-way, is by far the most effective way of eliciting consumer response and will, in due course, make the current obsession with ratings and scores irrelevant. If it is your thing, however, enjoy it while it lasts.

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Chamonix Tops this Year’s Cabernet Franc Challenge

A Cabernet Franc wine from Chamonix Estate’s mountain vineyards in Franschhoek took this year’s top prize at the annual Cabernet Franc Challenge that has since 2016 been at the forefront of recognising the quality of South African wines made from this classic Bordeaux grape variety. Chamonix was awarded the Cobie van Oort Challenge Trophy for Top Scoring Wine at this year’s challenge, with the Chamonix Cabernet Franc 2020 edging-out the 37 other entrants of this year’s competition.

The trophy for best Cabernet Franc is named after the late Cobie van Oort, co-founder of this competition and recognised for her work in acknowledging and promoting the quality of Cape Cabernet Franc.

Commenting on the winning wine, Carrie Adams, convenor of the judging panel for this year’s competition, said that Chamonix Cabernet Franc 2020 “sported the perfect framework of great Cab Franc with graphite and beautifully ripe, raspberry fruit on nose and palate”.

Chamonix Winery

Chamonix winemaker Neil Bruwer said he and his team are elated at this recognition for one of the Chamonix wine-offerings showing the diverse potential of the estate’s mountain vineyards.

“Chamonix has inevitably garnered an excellent reputation for our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir due to recognition at various high-profile competitions as well as from local and international wine critics,” says Bruwer. “But since taking-over the winemaking reins in 2019 I made a point of emphasizing the incredible quality of Cabernet Franc from our unique terroir. The elevated vineyards, running to 400m above sea-level and the soils of broken shale and decomposed granite form an amazing environment for this variety.

“Cabernet Franc needs ideal ripening conditions to create the supple tannins and elegant, silky fruit profile the wines are renowned for. Here the degrees of sunlight radiation the Chamonix slopes are exposed to, as well as the constant air-flow, allow for this.”

For the making of Chamonix Cabernet Franc the berries are subjected to a selection process before fermented whole in stainless steel and concrete tanks for three weeks. Following malolactic fermentation, the wine is matured for 18 months in 228-litre French oak barrels.

Chamonix CEO Stefan van Rooyen says that being named top wine at the Cabernet Franc Challenge is a tremendous recognition of which he and his team are proud. “Despite only having been made as a single cultivar wine in South Africa since 1998, the country has of late been gaining a reputation for the quality of our Cabernet Franc wines,” says Van Rooyen.

“The variety has found its way into the stables of leading Cape wine brands and is fast becoming one of the country’s most reputable grapes in terms of its ability to showcase regional terroir through evocative and varietal expressive wines known for their refined elegance. For Chamonix to lead the way at this year’s Cabernet Franc Challenge in such a competitive category of excellent wines is a true honour, one inspiring us to be known as one of the Cape’s leading premium wineries.”

At the judging of this year’s Cabernet Franc Challenge, Adams was assisted by ace sommelier Greg Mutambe and Cape Wine Master Lizette Tolken.

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The 350 year-old Spirit that is Cape Brandy

Napoleon’s army may have marched on its stomach, but we South African males conscripted into the military know otherwise: for our army marched on Klipdrift and Coke.

A cold Castle or Lion lager may have successfully washed the gritty Namibian-Angolan dust from your mouth after a few days of diplomatic negotiating with your enemy in the bush. But it was only when the spirited sweetness of a tumbler filled with ice-cold Klippies and Coke hit the pit of your stomach that you were revived into a semblance of fortified normality. The combination of alcohol, sugar and the Coke’s subdued fizz warmed the soul and lightened the mood, feelings necessary for the hearted camaraderie to follow. Plus, the kick of a triple brandy ripping through the dark mass of cola tasted brilliant. Still does – as long as it is real Coke with the brandy, the Light and Sugar-free versions being unable to form the harmonious taste profile that has made Klippies and Coke a true South African drink bearing provenance, legacy and culture.

In fact the late General Jannie Geldenhuys, former head of the SA Defence Force, was made an honorary member of the South African Brandy Guild for the role he played in ensuring that the canteens and messes of the Force housed a constant supply of Klipdrift.

Of course, as one gets older and learns new things, it must be said that there is far more, much more, to South African brandy than Klipdrift. Not just a plethora of brands and styles, but also a rich history, one going back to 1672 when the first brandy was made in South Arica. Not on land, by the way – the maiden brandy was distilled by an intrepid and unfortunately nameless cook on board a ship named De Pijl which lay on anchor off Table Bay. With the maiden Cape wine vintage hitting the throats in 1659, courtesy of Jan van Riebeeck, the first commander of the VOC’s new outpost on the tip of Africa, it could only have been a matter of time before some spirited inhabitant or visitor tried his or her hand at distillation. That is cooking the wine and capturing the hot, heady and alcoholic condensation that is brandy.

This was 350 years ago, a milestone that led to my current reflection on South African brandy and its importance to the local wine industry.

First up is the economic input. With five litres of wine needed to distil one litre of brandy, the spirit plays a formidable role in its offering of a profitable off-set point for a large portion of the Cape grape-farming community. Some 32m litres of brandy are consumed in South Africa each year, so a simple calculation offers a glimpse into the spirit’s importance to the wine-grower sector and the extended value chain.

As a consumer, it is the quality proposition presented by South African brandy that is the category’s strongest feature. It has become a regular occurrence for the spirit from the south to feature on the awards-list for World’s Best Brandy at the various international competitions, Cape brandy annually landing an enviable tally of gold awards and trophies at these events with a regularity bordering on the predictable. And here, too, history has a role to play.

René Santhagens

Up until the beginning of the 20th century, local brandy was a case of anything goes. It had to be cooked from wine made from grapes, but that was about it. An elixir deserved of the Cape wine culture it was most certainly not. René Santhagens, a Belgian who had become intimately involved with the majestic Cognac production processes in France before heading for South Africa, changed all that.

