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Cape blends

There’s been a lot of discussion in South Africa about the subject of Cape Blends. These are red wines with a proportion of Pinotage blended with other grapes. What’s the big deal? Well, many see them as the Cape’s calling card – a signature style that is unique to South Africa. Of course, Pinotage is unique to South Africa, but in many circles this unusual variety is seen to be just a touch too idiosyncratic to act as an ‘ambassador’ wine style. But it does work very well in blends, where its individuality is toned down a bit and it adds personality to ‘international’ style wines.

The big debate has been around not only whether Cape Blends should be officially recognized and promoted, but also about the rules determining their composition. Namely, should there be a minimum (say 30%) proportion of Pinotage, and a maximum (say 70%)? There’s a website devoted to the issue: www.capeblends.co.za.

An alternative viewpoint might be that South Africa should major on Syrah/Shiraz instead. It may not be uniquely South African, but it works brilliantly in warm climate wine regions such as Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek, and increasingly is stealing the thunder from the more traditional Cabernet and Merlot. Pinotage will always have a place, but perhaps more as a niche variety than as a centrepiece for a major wine industry. From this tasting of a selection of Cape blends, it seems that using Pinotage in this way seems to work pretty well, and this could well be the best way forward for the variety.

Simonsig Frans Malan Reserve 1999 Stellenbosch
60% Pinotage, with the balance Cabernet and Merlot. Intense ripe berry fruit nose with sweetness to the fruit and a spicy, smoky edge. The palate shows ripe, open berry fruits with a hint of bell pepper. Tasty and rich. Very good+ 87/100

Beyerskloof Synergy 2001 Stellenbosch
36% Pinotage, 25% Cabernet, 39% Merlot. Quite a serious structured wine with a spicy black fruit nose. The palate is spicy and structured with lovely rich blackcurrant fruit and firm, spicy structure. A serious wine. Very good/excellent 90/100

Warwick Three Cape Ladies 1999 Stellenbosch
35% Cabernet, 35% Merlot, 30% Pinotage. Open, ripe spicy nose with a herby edge. The palate is chewy and spicy, showing ripe berry fruits and a nice meatiness. Savoury, yet ripe and forward at the same time. Very good+ 89/100

Clos Malverne Auret 2000 Paarl
Cabernet Sauvignon 60%, Pinotage 25%, Merlot 15%. Ripe open berry fruit nose. The palate shows a good concentration of spicy berry fruits. Structured and savoury with a hint of green (bell) pepper. Very good+ 86/100

Flagstone Dragon Tree 2001
Cabernet Sauvignon 63%, Pinotage 34%, Cabernet Franc 3%. Forward, ripe chocolatey nose – very sweet and rich. The palate is chewy and ripe with a savoury meatiness hiding under the ripe fruit. Approachable and tasty. Very good+ 88/100

Middlevlei Pinotage/Merlot 1999 Stellenbosch
60% Pinotage, 40% Merlot. Savoury nose with some meaty, green olive character. Appealing and unusual. Green olive, meaty, herby character dominates the palate. Very good+ 86/100

See also: the Stellenbosch wine route; wineanorak's guide to South African wine

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