What a Whopper! Meerlust Pinot Noir

South Africa’s venture into the making of Pinot Noir did not get a good rap from the judges at this year’s Trophy Wine Show, arguably the strictest in the ever-growing South African wine competition circuit. No, results for Michael Fridjhon’s annual show are not out yet, but last week at the feedback session, agreement that Cape Pinot Noir appears to be a work in progress seemed unanimous.

Not that failing to claim a gold gong at this competition is a calamity – of the 645 entries, only some 5% secured a gold medal, which is about the annual average for the Trophy Show. And when it came to judges’ commenting on the wines entered, the Pinot Noir category was given a brief diss. Narina Cloete, Blaauwklippen winemaker who judged this sector said the wines lacked the reflection of a suitable site. Michael himself alluded to the fact that many regaled Cape Pinot Noir marques were not entering competitions – punters paying R500 and north for a bottle of Pinot Noir were apt to be less supportive of said wine should it fail to meet expectations by not roping any bling in shows entered.

Despite not having a cooking clue as to what a gold medal Pinot Noir – or any other wine, for that matter – looks like, it is a cultivar I enjoy, believing that like rugby matches and pizza, even sub-standard Pinot Noirs are better than not having any in all. My promiscuous drinking of the royal Burgundian red recently had me charmed by the 2022 Pinot Noir from Meerlust Estate in Stellenbosch, one of the few Stellenbosch farms to venture into Pinot Noir and one underscoring the fact that the appellation is actually able of making wines with a distinctive edge from this cultivar.

Look, cool climate Elgin and Hemel-en-Aarde it ain’t, despite the Meerlust patch in what is known as Stellenbosch South is markedly cooler than Simonsberg, Helderberg and Polkadraai. This Pinot Noir does not have any red floral perfume or flirtatiously leaping berry-fruit, but what it lacks in these departments it makes-up for in structure, a reverberating crunch of black fruit and sheer polished presence on the palate.

Aromas are meaty, bloody and feral with a slight grasp of forest-floor, just enough to make the cultivar sign its initials. The wine is plush in the mouth, hitting the senses secure and true with sour cherry, dried fig and mulberry, tannins being sinewy, long and rippling. Burgundy-acolytes will be referencing northern parts of that region, the Meerlust showing a density and power perfected by Gevrey-Chambertin as opposed to the more expansively decorative offerings from lower down Musigny way. I just think it is great show by one of Stellenbosch’s leading producers, more known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Rubicon Bordeaux-style red blend, to comfortably also offer a class Pinot Noir in its arsenal.

Of course, there is also the only Meerlust white wine, namely Chardonnay, and the wine from vintage 2022 shows a lovable fragility that makes you want to stroke the bottle’s head before pouring the next glass. There is a crispness to the wine that is alert and tantalising, as well as accurate expression of varietal character in the specks of sage-butter, Seville orange rind and lemon curd. Pronounced as they are, these flavours are stitched together in a fine, detailed tapestry displaying grace and light rather than resounding and stern depth. Good, and prettily so.  

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Pinot Noir Concert becomes a Symphony

One of the many wine events stalled by the current C-crisis was the annual Chefs’ Lunch hosted by De Wetshof Estate. The De Wet family shares the opinion that the chef community plays a profound role in promoting the wine industry, and therefore deserves all the acknowledgement it can get from those producing el vino. Thus, since 2011 De Wetshof has annually hosted a dining and wining event for between 30 and 40 chefs. It selects a different restaurant for each occasion, and it is just a kick-back, eat-and-drink affair, usually turning into an early-evening party.

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Time for SA Pinot Noir to Get Recognition it Deserves

Speaking on CapeTalk radio recently, one of the foreign judges flown out for the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show said the quality of the Pinot Noir category surprised her. Especially as the Wine Show’s South African judges were, prior to the tasting, “almost apologetic” about the quality of local Pinot Noir.