Santhagens set-up shop on the Oude Molen farm in Stellenbosch, in the area today known as Bosman’s Crossing, and by 1910 he was making brandy abiding by the principles he had studied and practised in Cognac. This entailed double distillation of the base wine in copper stills. Followed by maturation of the clear distillate in oak barrels no large than 340 litres. Santhagens influence was such that after the formation of the KWV in 1918 to provide wine farmers with a regulatory framework for grape growing and wine making, the new wine behemoth turned its eyes to the quality of Cape brandy.

Santhagens was involved in laying down the guidelines for brandy production and together with the KWV the legislation was framed that became the Wine and Sprits Act of 1924. This promulgated specific criteria for brandy distillation and maturation regimes, including permissible additives and fermentation processes, as well as Santhagens’ double-distillation and three years in oak gospel. Regulations the industry follows to this day.

Blended brandies, such as aforementioned Klipdrift and its motley array of entry-level cousins, are regulated in that they must contain a minimum component of 30% pot-still, three-year oak matured brandy with the balance comprising neutral grape spirits. The pot-still liquids at the top of the brandy chain are, of course, 100% pot-still and can spend decades in the barrel depending on the taste profile required of each brand.

As an honour to 350 years of South African brandy and an ode to Santhagens, my current liquor of choice is the Oude Molen XO produced at the Oude Molen Distillery in Elgin, which as a venue and in its product offering, is an ode to the late Santhagens. A drink of pot-still brandy, in the late autumn afternoon as the low sun streams through trees, windows and buildings in broad light-sabres of burnt gold is truly one of life’s eternal pleasures.

My preferred manner of imbibing is in a traditional snifter, two fingers of the brandy and one generous ice-cube which is left to begin melting, cooling the spirit as well as presenting an ever-so slight touch of dilution to broaden, lift the flavour. At this stage, my hands begin to itch for a cigar, so a MonteCristo might just be summoned and set ablaze, sending fragrant plumes of smoke into the air.

Oude Molen is a gracefully balanced drink. Some may prefer the leather-couch softness of older brandy or Cognac, but the 10-year base for the XO is just right for me, offering concentration and depth, yet still thumpingly assertive in its showing purity of spirit.

The nose, so intoxicating in a good brandy, offers dried fruit blossom and cedar with a note of clove, paprika and freshly ground white pepper. I sniff deep.

Starting with a polite small sip, the spirit here is brave and formidable in the attack on the palate, immediately introducing itself as a distilled wine, the product of vine, fire and wood. And then the flavours take over, a seductive display of heart-felt purity where one tastes the very soul of the grape. Dried fruits of apricot and prune are immediately evident, slowly subsiding to reveal layers of dark chocolate, burnt coffee bean and a whisp wet earth and tar. All encased in the power and the warm glory of a fine spirit.

As Papa Hemingway said, “good wine is the most civilised thing on earth”. But once distilled and left to the devices of time, wine becomes brandy, the pleasure knowing no earthly boundaries and taking civilisation into the very next universe.

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Boldly Going Where Few Chenin Blancs Go

The effect of soil on the structure of a final wine creates as much ill-informed opinion as it does mystery and wonder. In the evolution of wine opinion, the influence of earth’s decomposed structural matter has fallen prey to churlish throw-away lines reflecting a disappointing lack of understanding of the way geological residual features in the sensory make-up of the content of the glass.

Ill-informed wine marketing speak has much to answer for, as do the clever-sounding opinions of wine commentators. In my hard-drive I have loads of stored examples: a certain Sauvignon Blanc “is sharp and crisp, the result of its vines rooted in rocky, pebbly soils which give the wine a discernible minerality”; there is the “velvety, soft Merlot whose plushness results from grapes growing in dark granite soils that add a velvety texture to the wine”; a Pinotage a tannic and powerful “due to the vineyards’ beds of clay”…. and so on.

As the geologist-vinophile Alex Maltman has spent half a lifetime researching and the other half preaching, this is all bullshit-fertilised ground-cover as vines cannot draw any noticeable flavours from God’s earth – as romantic and easily graspable as the theories on this may sound.

In fact, I myself have gone as far as requesting South Africa wine industry body Vinpro to ask one of its qualified viticulturists to give wine marketers and writers a Soil & Wine 101 course to empower them to communicate correctly on matters of the earth, and of the vine. To no avail as of yet, but hope does spring eternal.

The other day I came across a wine that disses the misguided soil-flavouring theories with great effect, with the wine’s deliciousness being an added bonus. I am talking about the Legend Collection Chenin Blanc 2019 from stalwart Paarl producer Windmeul, the top-range white wine from a winery that is one of the first wineries that comes to my mind when Chenin Blanc is mentioned. Established in 1944 as a co-operative, Windmeul’s existence has largely centred on the magnificent Chenin Blanc vineyards of the northern Paarl region and the varietal accuracy of the wines it makes – and continues to make – from Chenin.

Theuns Briers, The Legend.

In northern Paarl, soils are of decomposed granite, with a marked granitic influence – Paarl Mountain, on whose northern slopes the Windmeul region lies, is the second largest granite outcrop on earth after Australia’s Ayers Rock. So, if one were to follow the low-hanging theories on the influence of soil on wine, then a Windmeul Chenin Blanc will be singing the stony, tight and mineral tune expected from vines living in such rocky and granite-dense patches of earth.

The Legend’s Collection Chenin Blanc, however, throws icy distilled water on this theory with a lovely broad, full and delectably ostentatious wine where minerality would be one of the last terms deployed in describing it.

The Legend, by the way, refers to the late Theuns Briers, a wine-farmer in the region who served on Windmeul’s board. Briers was, too, a magnificent rugby-player who ran the right wing for the Springboks in the 1955 series against the British&Irish Lions as well as during the Boks’ controversial 1956 tour to New Zealand.

The Legend Chenin Blanc is one of two wines in the Windmeul series, the other being a Pinotage. But the winery’s provenance and soul comes through best in this extraordinary Chenin Blanc that fits outside the style of vinification used to create most of today’s wines from this variety.

This wine’s broad shoulders can be attributed to the 2019 vintage, the first after the prolonged Cape drought. For in the previous winter, the rains had come, soaking the northern Paarl soils and allowing the vines to drink deep from the wet earth. Berries on the 44-year-old vines used for this wine were full and ripe, heavy and sated.

