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Pinotage: can it deliver? 

Pinotage is a controversial grape variety Ė Iíve written about it before on this site (here), so I wonít repeat myself here. Suffice to say, Iíve had my problems with it in the past.

But as an open-minded sort of guy Iím always willing to be proved wrong and Iím open to revising my opinions if new data points indicate that I should.

With this in mind, I was delighted to be able to attend an offline gathering of internet wine geeks where Pinotage was the focus of the evening. An added highlight was that Peter May Ė who runs a highly successful website devoted to Pinotage Ė was attending.

So we drank 18 different Pinotages of varying ages, plus a couple of other wines, too (which Iíve not noted here). Overall, while I enjoyed the evening, I was a bit disappointed with the wines. I donít think they age very well, and a common flaw is greenness/unripe characters. 

The gathered crowd (in a rather serious-looking moment) assess the merits of Pinotage.
Come on guys - it's not all that bad!

Winemakers had frequently tried to mask these by sweet fruit and/or new oak, but not covincingly, in my opinion. In the older wines this greenness had often morphed into an earthy/medicinal character. I donít think many of these wines were ageing in a positive direction: on this showing, Pinotage should be consumed young.

My favourite wine, and the only one which Iíd describe as 'serious', was the Scali Pinotage. Clear winner of wine of the night for me, although some people disagreed. From this showing, though, it seems that Pinotage growers have a lot of work to do in the vineyard: unless they can get homogeneous physiological/phenolic ripening levels in their Pinotage (at sensible potential alcohol levels), Pinotage Ďfunkí is going to be a continuing problem.

Thanks go to Keith Prothero for arranging the evening, and to all those attending for their good cheer and fine company.

Kanonkop Pinotage 1983
Probably a bit past it. Earthy, leathery notes, with a softness and a bit of medicinal old wine character. Firm tannins. I quite enjoyed it, though, for its spicy, earthy savouriness. Very good+ 88/100

Bellingham Spitz Pinotage 1997
Evolved earthy spicy nose. Thereís some nice freshness to the fruit on the palate. A warm, spicy wine. Very good+ 88/100

Hidden Valley Pinotage 1996
Thereís a green herbal backing to the rounded berry fruit, together with a subtle medicinal edge. Nice weight. Very good 84/100

Jacobsdal Estate Pinotage 1995
Lifted acetone nose. The palate is spicy and tannic with some earthiness. An old fashioned style but not without appeal. Very good 84/100

Kaapzicht Estate Pinotage 1997
Earthy, spicy red fruits nose leads to a structured, slightly sweet palate with a subtle funky edge. Very good+ 87/00

Kanonkop Pinotage 1997
Rich, sweet, soft and spicy. The oak has integrated nicely with a porty, spicy softness. Very rich: a tasty wine. Very good+ 89/100

KWV Cathedral Cellar Pinotage 1996
Nice sweet, spicy nose. The palate is firm and spicy with a green, medicinal edge. Very good 82/100

LíAvenir Estate Pinotage 1997
Rich, sweet, chocolatey nose with some spice too. The palate is well balanced: nice and spicy with some earthiness. Evolving quite nicely. Very good+ 88/100

Southern Right Pinotage 1997
Quite evolved in an earthy, spicy direction. Soft, rich spicy on the palate. Drink up. Very good+ 86/100

Uiterwyk Top of the Hill Pinotage 1996
Very rich, spicy, appealing nose with a fudgey vanilla element and a bit of greenness. The palate is rich and spicy but decays into greenness. Very good+ 87/100

Spice Route Pinotage 1999
A rich, dense style with sweet dark fruits and some savoury, medicinal characters. Quite dense. A rich, full-on style. Very good+ 87/100

Stellenzicht Pinotage 1998
Rich, mealy, spicy nose. Quite warm, spicy and sweet. The palate is rich and rounded with sweet fruit, spice and a subtle green edge. Very good+ 87/100

Wamakersvallei La Cave Pinotage 2003 Wellington
Very appealing, rich, sweet wine with lush, spicy dark fruits nose. Chocolatey and rich. Firm, vivid, spicy palate with some tannins. Quite structured with a hint of greenness on the finish. Very good+ 88/100

Raka Pinotage 2003 Klein River
Opulent sweet, rich chocolatey nose with some fresh black fruits. On the palate thereís a touch of greenness together with lots of sweet fruit. Very good+ 87/100

Laibach Pinotage 2003
Sweet open, herbal sweet red fruits on the nose. The palate combines rich, sweet chocolatey fruit with herbiness. I forgot to score this!

Scali Pinotage 2003 Paarderberg
Dense rich nose with a slightly lifted edge to it. On the palate this is spicy and savoury with lots of complexity. At last, a Pinotage I really like a lot. Very good/excellent 92/100

Rijkís Private Cellar Pinotage 2001 Tulbagh
Quite rich and spicy but good balance, too. A nice wine in a rich new world style. Good stuff. Very good+ 89/100

Steytler Pinotage 2001
Rich and bold with rich spicy flavours combined with a subtly medicinal spicy edge. Quite deep and rich in a new world style. Very good+ 87/100

Wines tasted 04/06
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