On Friday a workshop hosted by Paul Cluver Estate in Elgin towards a identifying where South African Pinot Noir can be improved. As part of the exercise a line-up of eight wines from Burgundy ranging from something as relatively as humble Michel Lafarge Bourgogne 2009 to the outstanding Geantet-Pansiot Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru 2009.
Accepting that not all Burgundy is good simply by being Burgundy, what to take out of the tasting? Typically, the French stuff seems to have more fruit integrity (rather than weight) relative to local examples, while the tannin quality is also remarkable – gently grippy, if you will.
Remington Norman MW and author of leading reference works on Burgundy suggested “a structure and refreshment quality that South Africa doesn’t always have” while Allan Mullins, Woolworths wine buyer, noted that the Burgundian wines were “more complete”. Paul Cluver observed “greater clarity, more precision in the use of oak”.
So what has Burgundy got that we haven’t? It must be accepted that vine age is crucial – the average age of plantings in Elgin is only six years old for instance and as these vineyards become more established, quality improvements can be expected. Norman also highlighted soil health, saying that there had been a “palpable shift” to biodynamics in recent times.
Work to be done both in the vineyards and the cellar but maybe Pinot Noir is a victim of its own success in marketing terms. François Rautenbach, head of the wine programme for Singita, suggested that South African producers were possibly “pushing too hard” and “trying to dress Pinot up as something that it isn’t in order to justify [high] prices”.