In the cellar, half the juice is fermented in stainless steel, while the rest undergoes the conversion of sugar to alcohol in wood. Then barrel-maturation takes place over 12 months.

From the opening of the formidable bottle, heavy enough to give Jancis Robinson and the other heavy-bottle police corps heart-palpitations, to the emptying of the first glass, this is a large wine. Bigness of wine has for one or other reason gained negative connotations in the modern world. Undeservedly so when a wine like this, a wine of easy, comfortable and assertive confidence comes around.

The Windmeul Legend Chenin Blanc shows the more decadent, opulent side of this grape variety, and it is thoroughly enjoyable to experience. To the eye, the colour is of fine bushveld dust rising after a wildebeest stampede in the first golden rays of a Kenyan sunrise. The nose is greeted by aromas of ripe apricot, a just-opened jar of quince jelly and the scent of a summer wheatfield drying in the warm breath of a mountain breeze from the east. Fear not because refreshment lies, oasis-like, in the generous cool splash of Chenin Blanc liquid passing through the lips.

None of the jowl-puckering, drive of restless acids or the austere scrape to the mouth that is common in many old vineyards Chenin Blancs. Here is a languid, patient white wine that throws its offering of vivid flavours in grace and style, like a silk rug opened by an Ottoman priestess. White peach, sappy and syrupy, coats the mouth, which soon sees the presence of autumnal red apples rolling in dewy grass-banks next to glassy mill-pond. A note of cumin and grated mace lurks mischievously in the background, spicing up the fruit to provide freshness and guile of the exotic kind.

The finish is long and memorable, imprinting experiences on the mind, ploughing the fields of forgetfulness to open up a world of new memories captured in time and imprinting thoughts of another superb moment in wine.

And forgetting ill-conceived theories and baseless gospels fore, it is only the pureness of the pleasure that counts.

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Alto: Cape’s Oldest Continuous Brand Celebrates 100th Harvest

Icon South African wine estate Alto, situated on the slopes of Stellenbosch’s Helderberg wine appellation, celebrates an extraordinary milestone in 2022 with the production of the 100th consecutive vintage of its renowned Alto Rouge red blend. One of the Cape’s most famous wines, the first vintage of Alto Rouge was produced in 1922 and after maturation to market-ready condition was exported for sale to the United Kingdom in 1924.

The success of Alto Rouge in the British market led to the wine being released in South Africa in 1933 and has been a South African classic ever since.

Alto Estate once formed part of the farm Groenrivier on the Helderberg which was granted for farming in 1693. Vineyard cultivation commenced from the very beginning, but the path to vinous greatness only began in 1919 when Groenrivier owner Hennie Malan sold the lower half of the property to his brother-in-law. He named his remaining land Alto for its elevation and magnificent views over the lower reaches of Stellenbosch and the Cape Flats, as far as Table Mountain, and set about wine-farming in all earnest with his son Manie.

A cellar was built and vineyards focussing on red wine grapes were planted, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Cinsaut, Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir. Alto was, in fact, the first property in South Africa to plant Pinot Noir, the result of the Malans’ friendship with the famous viticulturist Abraham Izak Perold who advised and assisted father-and-son on the vine-planting regime.

Manie, one of the first graduates in Viticulture and Oenology from Stellenbosch University, has over the years become known as having been a particularly astute winemaker and viticulturist and it was his understanding of both the offerings of the Alto terroir and the needs of the wine market that led to the vision of what was to become the red wine blend that is Alto Rouge.

Although Cabernet Sauvignon was in the beginning of the 20th century already proving to be a grape variety particularly suited to the Stellenbosch region, the power and tannins of the cultivar made wines that were back then only accessible for public enjoyment after maturation in wood for four years and more.

Manie Malan understood the plush nature of Shiraz and Cinsaut, the other two main varieties on Alto, and used these in blending with Cabernet Sauvignon to create a wine that was accessible and fully drinkable after two years from harvest.

That Malan was onto something with this visionary blend became apparent from the first Alto vintage when the blended wine from the 1922 vintage won the top prize at the 1924 Cape Wine Show in the category for “Red Wines, Burgundy Type”. Alto held this title for six consecutive years.

Although the wine was not yet released in South Africa, Malan sent a sample of the first Alto vintage to Burgoyne’s, a well-known London wine merchant. The red blend from Stellenbosch was well-received and in 1924 Alto began exporting its wine – blended, and in barrel – to London where it was bottled and sold as a Burgundy styled-wine.

In 1933 Alto Rouge was released in South Africa, and today can be described as the oldest premium red wine brand in the country, with a history going back to that very first harvest in 1922.

Over the years and under stewardship of various legendary cellarmasters, the Alto Rouge blend has been adapted from that first vintage as the winemakers sought to constantly improve the wine’s quality in reflecting the terroir of Alto as well to use new developments in viticulture practises and the availability of different clones. The primary components in Alto Rouge today are Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Cabernet Franc, with Petit Verdot and Merlot also incorporated to add complexity and depth.

But what will never change is Alto Rouge’s standing as an integral part of the history of Cape winemaking and a popular choice among wine-lovers worldwide that has truly stood the test of time.

Bertho van der Westhuizen, Alto’s current cellarmaster, says that it is an honour for him and his team in the cellar and vineyards to preside over the 100th consecutive harvest of grapes used for making Alto Rouge. “For a New World wine country to reach this milestone is a rarity and underscores the provenance and legacy of the Alto brand, as well as the Stellenbosch’s region for making great wines since the early 1900s,” he says. “What is even more amazing is that Alto Rouge has managed to remain a popular and commercially viable wine for almost a century. For this, the vision of the Malans and Alto’s other pioneers have to be commended, as well as the Helderberg terroir’s suitability for outstanding red winemaking. And if the forebears of Alto happen to be watching, this year’s 2022 vintage is going to be a great one!”