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Desiderius, the Commanding Cap Classique

When considering language to tag to the flamboyantly packaged Desiderius Cap Classique in the Pongrácz range, the word “brave” comes to mind. First and foremost, memories of the man Pongrácz himself, a pint-sized contrarian who’s opinionated cockiness was only matched by that of the yapping, peeing pack of miniature Dachshunds accompanying him around the Cape winelands. Here he was inspecting vines, initiating new plantings – Rhône varietals held a special allure – and baiting wine farmers into arguments about his opinion on their stubborn ways.

The second braveness of the Desiderius Cap Classique is the showy bottle. Ribbed and edged in gold, it is not at all modest in appearance, rather resembling a container one would expect to find at a Kardashian 21st bash or a Russian house of ill-repute.

Pongrácz with Dachshunds, some of them.

But since hitting the market 15 years ago, the flamboyant packaging has proved to have been way ahead of its time. Currently, that bottle is right in line with what is deemed as branding desirability.

But at the end of the day, it is about the wine. And here, too, Desiderius is a courageous Cape Classique in terms of style.

The 2009, just released, is a classic partnership of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, the cuvées pressed from Elgin, Robertson and Stellenbosch fruit. A slight percentage of the Chardonnay sees oak, evidence of which does show up in the final product. And with 72 months lees contact, cellar master Elunda Basson places the wine on a potentially precarious journey.

Nothing but the best base wine is going to complete the six year journey in a state of health, verve and pure Cap Classique expression. It is, thus, a brave quest, and once again the Desiderius gamble pays off.

Stylistically the Desiderius 2009 is in a Cap Classique class of its own. It resembles the Champagnes of Pommard, being more serious and sullen, with a bit of weight and moody depth one does not expect the bright image of sparkling wines to carry.

The Pinot Noir segment zips past the Chardonnay, offering plummy and kumquat notes. The Chardonnay presents an alluring grape-fruit element, with just a hint sorrel and buttercup.

Elunda Basson, Cap Classique maker extraordinaire.

But the wine’s prestige lies in the palate-weight and structure, the firm, succulent grip in the mouth, the commanding density on the senses and the finish which is longer than the legs of a Peruvian supermodel, just smoother.

Desiderius is no wine for frivolous downing at open-air hipster concerts, nor for splashing about at those noisy, uncouth MCC festivals. It is meant for food – live oysters spring to mind – or sipping with a spicy Havana cigar, such as Bolivar.

I am no fan of beauty shows where Champagnes and Cap Classiques are poured blind in an attempt to flummox critics into enthusing how close or better our sparkles are than Champagne. But if a Cap Classique is going to be taken seriously by a Champagne panel, Desiderius will step forward, proud as anything and brave as hell.

·       Emile Joubert

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Vriesenhof: the Home of Greatness

Everyone needs a bit of yesteryear now and again. And whenever this feeling raises its head, Vriesenhof is my place.

Look, I’m all for progress. And having resided and worked in Stellenbosch for almost four decades I am stunned by the continuous evolution the wine industry has shown. Not only in its incomparable wine quality, but the imagination and initiative wine-farm owners have shown in turning the region into a haven for tourists and other visitors. Gourmet restaurants. Cavernous, shiny venues with gorgeous views offering detailed wine-tastings to rows of eager tour groups. Art collections and play-spaces for kids.

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Easy Side of the Heartbreak Grape

Pinot Noir deserves the reverence it commands, for at its best it is an indescribably beautiful wine. More has been worded about this variety’s elegance, charm, grace and seductive character than there has been about the Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy and the Spanish Inquisition – combined.

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More Real Stellenbosch, Please

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.

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Dry Encounter of the Thirst Kind

In a lingo filled with guttural sounding words to the tune of “achtung”, “mein Gott” and “Schweinehund”, the noun “Riesling” is one of the German language’s more joyous components. I have always found Riesling to be a precise, pure sounding word evoking images of brisk forest streams full of clear water foaming over clean white pebbles, a pristine green mountain forest lying beneath glaciers and a blond German damsel, straight from her fortnightly shower, picking daffodils next to a Gothic cathedral.

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