ten Pinotage: Pinotage
Club tasting of award winning Pinotage
Peter May is aiming at a niche market with his wine website.
It’s devoted entirely to the charms
of the Pinotage grape, and acts as a meeting place for aficionados of
South Africa’s ‘own’ grape variety (you can access it at www.pinotage.org). Peter recently put together a tasting of the
winners of the 2000 ASBA bank/Pinotage Association competition. I have
to confess that I’m no great fan of Pinotage. Its name gives a clue
as to the somewhat flawed origin: back in 1925 someone had the bright
idea of crossing Pinot Noir and what was then called ‘Hermitage’
in South Africa (believed at the time to be Shiraz, but later shown to
be the lesser Cinsault), hence ‘Pinotage’. What’s the problem?
Often I’ve detected a cheesy, rustic character in wines made from
it, coupled with a slight metallic edge. It seems that the favoured
way of overcoming this innate rusticity has been for winemakers to
smother it in new oak, which is what often happens in more expensive
examples. But I’m an open-minded sort of chap, always eager to throw
off my prejudices (aside: in wine, prejudices just seem to creep up on
you and catch you unawares, and they need regular and active
discarding), and so I was delighted to take the chance to taste some
leading examples side-by-side.
The tasting was held under ideal conditions, and very well
orchestrated by Peter, who’s obviously experienced at these events.
The 16 attendees varied in their wine knowledge, but everyone’s
opinion was carefully solicited and no one was made to feel daft (even
me!). I attend a lot of tastings, but this one comes high up on my
list of enjoyable evenings, partly because it combined the almost
academic study of the wines (on the part of some, at least) with some
convivial drinking and banter. It’s also instructive to note that
even with a group of people motivated enough about wine to pay to
attend a tasting, there was quite a spread of opinions. That’s the
way it is with wine.
Overall impressions? Pinotage makes some interesting, unusual
wines. And in a wine world heading fast along the road to homegenized
saminess, unusual is good. Characteristic flavours of the wines made
from this grape include herbs, savoury meaty characters, cheesiness or
animal shed notes, a touch of green olive, and also a sweetness to the
nose. But while I enjoyed many of these wines, I’m not convinced
that this is a grape capable of greatness – it’s more first
division play-off zone than premiership.
Avontuur Pinotage 2000, Stellenbosch
A slight deviation here: it was actually the 1999 Avontuur that
won in the 2000 ASBA/PA competition, but this wasn’t available, so
we tasted the 2000 instead. Winemaker Lizelle Gerber uses 5% new and
95% older oak, and this big wine weighs in at 15% alcohol. It’s a
very deep red/purple colour, with a sweet creamy nose showing some
vanilla/coconut notes and a bit of alcohol. The richly fruited palate
is clean, with a lovely spicy, savoury edge. Firm tannins. This is a
big, inky, dense wine – a bit of a brute. Satisfying though. Very
good/excellent (Waitrose £7.99)
Delheim Pinotage 1999, Stellenbosch
Made by winemaker Philip Costandius, who has since left for
Neethlingshof, from 25 year old bush vines. The sweet herby nose shows
vanilla, spice and coconut notes, along with an attractive
animal/farmyard edge. Very sweet. The palate is medium bodied, with
attractive, slightly animal-like character and a savoury, cheesy edge.
An unusual, satisfying wine. Very good+
Groot Constantia Pinotage 1999, Constantia
One of the historic Constantia estates (for a long time this and
Klein Constantia were the same property).
This has an interesting savoury nose with an attractive, smoky,
roasted edge underlain with some vanilla and sweet fruit. The palate
shows rich fruit with a savoury, high-acid edge: this veers towards
the austere, but is a well made full-flavoured red wine in a slightly
international style. Tasty stuff. After a while some interesting
herbal character begins to emerge. Very good+
Hidden Valley Pinotage 1998, Stellenbosch
Owned by Dave Hidden, with Jeremy Walker (of Grangehurst) as
winemaker. There’s a green, herbal (green olive?) edge to the nose,
together with some dark fruit and chocolatey notes. The palate is
quite rich with some sweet fruit, but there’s more of this savoury,
chocolatey, herbal character. A tiny bit metallic too. It’s not
unripe, but I do find this green olive character a bit off-putting.
Very good (Waitrose c.£14)
Kanonkop Pinotage 1999, Stellenbosch
Beyers Truter is one of the leading Pinotage advocates, and his
Kanonkop wines are celebrated as some of the best examples of this
grape. Deep coloured. Some initial sweet berry fruit on the nose is
underlain by a hint of savoury cheesiness, and there’s a touch of
caramel, too. The palate is concentrated, rich and savoury, with a
herbal, cheesy character and some tannic structure. Quite meaty.
Unusual stuff, but very attractive in a slightly funky sort of way.
Very good/excellent (Oddbins, Majestic £12)
L’Avenir Pinotage 1999, Stellenbosch
Made by ex-chemist Francois Naude. There’s a roasted, nutty
character to the nose with an attractive berry fruit edge. The rich,
savoury, spicy palate is quite clean and classic with an oaky edge.
The dusty tannins are quite challenging and there’s good acidity.
Very correct and quite juicy. Very good+
Lanzerac Pinotage 1998 Stellenbosch
Lot’s of potential for confusion here: this is a cooperative
wine from the Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery, but there is also a
Lanzerac Estate, too. It’s a name loaded with significance for
Pinotage fans, since the first commercial Pinotage appeared under the
Lanzerac label, a 1959 wine that was released in 1961. This wine
spends two years in new barriques, 90% French and 10% American. It has
a slightly volatile nose, with some spicy, stinky notes, dark
chocolate-edged fruit and caramel and herbs. On the palate it is
modern, ambitious and oaky, lacking balance and probably showing too
much alcohol. Good/very good
Neethlingshof ‘Lord Neethling’ Pinotage 1997,
Neethlingshof was bought in 1985 by Hans-Joachim Schreiber, a
German banker who has subsequently developed the estate. Very
attractive nose showing rich spicy fruit with notes of coffee, vanilla
and chocolate. The palate is spicy, tannic and chunky. This is a rich,
modern style. It finishes dry, but it’s quite oaky and alcoholic,
and there’s some lemony acid. Tasty. Very good+
Steytler Pinotage, Kaapzicht Estate 1999, Stellenbosch
A brooding nose with dark fruits and green olive, herby character.
Palate is rich and savoury with some meaty fruit, and it avoids being
vegetal or unripe whilst staying intensely savoury. Tasty stuff. Very
Papkuilsfontein Tukulu Pinotage 1999, Groenenkloof,
This large estate, with 250 ha of vineyards, is a project financed
by the Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery and Gauteng Properties.
There’s an empowerment element in that staff and farm workers are
allowed a stake in the business. With a ripe berry fruit element to
the nose this displays some green olive notes and a slightly volatile
character. There is also a bit of chocolate here. The palate is
typical of Pinotage, with an intensely savoury herbal/green olive
character. Quite tasty, but slightly spoiled by a bitter edge. Very
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