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Gems of Stellenbosch Pinot Noir

by Lafras Huguenet

A recent talk on the Cape’s leading wine region of Stellenbosch to a few remaining Spitfire pilots who had seen action during the Korean War had some of the old-timers turning-up their hearing-aids in disbelief. Surely, a croaky old voice ordered with clipped military cadence, one area cannot be performing so well with all God’s wine grapes? “You, Sir, have gone batty about Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, praised its Chardonnay and flushed with excitement over the Chenin Blanc wines there,” the gent said. “Next thing you will be telling us the Stellenbosch mountains are stuffed with gold and if we were to sip of that region’s waters, all of us gathered here would once again have uninterrupted urinal flows and raging Morning Glories.”

This is true, that an abundance of riches can, too, be a tad embarrassing. And although my discussion was led by only three grape varieties, there were others still to embroider upon. But the squadron had to be prepared for their afternoon nap, so I did not even have time to tell them of Pinot Noir, and that this also grows well in Stellenbosch and, yes, makes a fine rendition of the Burgundian royal red.

Many commentators, including my editor for this communication channel, deem South African Pinot Noir to only indeed come to its fore in the cooler Elgin and Hemel-en-Aarde regions. Yes, there are fine wines there, pools of perfumed silk and vivid fruity Pinot flavour. But it would be irresponsible to ignore the fact that while Stellenbosch might not hang its flying cap on the Pinot Noir peg, it does offer some extraordinarily good wines made from this captivating variety.

Meerlust Estate, Stellenbosch.

The Stellenbosch soils, dominated by decomposed granite, are far more acidic than the aforementioned regions, which obviously plays hell with the fruit pH. But careful soil preparation involving the adding of lime – up to 50 tons per hectare – has softened the earth’s sharp, tart edges, the lime-chalk combining with the granite and clay to create wide open spaces of superb growing matter. Pinot Noir loves it here, and it flourishes.

One must remember, as well, that Stellenbosch is the ancestral home of Cape Pinot Noir. Manie Malan planted it on the slopes, heady and steep, of Alto Estate in the Helderberg in 1919. Muratie, out Simonsberg way, was growing Pinot Noir in 1928, a time when the Hemel-en-Aarde was still overrun by sheep, escaped convicts and farmers whose wives and sisters bore uncanny physical resemblances.

That Meerlust Estate, one of the Cape’s classic vinous addresses, makes one of the most commercially successful Pinot Noirs in South Africa, might surprise some whose thinking is corralled into regions further south and colder. Yes, the power of the Meerlust brand does ensure that any bottle of anything bearing the marque will be snapped up. But as a wine, this Pinot Noir offers a clear glimpse into the soul that be Stellenbosch Pinot Noir.

The Meerlust Pinot Noir 2020 is a fine example as the vintage was cool and even, with some wet muddy patches during growing season and harvest. Here on Meerlust the soils are less granite driven, with loam and gravel resting on an expansive bed of cool clay. The country is wide and big with relaxed undulations set in the breezy land only some seven kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean at False Bay.

Firmness and palpable tannins are a feature of Stellenbosch Pinot Noir, although at Meerlust this structure is slightly more relaxed as a result of the site and the earth into which the vines be rooted. The wine is aged in 40% new and 60% second-fill 300 litre barrels, the wood marvellously integrated, even in this stage of evident – yet pleasurable – youth.

Although Meerlust’s former owner, the late great Nico Myburgh, was an obsessively keen student of Bordeaux – as his introduction of the Rubicon blend continues to show – he did predict his farm’s suitability to Pinot Noir. As well as he himself having a soft spot for the variety’s feminine grace.

It has all come true, as this is truly a top-notch wine, worthy of a place in the best of what the Cape has to offer and a proud showing of the New World’s ability to translate all those attributes and prophecies the Burgundian Monks were chanting about 900 years back.

Meerlust Pinot Noir 2020 is comfortable with its lack of bottle maturity, confidently running into the glass with a mauve, nutty colour and greeting the drinker with a waft of dew-damp cedar, an autumn bonfire in the country and a brisk stream of dried flowers and pulped blue-berry. The entrance on the palate is without drama but with an easy-going, likable charm. A succulent edge of sour cherry and 36-month cured jamón introduces delicious enticement, which is furthered on the mid-palate, and wonderfully so.

As the wine lies, wet and cool, the mouth draws delectable flavours from the liquid. There is fig-paste dried in a low Mediterranean sun, a grate of mace and a sliver of ripe quince presenting a moreish tartness along with the characteristic spread of berry-fruit. A subtle hint of porcini, plucked under a glowing Stellenbosch harvest-moon, adds a flavour of earth and savoury that should evolve as the wine progresses.

But it is now apt for unbridled enjoyment of the revered, classic variety.

On the other side of Stellenbosch, there by the Stellenbosch Mountain, is a two-decade old vineyard supplying grapes for another great Pinot Noir from the region. Camino Africana Pinot Noir is made by David Finlayson, and the 2020 vintage of this solid bottle of Pinot purity is also doing the rounds.

The vines are set on lines of decomposed granite, some surface shale and dark, deep layers of clay. In the cellar, Finlayson does not stuff around, deploying new 300l French oak barrels for 18 months, a regime such dense, big Pinot Noir fruit from the Stellenbosch Mountain demands.

Again, this wine underscores Stellenbosch Pinot Noir as a unique expression within the Cape Pinot space, being unashamedly full, broad and at ease with its sense of place. Not big and brash, by any means. Just a wine that offers the lesser-espoused feature of Pinot Noir to come to the fore, namely that expressive tannic grip and excitable, low-pitched tone this grape offers when the sunlight radiation has thickened the skin and the soils have pumped vividly energetic tannins into the fruit.

Like a line-out jump by Springbok Eben Etzebeth, Camino Africana shows that fierce beauty and supple muscularity are aspects that add to Pinot Noir’s heady heights – a welcome addition to the perfume-feminine-strawberry narrative that dominates too large a part of the conversation surrounding the grape of kings, the drink of the gods, the whispers of angels.

In the Camino I find pebbles grating one another in the stormy waters of the Eerste River, comforted by a just-baked raspberry tart before the weight of big juicy plums take over, leaving a memory of dried pimento. All wrapped in a silk cloak that is dark and foreboding before it opens to reveal light, colour and song.

