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Pinotage reconsidered

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Where it all goes down - Belthazar Restaurant & Wine Bar
Where it all goes down - Belthazar Restaurant & Wine Bar

It’s indicative of how gracious my wife Jane is that she let me go off to a Pinotage tasting followed by a (long) lunch this past Women’s Day. The venue was Belthazar restaurant at the V&A Waterfront and also involved were godfather of the variety Beyers Truter of Beyerskloof, as well as James Pietersen and Jonathan Steyn, both involved in the running of Belthatzar and sister operation Balducci’s.

The idea was to review the top end of the market towards generating a list of recommendations to appear in an article I’m writing for UK magazine Decanter, with the brief being to include both well established names and a few rising stars.

We tasted blind with scoring done according to the 20-point system and here’s how the wines ranked (average arithmetic scores in brackets):

FIVE STARS
1. Kaapzicht Steytler 2007 (17.75)

FOUR AND A HALF STARS
2. Simonsig Cape Winemakers Guild Auction Reserve 2007 (17.5)
3. Lanzerac Pionier 2007 (17.375)
4. Flagstone Writer’s Block 2008 (17)
5. = Beyerskloof Diesel 2007 (16.875)
5. = Southern Right 2007 (16.875)

FOUR STARS
7. = Beyerskloof Diesel 2008 (16.625)
7. = Simonsig Red Hill 2007 (16.625)
7. = Springfontein Jonathan’s Ridge 2008 (16.625)
10. = Southern Right 2006 (16.5)
10. = Stellenzicht Golden Triangle 2008 (16.5)
12. Southern Right 2008 (16.25)
13. De Waal Top of the Hill 2005 (16.125)

THREE AND A HALF STARS
14. Kanonkop 2008 (15.625)

Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2007
Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2007

Steytler Pinotage 2006 from Kaapzicht won the international trophy for best single varietal red above £10 at the Decanter World Wine Awards last year, and the 2007 was again the pick of the bunch in our tasting. Intense black in colour, it shows dark fruit and an intriguing hint of farmyard on the nose. The palate is complex, rich and full with fresh acidity and firm but fine tannins; powerful but poised.

Some more general observations: WINE magazine ran the Pinotage Champion of the Year competition from 1997 to 2003 but dispensed with it in favour of the Shiraz Challenge in 2004, on the basis that it was so difficult to find examples of Pinotage that came anywhere near greatness back then.

How things have changed. Common failings such as acetone character and bitterness not to mention brettanomyces are no longer in evidence. Fruit is very much to the fore, and there’s a sense that producers are picking optimally ripe rather than over-ripe. Equally, the use of oak seems more deft.

Because the grape contains exceptionally high malic acid, it undergoes extreme pH shifts while in the cellar which previously led to all sorts of problems, but clearly winemakers now have a better understanding of the grape’s chemistry, and are now much better able to make the necessary acid adjustments.

The examples we looked at typically have plenty of upfront fruit but then end on a savoury (as opposed to dirty) note, making them ideal with venison. Tasting complete, we duly ordered the Springbok loin…

5 COMMENTS

  1. Some seriously good wines there for a “Women’s Day” lunch, Christian! Perhaps fortuitous that the meal of choice was “Springbok”…?

  2. When you say you reckon modern Pinotages are now being made in an ageworthy style again, do you mean 5 to 8 years or 10+ kind of time scale? I don’t like to get hung up on the ageability of SA wine, as there are plenty of great SA wines that should be drunk young in 3 to 5 years. But so many of my 1990 to 2000 vintage Pinotages, including the greatest name producers, have been so medicinal that I have resigned myself to the fact that either I tip them down the sink or leave them to slumber for another 10 years+ (in my 12 deg temp controlled cellar), in the hope that they might turn into a Domaine Romanee Conti look-a-like! Well, I would settle for a drinkable Pinot Noir actually….

  3. Calling how long a wine will age is a mug’s game. There was lots wrong with SA red (let alone Pinotage) between 1990 and 2000 but it would be helpful if you elaborated on “medicinal”. If you mean Benylin cough medicine – herbal and coffee at the same time – then that would be a universal failing.

  4. A Meerendal Pinotage 1975 drunk on the weekend was enlightening. Pure, perfumed and downright delicious, it set a new benchmark ( for me) on what the variety is capable of.

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