Pinotage on the Verge of Greatness

There are real benefits aligned to growing older in the wine industry. A chap becomes deft at selecting preventative measures for the tackling of gout, you know just when to slip out of a speech-laden wine event without upsetting the organisers and can impress vino virgins by recalling the weather conditions of those fine Cape vintages of 1974 and 1982.

a pinotage

Of course, in wine nothing is as valuable as experience. A bum-fluffed Cape Wine Master, glowing with the confidence of youth, has nothing on us old-timers who can vividly recall the fine old South African red wines of Stellenryck and had attended tutored tastings held by the great Ronnie Melck, former MD of Stellenbosch Farmers Winery.

Pride glows when I immerse myself in the Pinotage offerings of late. Vintages 2011 to 2013 are delivering more than a line-up of delicious, fine wines – they are announcing Pinotage’s progress from a noisy half-breed to a varietal that is achieving a reputation for greatness.

It was, of course, not always thus. Good Pinotage has been around since the first commercial bottling in 1959, but a lot of wading had to be done through a pool of wild, rude wines before reaching the cherry tree. The commentators, critics and wine makers who trashed the variety were obviously unfair in their generalised dissing of the grape, but in all fairness, after tasting 15 tots of examples showing nail varnish, banana-peel and sweaty goat scrotum one can be offended.

But as that great Virginia Slims cigarette advertisement read, “you’ve come a long way, Baby”.

The preliminary 20 wine line-up for this year’s Absa Top 10 made for riveting foreplay to the eventual Top 10 Trophy Winners who represent a selection of some of the finest red wines made in South Africa over the past few years. And this all from Pinotage.

Pierre Wahl from Rijk's Private Cellar in Tulbagh.
Pierre Wahl from Rijk’s Private Cellar in Tulbagh.

In general, the Top 10 wines showed seamless and refined composition, elegance being one of the challenges posed by the Pinotage berry. The thing has a skin thicker than an EFF media-spokesperson and ferments faster than the Ebola virus spreads in Libreville. During the hasty fermentation – four to six days compared to two to four weeks for other reds – a lot of graceful harmony bleeds off and as a wine maker you have to keep your head to maintain balance until the juice has fermented dry. Racking and barrelling must be done with much care and focus – remember, as a variety Pinotage was only born in 1925 so compared to other cultivars it is still very much a work in progress.

All the Absa finalists were made with skill, every wine polished, shining and good.

Another golden thread – for me – is the sumptuous, juiciness of the wines on show. They are rich and plush, and unashamedly so. A direct fruit-core can be tasted, the wines have lavish palate weights and are smooth as silk. Like their wine makers, the Pinotages are confident in their robustness, undeterred by calls for lower alcohols, easier wooding, gentler tannins and other finicky requests.

Still on a high of admiration for this year’s Top 10 line-up, I do not have any outstanding favourites. But Pierre Wahl’s Rijk’s 2010 Reserve is a gut-wrenchingly great South African red wine full of spice and crushed cherry with a whiff of mocha. It was great seeing Delheim under the Top 10, its Vera Cruz Pinotage 2012 showing great Simonsberg terroir expression. A bead of forest-floor gives the rush of fresh red fruit a complexity on which neighbour Kanonkop would be proud.

Spier’s 21 Gables 2012 Pinotage has a soya sauce and berry umami-like profile, with an intriguing smokiness from the barrel. Windmeul is no stranger to the Pinotage Top 10 and their 2013 Reserve has a lovely brush of fynbos leading to a meaty, moreish length of appetising red wine.

The list continues, as does the fine display of what Pinotage is really capable of doing. And we’ve only just begun.

Enjoyed this article?

Subscribe and never miss a post again.

Chardonnay’s Heart at Hartenberg

Carl Schultz from Hartenberg waltzing through the vines.
Carl Schultz from Hartenberg waltzing through the vines.

Perfection, or near perfection, must be a heavy burden. How do Carl Schultz and his team at Hartenberg Estate handle it? Such a diverse range of wines, all made to such high standards – it’s all enough to make a French vigneron kick a hole in a vat of 1928 Armagnac.

Hartenberg makes a mean Merlot. Stupendous Shiraz. Riveting Riesling. Cracking Cabernet. But my heart was won over, again, recently by the Chardonnay. Not the iconic Eleanor, but the straight-up Hartenberg Chardonnay from the very classy 2009 vintage.

This came courtesy of a good offer from my sales agent at the Wade Bales Wine Society at a price that made me wonder if this stuff hadn’t fallen from the back of some truck. But I bought a case, most of which has been sent down the hatch, leaving me half-a-bottle from which to contemplate.