Stellenbosch, you beautiful thing.

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South African Sauvignon Blanc Shows its Mettle on World Stage

South African Sauvignon Blanc proved its excellence once again as one of the top five countries by number of medals at the largest and most significant international competition entirely dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc, the 2022 Concours Mondial du Sauvignon.

“With four gold and 13 silver medals out of 1 120 entries from 23 producer countries, South African Sauvignon Blanc found itself in good stead with the likes of France, Austria, Italy and the Czech Republic at this prestigious competition which took place in Portugal,” says RJ Botha, Chairman of Sauvignon Blanc South Africa.

Diemersdal lead South Africa’s medal tally with one of four gold medals for The Journal Sauvignon Blanc 2021, a barrel-aged rendition of this variety, which also won the Revelation Trophy for Best South African Wine on show. Diemersdal also received two of 13 silver medals.

“It gives me a great kick knowing we are working with a variety the wine consumer loves and which is one of the most successful commercial varieties in the world,” says Thys Louw, Diemersdal owner-winemaker and vice chairman of Sauvignon Blanc SA. “The audience is there – now it is up to us winemakers to perform by – along with commercial success – showing there is greatness in Sauvignon Blanc.”

Gold medals were also awarded to the Delaire Graff Coastal Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Elgin Vintners Sandstone 2021, as well as the Vrede en Lust Blanc Fumé 2019. Silver medals were awarded to Neethlingshof Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Alvi’s Drift Signature Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Diemersdal The Journal Sauvignon blanc 2021, Groote Post Seasalter 2021, Zevenwacht 360 Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Cederberg Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Cilmor Winemaker’s Selection Sauvignon Blanc – Semillon 2021,   Diemersdal Winter Ferment Sauvignon blanc 2021, Ghost Corner The Bowline 2019, Turtle House Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Elgin Vintners Sauvignon blanc 2021, Uva Mira Sing-A-Wing Sauvignon Blanc 2021, and Ghost Corner Wild Ferment 2020.

Over twenty nationalities, including South Africa, Australia and Canada are represented on the tasting panel, thereby guaranteeing the outstanding diversity that sets the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon apart from other wine competitions. Following the guidelines of the OIV and the International Oenologists’ Organisation, the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon grants accolades to a maximum of 29% of total entries.

“While there was little doubt in my mind about the quality and diversity of wines we would be tasting, what made the whole experience even more remarkable were the people I met while exploring the Portuguese wine region, Torres Vedras,” says Dr Carien Coetzee, oenologist of Basic Wine and chair of one of the tasting panels, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc SA committee member. “Hats off to the CMS team for coordinating and handling the judging flawlessly while creating valuable networking opportunities.”

For wine writer and judge at this year’s competition, Malu Lambert, it was a true privilege to take part in the diverse mix of cultures which all united in appreciation for one of the world’s oldest and most noble cultivars. “Besides the wines, what stood out was the early adoption to technology that assisted the judges with tasting and implementing their scores, as well as how this data was being captured and used on a greater scale to determine wine styles and consumers’ preferences. As the wine world evolves, we as tasters need to move with it and Concours Mondial du Sauvignon has clearly demonstrated they are ahead of the curve in new technologies, while still respecting tradition and inherent Old-World sensibilities.”  

For the full results, visit https://bit.ly/concoursmondialsb

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Best – and Worst – Chips in Cape Town

Although the majority of wine snobs would rather admit to drinking boxed Pinotage than stating an unconditional fondness for fried potato chips, this ubiquitous edible is an almost perfect companion to bringing-out a fine wine’s layered complexities. For in a good potato chip, we find a warm starchy neutrality, off-set by just the correct amount of palate-coating oiliness to draw bright flavours from the wine. A slight crunchy surface where the fried potato has reached a golden crust makes things, too, pleasing on the textural front, with the incinerated edges clearing the preceding cloying oiliness, perking the mouth for the next sip of wine.

But let’s face it, frying one’s own chips is time-consuming, demanding the peeling and chopping of spuds, heating oil and tending to the deep-frying of these potato slivers. Fortunately, various take-out establishments will hand over as many chips as you would like for your next round of wine-tasting. However, the aroma of a few parcels of fatty French fries does tend to seep into the interior of the Bentley or Jag, making the vehicle take on the atmosphere of a downtown Uber, without the glum Tanzanian driver.

Be forewarned, however, that all chips are not created equal. Therefore, great effort was undertaken to guide the reader through a review of the offerings dished out by a few of the more regular commercial establishments around town.

Steers

The popular flame-grilled burger joint was once guilty of placing too much emphasis on the firing of its delicious charred patties without recognising the important role the chip plays in the offering of a balanced meal. Well, those days of oily heaps of browned potato fingers stuck together with some murky goo are over. Steers chips are of the thick-cut variety, known to me as the British Chip, fried golden brown with a crisp exterior giving way to hot, fluffy potato. There is a slight oiliness, but not of the lip-glossing variety, just a layer of fat seeped into the chip to grease the palate, ready to meet the acidic entrance of a Sauvignon Blanc or clipped Grenache.

Wimpy

I only have to note Wimpy here as the Swartland members of my wine-tasting group usually arrive bearing bags of chips from this ubiquitous establishment’s branch on the N7 highway. And having experienced Wimpy on various Karoo road-trips, it must be noted that the chips from this chain of eateries are actually worse than their burgers, which – for those in the know – says a lot. Pallid and lifeless, these miserable uniform sticks of pre-cooked industrial chips manage to taste worse than they appear. The crust is dry and brittle and what lies below has the consistency of used ear-buds and the taste old wine cartons. Avoid at all costs, and if you must, swallow these chips quickly with a long cold beer.

McDonald’s

Image being everything, it is common to trash McDonald’s as hell’s own commercial diner without ever having actually been inside one or tasted its wares. Sorry to spoil the party and to let a positive light shine on such a piece of crass American consumer symbolism, but the chips are super. These are real French fries, cut thin and spiky as a Kardashian’s nails, but without any dirt underneath. The fries are hot and firm, with an agreeable crust bordering on golden-brown. The crust-to-interior ratio, due to the slender chip, makes for a satisfying nibble. A slight oiliness and a taste of animal fat, plus the unquestionable deliciousness of warm potato, makes this a great chip for general use, as well as for accompanying a wine. Think buttery Chardonnay of a brooding, succulent Shiraz.

