Starting in 2015, Tim Atkin MW and Samantha O’Keefe of Lismore Estate Vineyards in Greyton have taken it upon themselves to arrange a tasting where the best of South African wine are put up next to some leading examples from the rest of the world in order to facilitate discussion.
The most recent event featuring Pinot Noir took place at Lismore this past Saturday and those in attendance included me, Atkin and O’Keefe plus Nadia Barnard of Waterkloof, Andries Burger of Paul Cluver Estate, Alex Dale of the Winery of Good Hope, JC Martin of Creation Wines, Gottfried Mocke of Boekenhoutskloof, Gordon and Nadia Newton Johnson of Newton Johnson Vineyards, Emul Ross of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Hannes Storm of Storm Wines and Chris Williams of Meerlust and The Foundry. We tasted blind and scored using the 100-point system.
1. Paul Cluver Seven Flags 2015; 2. Burn Cottage Central Otago 2013 (NEW ZEALAND); 3. Crystallum Mabalel 2016; 4. Dalrymple Cottage Block Pipers River Tasmania 2013 (AUSTRALIA); 5. Vriesenhof 2015; 6. Dufouleur Freres Nuits-Saint George 2014 (FRANCE); 7. Bouchard Finlayson Tête du Cuvée 2013; 8. De Grendel Op die Berg 2013; 9. Martin Wassmer Spätburgunder 2014 (GERMANY)
1. Domaine Denis Jamain Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2015 (FRANCE); 2. Lismore 2016; 3. Storm Vrede 2015; 4. Domaine de l’Arlot Clos des Forêts St Georges Premier Cru 2014 (FRANCE); 5. Crystallum Peter Max 2014; 6. Felton Road Bannockburn Central Otago 2014 (NEW ZEALAND); 7. Newton Johnson CWG Seadragon 2015; 8. Radford Dale Freedom 2015; 9. Domaine Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin Vieille Vigne 2014 (FRANCE)
1. Dufouleur Freres Vosne-Romanée 2014 (FRANCE); 2. Crystallum Cuvee Cinema 2016; 3. Newton Johnson Family Reserve 2015; 4. Domaine Duroché Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Lavaut St Jacques 2010 (FRANCE); 5. Storm Ignus 2015; 6. Dog Point Marlborough 2014 (NEW ZEALAND); 7. Radford Dale Freedom 2016; 8. Lemelson Thea’s Selection Willamette Valley 2014 (USA)
1. Meerlust 2016; 2. Domaine de la Cote Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2013 (USA); 3. Hamilton Russell Vineyards 2015; 4. Creation Art of Creation 2015; 5. Richard Kershaw 2015; 6. Domaine Dujac Morey-St-Denis Premier Cru 2012 (FRANCE); 7. Radford Dale AD 2012; 8. Tesslaarsdal 2015
Here’s how my top 10 turned out:
1.= De Grendel Op die Berg 2013 – 95
1.= Domaine de l’Arlot Clos des Forêts St Georges Premier Cru 2014 – 95
3.= Crystallum Peter Max 2014 – 93
3.= Dalrymple Cottage Block Pipers River Tasmania 2013 – 93
3.= Domaine Duroché Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Lavaut St Jacques 2010 – 93
3.= Lismore 2016 – 93
3.= Newton Johnson Family Reserve 2015 – 93
8.= Martin Wassmer Spätburgunder 2014 – 92
8.= Crystallum Cuvee Cinema 2016 – 92
10.= Paul Cluver Seven Flags 2015 – 91
10.= Dufouleur Freres Nuits-Saint George 2014 – 91
10.= Meerlust 2016 – 91
10.= Radford Dale AD 2012 – 91
The overall top 10 was as follows:
1. Domaine de l’Arlot Clos des Forêts St Georges Premier Cru 2014 (average score: 92.38)
2. Dufouleur Freres Nuits-Saint George 2014
3. Storm Vrede 2015
4. Paul Cluver Seven Flags 2015
5. Domaine Duroché Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Lavaut St Jacques 2010
6.= Creation Art of Creation 2015
6.= Dufouleur Freres Vosne-Romanée 2014
8. De Grendel Op die Berg 2013
9. Dog Point Marlborough 2014
10.= Lismore 2016
10.= Newton Johnson CWG Seadragon 2015
Some observations: Picking country of origin was difficult – we live in a world where knowledge transfer is now extraordinarily fast and a technique which yields good results in one region is soon replicated around the world, the upshot being that winemaking approach often trumps site or at least obscures it.
Much debate about what stylistic manifestation constituted the best expression of the variety. The general feeling was that the wines which displayed red rather than black fruit and were more medium rather than full bodied tended to be more successful. Dale of The Winery of Good Hope argued, however, that such wines could tend to be a little frivolous and that there was a place for a more powerful rendition of the variety. It was generally agreed that wines with more fruit power were legitimate as long as they provided an overall impression of being dry rather than sweet.
Picking up on this point, O’Keefe felt that some degree of herbaceousness in Pinot Noir was no bad thing as it went towards savouriness. Again, the feeling was that this was a valid part of the overall drinking experience as long as it was in balance. Also, this herbaceousness should be terroir-derived rather than being the product of leaf-roll virus or under-ripe picking.
Lastly, many of the wines showed some degree of reduction. At low levels, this adds complexity but there were some wines were the consensus was that this was excessive, the Dujac Morey-St-Denis Premier Cru 2012 being a case in point.
It has to be said that South Africa acquitted itself well in this tasting and there is definitely a future for the variety locally, perhaps more so than this commentator has previously thought. Even so, the wines were extremely diverse in stylistic terms and we are long way off from claiming coherent regional identities.
For images from the tasting, click here.