The wine is clear and attractive with a lovely greenness to the golden robe, as usually worn by a classic Chardonnay south of the Beaune region in Burgundy. A chunky firm attack on the palate leads to an armada of ripe fruit, from stewed quince, grated Packham pear, kumquat and Key Lime Pie. This is all supported by a zesty acidity, giving the wine more life and verve than a Mavericks’ dancer on Free Russia Day.

Unlike said dancer, the Hartenberg Chardonnay only has a bit of wood, not enough to mask the life in the wine but just the right amount to provide a silky, buttery mouth-feel and a lingering finish.

Score: 9013/1000

 

hartie one

Enjoyed this article?

Subscribe and never miss a post again.

Plaisir de Merle and the Ruffled Feathers

The woman with the floppy hat and yellow facial sunscreen looked at me as if I’d asked her to perform the Gangnam Style in her second-hand underwear. ?+¦?+º?+¦Don’t make such a noise,?+¦?+º?+æ she whispered. ?+¦?+º?+¦We think we’ve got a Levaillant’s Cisticola.?+¦?+º?+æ

I peered over at the other members in her group. Most had the same floppy-hats and were donning binoculars of different sizes, coloured black or military green. ?+¦?+º?+¦You might have a Levaillant’s Cisticola, but I’ve got a date with a cold bottle of sparkling wine,?+¦?+º?+æ I said, flooring the Citro?+¦-ú??n and sending a few Cisticolas, Furry Bummed Cisterians and Blue Hardened Tits – or whatever it is that bird-watchers find intriguing – flapping into the mountains above Plaisir de Merle.

Continue reading

Enjoyed this article?

Subscribe and never miss a post again.

No Cult Wine in the Making – Keets First Verse is Already Here

Chris Keet (photograph plagiarised from Neil Pendock's blog.)
Seeing as wine commentary is ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ like all commentary ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ personal and subjective, one is allowed the confident luxury of making big statements. Make too many of them, and their effect is obviously diluted. So before coming up with a massive missive on a space such as this read by about 12 wine enthusiasts, three of my closest friends as well as my brainy dachshund Maximillian, careful consideration is required. Continue reading

Enjoyed this article?

Subscribe and never miss a post again.

Wow Factor in No-Man’s Land

The folks responsible for the demarcation of the Cape Winelands have turned some weird tricks in their time, but non as crazy as in drawing the borders between Stellenbosch and Paarl in the Simonsberg vicinity. Cruising the R44 ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ South Africa’s Golden Highway in wine terms – Wine of Origin Stellenbosch suddenly becomes WO Paarl. Just like that. No warning, no perceptible change in landscape or terroir. One moment things are Le Bonheur and Lievland and Stellenbosch, and then suddenly the origin system turns to Paarl without any logic, rhyme or reason.

Continue reading

Enjoyed this article?

Subscribe and never miss a post again.

Paardeberg Steals the Crown from Out-of-Form Simonsberg

Putting on a brave face - Rijk and Kim Melck from Simonsberg with judge Neil Pendock.
In a week-end of international tragedies, culinary travesty hit the Stellenbosch Wine Region when the Simonsberg ward lost its annual Potjiekos Competition against the Paardeberg. Simonsberg, an established community inhabited by award-winning winemakers and a number of foodie personalities, were well and truly beaten by a Paardeberg team who were better in all aspects of Potjiekos making. Continue reading

Enjoyed this article?

Subscribe and never miss a post again.

Masterpiece from Muratie

Despite the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley having made the Heartbreak Grape its own it’s worth remembering that South Africa’s first Pinot Noir was planted on the slopes of Stellenbosch’s Simonsberg in 1927, the location being Muratie Estate. Erstwhile Muratie proprietor, artist and bon vivant George Canitz was a buddy of Prof. Abraham Perold, the viticultural guru who “invented” the Pinotage grape, and it was Perold who indulged Canitz’s wish to produce a “Burgundy” in Stellenbosch.

Prof Perold was an eager beaver to help out, although it has come to the fore that the Professor’s relationship with Muratie was based on more than a bit of experimental viticulture and a jovial drinking buddy in Canitz. Perold had a serious case of the hots for Canitz’s daughter, Annemie, and this air of romance no-doubt assisted the relevant parties to go about the task of creating Pinot Noir with heartfelt passion and possibly more than a few rootstocks were planted.

Continue reading

Enjoyed this article?

Subscribe and never miss a post again.