Spur

This South African franchise should be reported for high treason to generations of patriots who grew up supporting the brand. Gone are the days of tasty agreeable hand-cut Spur chips which you could hold between your thumb and forefinger while a blob of Spur Sauce hung in precarious deliciousness from the chip’s fore-quarter. Ordering a take-out portion of chips from one of these operations today shows that provenance and legacy mean nothing in the Spur value-set. Today’s chips are pale, having been pre-frozen to a state of soul-destroying oblivion. The Spur’s motto of “a taste for life” could not possibly apply to its chips, unless its idea of life is a funeral march or an after-dinner speech by Cyril Ramaphosa. If you must eat these chips, better have a great Cabernet Sauvignon of Champagne with it as there is nothing else to make the experience worth noting or remembering.

Nando’s

Unlike Spur, Nando’s shows some respect for its South African heritage by presenting chips as this nation of great gastronomes like them. The potatoes are cut lekker thick, like, and frying commences in oil hot enough to take the heat out of a Molotov cocktail. This gives the chip a surface which is sometimes more brown than golden, but imparts an umami-like smoky savouriness into the deeper flesh of the soothing warm potato. Some of the edges have a delightful crispiness, lending a satisfying crunch to a wine-tasting. And this requires wooded Sauvignon Blanc or a deep red, full-bodied Pinot Noir.

KFC

The only thing that could make a KFC potato fry taste worse than it does in its natural state is to allow some of this global fast-food brand’s chicken to depart its ghastly crumbed-greasiness on the chip. However, on its own the KFC chip is another example of neutered sterility deployed in the offering of what should be a pleasurable eating experience from a take-out joint. This chip is pale and lifeless with a flavour one would expect to find in a ration meal-kit for space travellers who needed further motivation for moving from earth to another planet. After relentless chewing, the taste of pre-fabricated potato gives way to an industrial taste of card-board and printing ink, the origin of which I still have to discover. Until then, down a Tawny Port or Sherry to help you forget that these chips are down.

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Hasher Estate: A New Kid on a Fine Old Block

To say that there are interesting wine properties in the Hemel-en-Aarde region outside of Hermanus is akin to stating that Saville Row has a couple of passable tailors or that one or two decent blues bars exist in Kansas City. This splendid appellation, divided into Valley, Upper and Ridge, is a sliver of geographical excellence created for growing distinctive grapes from which great wines have been made, and are continuing to be made. With a lot still to come, you should know.

Since my relationship with the valley began a few decades back, the farm that was Sumaridge captured the imagination from the onset. There was a visceral rawness in its exposure to the ocean and the sometimes brutal air flows from the north-west. Decomposed gravel and shale soils, hardy and poor, are a part of the contributors to the Hemel-en-Aarde vinous DNA, although the property I got to know as Sumaridge finds an intense clay component in its earth giving the wines from there, for me, a distinctive edge.

As the great Jan Boland Coetzee says: “There is a definite correlation between great wines and the clay component of the soils where those vineyards stand.”

To cut to the chase, Sumaridge is no more. Well, in name, that is. Under new ownership, including the Belgian couple Céline Haspeslagh and Frederik Herten, the 180ha property was recently opened under the name Hasher Family Estate. New name. New labels. A youthful new ethos showing eagerness, commitment and vision. But the same great patch of earth in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde which, as I and many others know, has the potential to become one of the regional and South African superstars.

Since purchasing the estate last year, the Belgian owners have not let mussels grow under their feet. 16ha of vines have been ripped-out, with new plantings beckoning come spring, leaving the current spread of vines at 19ha. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, of course, will be the focus. But during the recent launch, the exuberant Frederik Herten was quick to state that Hasher will continue the play with Pinotage, one of the wines that stood out under the previous owners.

Besides the direct approach to vineyard rejuvenation, Hasher got straight down to it, releasing three wines this year – a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Hereby announcing that the Hasher label is good-to-go and the farm is open for business, the writing of the new chapter in the history of this place having begun in all earnest.

Marimist is the name of the Hasher Chardonnay, referring to the maritime mists creeping into the valley, and the first release is from the 2020 vintage. 85% of the wine was fermented in wood (20%) new, and the barrel regime continued for nine months.

With the Hemel-en-Aarde’s reputation for magnificence in Chardonnay, I would say that the Hasher entrance into this lofty realm was done with confidence and an easy grace. First release, and able to comfortably stand alongside the best Chardonnays in the valley, adding to the reputation of South African Chardonnay excellence.

Hasher Chardonnay comes with a breezy expansiveness, the wine being wide and open and all-encompassing, without being broad or loud. Current varietal styles tend to chase a steely raciness before the fruit profile is reached. In this wine, it is cool fruit and white flowers from the attack on the palate, with a desirable degree of vivacious freshness and excitement evident from the wine’s beginning to its end. This is what malolactic fermentation brings to Chardonnay, showing a pristine structure in pH, acid and sugar, prying open the fruit’s mysterious hidden layers to let the sun in.

The sea, five kilometres away from Hasher Estate, helps build structure and balance. Yet it is the sun that gives this Chardonnay its delightful array of flavours, its enticing life-affirming taste.

Ernest is the name of Hasher Estate Pinot Noir, with the maiden release being from vintage 2021. And if it comes to introducing one’s first Pinot Noir from the Hemel-en-Aarde, one could have done a lot worse than selecting the comet 2021 vintage, which was as cool as a Steve McQueen monologue, yet not quite that short.

Ernest got 11 months in barrel, of which one-third of the component was new oak. Clay soils, northerly slopes, a cool vintage….a degree of new wood would have been required to temper the feral strains found in the just-fermented 2021 Pinot Noir. And the one-third component was on-song.

Yes, the wine is young, obviously. But not too young to show the Hasher property’s potential for creating Pinot Noir expressing the unique properties of the site, traits that were evident since Pinot Noir began to be made there.

