Masters of Pinotage

Having been out to South Africa earlier this year we felt it was time to arrange a tasting of Pinotage. Pinotage is a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut, bred in 1925, in an attempt to adapt the qualities of Pinot Noir to the South African climate. Pinotage has historically been accused of lacking the potential to make great wine, and condemned for tasting notes of burnt rubber and bananas. Having tasted almost 200 wines during the trip we identified a few standout bottles of Pinotage to showcase the grape and dispel any remaining doubts.

The wines below were tasted blind, with a bottle of Tesco’s finest Pinotage added to the flight as a comparator. All 4 wines were decanted prior to serving from the decanters. I quickly sorted the wines on the basis of the depth and complexity of the nose to determine a tasting order as below. Incidentally these wines are all from different regions of South Africa and represent a cross section of the terroir

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Tescos Finest, South African Pinotage, Swartland, 2015

Price: £6.00 from Tesco Online

A garnet of moderate intensity, this had a thin nose with notes of cherry.  A refreshing wine with high alcohol, high acidity and high tannin.  This was somewhat out of balance and was the only wine tasted where the burnt rubber notes were obvious -coming through on the late palate. I have previously drunk this wine without complaint, and whilst is in no way a bad wine, it does little to excite. On returning to this from the other wines in the flight its relative inadequacy was very much apparent.

Score: The score among the group tasting ranged between 82-86/100 with the fine felt to be above average but nothing standout.

Kanonkop, Pinotage, Stellenbosch, 2003

Price: £22.99 (different vintage) from SA Wines Online

Kanonkop are renowned as one of the leading Pinotage estates, with their black label Pinotage one of the most expensive wines from South Africa. On my recent visit Kanonkop impressed across the range. The example we tasted here was from 2003 and was the oldest wine in the flight demonstrating the capacity of Pinotage to age.

This wine was much richer that the first; sweet with moderate silky tannin.  Again we find cherry but this time closer to a black cherry.  The balance is better, and we are rewarded with greater complexity.  Perhaps a little rough round the edges but I can accept that to be rewarded with savory flavours of leather and game.  Spice on the finish rounds out a typical and mature high quality pinotage. This wine is a great match for a piece of charred steak or other fare cooked on a charcoal grill.

Score: 90/100 (DT)

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Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Ashbourne, Walker Bay, 2009

Price: £27.99 from SA Wines Online

This was the only wine that was a blend of grapes, and in this case it was made up of 82% Pinotage, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Shiraz. This article gives Hamilton Russell’s thoughts on Pinotage, and it is worth noting that Ashbourne will become a single varietal pinotage from the 2015 vintage.  Hamilton Russell is famed for Pinot Noir, and although this may be sacrilegious, I think I actually prefer the Ashbourne red.

On tasting this was a very different wine from the first two. In comparison this was pretty, and delicate, with stacks of red raspberry fruit. High acidity keeps this in focus, and it was the only wine that expressed much in the way of minerality. Excellent balance, with floral overtones. This tastes much closer to Pinot Noir and impressed fans of the grape. If this came from Burgundy it would cost a small fortune.

Score: 93/100 (DT)

Meerendal, The Heritage Block Pinotage, Durbanville, 2006

Price: £39.99 from K&L Wines

Durbanville lies directly to the north of Cape Town and is best known for producing stunning Sauvignon Blanc. The farm at Meerendal has been growing wine since 1714 and this Pinotage was one of my best finds whilst in Cape Town. My thanks go to David at Meerendal for opening this to taste as it is a truly exceptional wine. K&L Wines appear to be selling this here in UK although I would be surprised if there are many bottles available.

This wine was a dark garnet of high intensity, and markedly strong legs.  This was full bodied yet smooth, luxurious and silky sweet in the mouth.  More tannic that the other wines tasted, and again showing a flare of high acidity keeping the wine in focus.  This still tastes youthful with the fresh greenness of fruit pips, although the bulk of the fruit is more in line with raisins or stewed dark fruits. Cracking high powered, yet classy wine.  Just edged out on score by the Ashbourne but well received all round, and well worth the effort seeking out.

Score: 92/100 (DT)

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