The Ernest Pinot Noir 2021 is broody and dark in colour, and the aromas are heady and full – no berry-perfume or Pinot perfumed silk-nightgown here. For this is tough clay soil terroir speaking, dense and rocky.

Having made its presence known through the aroma, imposing yet pure and cultured, the Pinot Noir enters onto the palate with the sensation of fine Egyptian cotton being ripped to reveal a dense concoction of flavours ranging from exotic to untamed wilderness. A blue-berry crunchiness gives way to the satisfying succulence of ripe summer plum, while fine powdery tannins carry hints of cedar, cut fresh porcini and just the slightest edge of fresh game, bright and bloody.

In the mouth, the wine lies in broad pools of wonder and joy, while a symphony reverberates through the soul, a profound wave of something echoing that here are splendid things to come.

A great song stays the same.

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Pinotage, Because it Tastes of the South

At the end of last year, I found myself in a chilly seaside village on the island of Sicily trying to tell some curious locals what South Africa tastes like. As in, what are typical flavours, aromas and tastes to be found in food and drinks from this country at the end of Africa, which to the Sicilians sounded like a place of exotic mystery filled with adventures, wilderness and an element of danger.

Answering them was, I mean, the most I could do. They had been treating me to copious local offerings of anchovies-on-everything, sea-urchin pasta and crisp arancini balls, plus pools of their regional wines made from Grillo and Nero d’Avola grapes.

I began a brief lecture on my knowledge of South African specialities: Biltong….boerewors…snoek grilled on the open fire…a flaky golden-trust milk-tart. And then, out of nowhere, came Pinotage, something I was not expecting to find hanging in my fond memory of typical local offerings. Pinotage the deep red wine that, I realised then, tastes like no other wine in the world. Because it truly is the taste of the vineyards and the winelands of the Cape. The one unique contribution South Africa has made to the culture of wine that began over 6 000 years ago and is made in a multitude of nations on all the earth’s continents.

Abraham Izak Perold – the Father of Pinotage.

“This wine, what does it taste like?” asked one of the interested young guys at the table looking out on the Mediterranean. “Wild and elegant,” I said. “Big and gentle. Rich and lean. Hot and mild….it is a wine of all things and of opposites. Because, after all, it is a South African.”

No missive attempting to hold substance on Pinotage can avoid the well-trodden tale of how this wine grape came to be a national vinous treasure. And it is pretty basic. In 1925 a very smart South African scientist named Abraham Izak Perold, then working at the University of Stellenbosch, fiddled around with his special field, namely wine grapes. Back then the local wine landscape was pretty limited in terms of grape cultivars and wine types, so Perold did what academics do: asked a question. Namely, what if the noble, blue-blood grape of Burgundy in France called Pinot Noir could be adapted so as to be able to flourish in the warm climate of the Cape? Not only to bring that variety’s refined flavour profile down south, but also have it grow to offer generous yields of the type that would make it economically sustainable for wine farmers to farm with the grape?

Pinot Noir was not going to do it alone. Therefore, Perold looked for a partner. And considered Hermitage, today more readily known as Cinsaut, which is more accustomed to a hot climate due to its roots in southern France. Besides being a keen grower of healthy yields, Hermitage has a spicy, juicy flavour-profile of its own.

So, it came to be that using his scientific brilliance, Perold brushed a male Hermitage flower against a Pinot Noir pollen donor to obtain a smattering of seedlings. Now, it must be remembered that this would have been one of hundreds of experiments a person of Professor Perold’s standing would have been busy with, so there were no initial “Eureka!” moments from Perold and his mates announcing the birth of a new chapter in the South African wine industry.

In fact, the precious seeds of this new grape crossing were almost lost to history in 1927 after Perold left his academic residence at Welgevallen in Stellenbosch to take-up the position of KWV’s chief wine expert. These seeds were saved by the legendary Charlie Niehaus, who also went on to become a name at the KWV and gave the material to Elsenburg Agriculture Training Institute where the first Pinotage experimental vineyard was planted in 1935.

It was in 1941 that CT de Waal, a wine-farmer and academic at the University of Stellenbosch, made the first Pinotage wine. The De Waal name is today still entrenched in the modern Pinotage world through De Waal Wines made on CT’s ancestral farm Uiterwyk in Stellenbosch and where the oldest Pinotage vineyard in South Africa – actually, the world – is situated.

However, this was still only an experiment. It was only in 1959 – 35 years after Perold’s crossing of Pinot Noir and Hermitage – that the first commercial Pinotage wine was bottled. This was under the Lanzerac label belonging to the erstwhile Stellenbosch Farmers Winery and from grapes that had been planted at Bellevue in the Bottelary region of Stellenbosch. The other Stellenbosch farm that had invested in Pinotage without having any idea of where the grapes or the wine was going to go in the cold commercial reality of the wine world, was Kanonkop Estate in the Simonsberg. Kanonkop is arguably the greatest name in the story of Pinotage as a result of the international reputation Kanonkop has gained as the First Growth of South Africa wine through its red wine ventures, Pinotage included.

The oldest Pinotage vineyard in the world – Top of the Hill on Uiterwyk, Stellenbosch.

It was also on Kanonkop where the chief disciple of the Pinotage rose from amidst the vines. No name is as synonymous with any grape variety as Beyers Truter is with Pinotage. From the moment he joined Kanonkop as its second winemaker, Beyers’s fascination with the variety and the unique characteristics of the wines produced from it led him to take up the cause of promoting Pinotage as the magical element of South African wine.

“I suppose I was privileged to begin at the top in my Pinotage discovery, getting to know the quality of Pinotage grapes grown and wines made at Kanonkop,” says Beyers. “It is also one of the ancestral homes of Pinotage with plantings going back to the 1940s. So, when I began working with Pinotage, it was of the blue-blooded variety, captivating me from my first harvest on Kanonkop and continuing to inspire me throughout my career on that farm and later at Beyerskloof.”

According to Beyers, the charm of Pinotage is that the grape and the wine is as vocal, hard-headed and nit-picky as a regular South Africa of the human variety.

“It is a hardy bugger of a vine,” says Beyers. “Its growth is fast and furious and to keep it all under control and prepare the vineyard for the growing of good grapes in a balanced environment asks a lot from the wine farmer – it is like diving into a ruck on the rugby-pitch with Eben Etzebeth waiting for you on the other side.”

But as tough as it is in the vineyard, just as sensitive and temperamental the Pinotage grapes are in the cellar. “From a winemaker’s perspective, Pinotage has its own set of rules,” says Beyers. “While other red grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, can take three weeks or more to ferment on their skins, Pinotage blasts off, fermenting less than a week. Through that brief week you have to keep your wits if you want to end with a good Pinotage, working the juice through the skins day and night to ensure acids and tannins are balanced. Of all grape varieties, Pinotage demands most from a winemaker.”

Beyers Truter

But it is all worth it, says Beyers, as nothing rewards like a good glass of Pinotage. “It has a unique taste, this is but so,” he says. “Berries, juicy berries. With a touch of seductive earthiness, especially as the wine gets older.”

One of the wine industry’s doers instead of just-talkers – although he is no slouch on the latter either – Beyers not only contributed to the Pinotage culture with his brilliantly made wines. In an industry that sometimes struggles to find the word “co-operation” in the dictionary, Beyers played a huge role in uniting Pinotage producers to generically promote the variety as a jewel in the South African crown. “We have to work together,” he said when the SA Pinotage Association was founded in 1995 to represent the country’s Pinotage producers. “I mean, come on: the last time the Afrikaner people stood together when they were on a ship as Boer War prisoners heading to the internment camps on St Helena – and the only reason they stood, was because the boat had no place to sit.”

Standing together was made easier for the Pinotage Association due to the involvement of long-time sponsor Absa bank. Seeing the potential of the body to spearhead generic marketing of a premium South African wine which is, too, unique in the international arena, Absa’s involvement has allowed the Pinotage Association to provide various promotion platforms. The major one being the Absa Top 10 Pinotage Competition, which since 1997 has annually awarded 10 trophies, one each to that year’s best Pinotage wines, as adjudicated by a panel of experts.

Cape Wine Master Winnie Bowman, wine critic and international judge, says the Absa Top 10 paved the way for this format of competitions which is now also used by other bodies representing, inter alia, Chenin Blanc, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc.

“Besides highlighting the best Pinotage producers each year through a rigorously judged competition, I believe the Absa Top 10 has played a major role in inspiring winemakers to make better Pinotage,” she says. “Each year the winning wines seem to appear more spectacular in their interpretations of Pinotage. And time-after-time we see three to four of the same wineries come out trumps at the competition, underscoring the fact that there are cellars totally focussed and committed to the variety. Absa’s role in this has been pioneering and not only helped Pinotage, but also in promoting the quality proposition and image of South African wine.”

This abundance of riches in Pinotage offerings also makes it more challenging to select one’s favourite examples of this grape. But if having to choose:

Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2019

Forget about the grape variety, just think world-class red wine. Made from a vineyard planted in 1953, this wine – maiden vintage 2006 – each year mesmerises with the vivid display of vintage variation in grapes grown from the same vineyard, on the same terroir. 2019 might still sound madly young to drink a premium red wine, and yes it will age brilliantly. What you have now is a vivid spectrum of dark fruit, forest floor and fynbos flung together in a gust of bracing freshness. The wine is an experience of texture and presence, more than flavour. Think deep, drink deeper.

Lanzerac 1959 Commemoration Pinotage 2019

One of the most exciting wine releases of 2021, Lanzerac paid tribute to its history of the first commercial Pinotage bottling (1959) with a 2019 release made from the same Bellevue vineyard that delivered those initial grapes over 60 years ago. Of course, now the fruit is handled by Lanzerac cellarmaster Wynand Lategan, one of the most astute winemakers of the modern era with a gut-feel and heart-love for Pinotage. The wine is beautifully put-together, aged for 15 months in oak which gives it a deserved regal power without removing the bright-fruited zest and charm for which Bellevue is known. Statuesque and a collector’s item, the mere realisation of this project shows Pinotage is in good hands.

The first commercial Pinotage: Lanzerac 1959.

De Waal Top of the Hill Pinotage 2015

One of South Africa’s truly legendary wines made from a vineyard planted in 1950 by the De Waal family on Uiterwyk in Stellenbosch Kloof. The Top of the Hill label is only deployed in exceptional years as the 72-year-old vineyard can be sensitive to precarious vintage conditions. But collectors are known to procure as many bottles as they can, for the combination between the personality of the vineyard and the skilled, attentive winemaking by Daniël de Waal provides a luxurious rendition of Pinotage. Aged in new French oak – 225l barrels – the wine is muscular with supple tannins which is required to rein in the explosive flavours. Darkness and forest-floor, sappy black plums and a whiff of cedar-wood cigar-box is evident. A marvellous wine-drinking experience of the highest order.

Simonsig Redhill Pinotage 2018

Simonsig’s founder Frans Malan himself played a profound role in putting Pinotage on the map, and now the third generations of Simonsig Malans are staking their claim as consistently fine producers of this variety. Made from a specific site on the estate’s red soils of decomposed granite and clay, the wine is deftly handled with a 20% portion of whole-bunch fermentation bringing gorgeous succulence to the wine. Matured in new wood for 15 months, which shows that Pinotage does not allow big wood to dominate its intrinsics. Here these are bright red cherry and a delectable sweet-fruited core harnessed by powerful tannins which give the wine a presence as big as its reputation.

Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2018

Bottelary is just a stunning area for Pinotage with its west-facing slopes exposed to the Atlantic and those soils of weathered granite and clay. The area is also home to renowned wine families, the Steytlers being one, of which Danie Jnr is the fourth generation. The kid is a class-act, picking-up where his father Danie left-off, which is maintaining a workmanlike approach to the rural environment of Bottelary in bringing extreme elegance and presence to the wines. The Steytler Pinotage 2018 is a knock-out, packing a weighty punch of visceral Pinotage flavours including cherry, fynbos and charcuterie but wrapped in a velvet glove. Warm-hearted and approachable, this is refined and elegant wine with a formidable voice, all its own.

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