29 August 2004

2004 Pinotage Vintage

The annual Pinotage new vintage tasting sampled 13 wines from tanks and barrels selected from various regions. Although 2004 was one of the most difficult harvests ever for the wine industry, the flexibility and continuous quality of Pinotage clearly showed to the eighty wine experts, wine makers and wine writers who gathered at Doornbosch in Stellenbosch in June.

“Compared to last year’s excellent harvest overall, it took much more effort in 2004 to source the prime vineyards, but the wines from all the regions still showed good structure and high quality,” says Charles Hopkins, board member of the Pinotage Association “After enjoying one of the best vintages in decades last year, the Cape winelands this year experienced one of the most difficult vintages ever. It is therefore very gratifying that in spite of the adverse climatic conditions and high volume harvest, which usually has a detrimental effect on quality, the 2004 Pinotage wines which were tasted showed a constant line of fine quality.”

The vice-chairman of the Pinotage Association and Cape Wine Master, Duimpie Bayly, emphasised the versatility of the Pinotage variety. “Pinotage is a very stable variety – this was a very challenging harvest, but it still delivered superb wines. With regard to the market, this South African variety’s versatility is a plus factor. A good example is Rosé wines, which are now becoming increasingly popular internationally and Pinotage is also ideal for this style of wine. People are looking for good quality wines that are very drinkable.

Prof. Joël van Wyk, a retired lecturer in Oenology and honorary member of the Pinotage Association, agreed that the versatility of Pinotage is not fully utilized. “You can make top quality Rosé wines with Pinotage grapes, while it also supplies an excellent base for Port. The different approaches in styles of Pinotage red wines which were experienced at the new vintage tasting, is also very gratifying. With Pinotage you can satisfy everybody’s taste preferences.

“Because Pinotage grapes ripen early, it usually is harvested before the heat wave that hits the Cape winelands in February. Pressing techniques also play a role. Pinotage grapes have beautiful fruit, colour and tannins and the long skin contact during fermentation is not always necessary. The result is more elegant wines with lower alcohol without sacrificing structure and fruit flavours,” says Prof. Van Wyk.

The 2004 vintage is one of the largest ever for Pinotage by volume. The common characteristics of the 2004 Pinotage wines tasted include excellent colour and typical banana and plum flavours. Experts agreed that although most of the wines were very accessible, all the wines boasted an aftertaste full of lingering flavours.

The wine cellars from the regions and wards whose wines were selected for the new vintage tasting by their representatives, were Aan-de-Doorns (Worcester), Citrusdal Kelder, Diemersfontein (Wellington), Domaine Brahms (Paarl), Lanzerac (Stellenbosch), Middelvlei (Devon Valley), Mooiplaas (Bottelary), Neethlingshof (Stellenbosch), Rico Suter Landgoed (Rawsonville), Seidelberg Landgoed (Paarl), Sumaridge Wyne (Walker Bay), Swartland Wynkelder (Malmesbury) en Viljoensdrift (Robertson).

27 August 2004

Sentinal Wows Fairbairn

Sentinel Vineyards Pinotage 2003 was named Best Pinotage at South Africa's Fairbairn Capital Trophy Wine Show, and was also awarded the trophy for Discovery of the Show.

'Discovery of the Show' is an award based on the quality-price ratio of the wines entered, and Sentinel Pinotage was deemed to offer the best value of all.

French wine authority Michel Bettane was effusive in his praise: 'The Pinotage winner was superb, quite superb. It shows what refined Pinotage is capable of'. According to WINE magazine he likened it to Zinfandel, which went out of fashion, and is now making a comeback forcing those that scorned it to eat their words.

23 August 2004

Recent Dinner Wines

Ken Forrester Petit Pinotage 2003
An inviting fresh raspberry nose, light bodied with high acid and a surprisingly puckering dry woody finish. I'd like more fruit in mid-palate. Essential with food because of the acids and tannins and rather old fashioned. Disappointing.

Sylvanvale Pinotage Reserve 1999
On my trips to the Cape I'd made several journeys up Devon Valley to call at the Devon Valley hotel, wander through the vineyards that surround it and try to
attract the bar staff to taste the wine made from them. But it took some years
before I managed to buy their Pinotage as it quickly sells out. Perhaps I was just
expecting too much, but I found this wine an average Pinotage, starting to fade
with not enough fruit or 'oomph' to excite.

Beyerskloof Pinotage 2002
Not the reserve, but the regular bottling gives lots of pleasure with a full meaty body, dark plummy flavours and perfectly balanced fruit and tannins. But Beyers labels should stop saying Pinotage is unique to South Africa; its neither true nor a good selling point.

12 August 2004

WINE Magazine's Pinotage Whines

WINE MAGAZINE - South Africa's equivalent to Decanter - has recently turned against Pinotage with a vengeance. Deputy editor Christian Eedes is a big fan of Shiraz but is unable to praise that variety without disparaging Pinotage at the same time. Some of his email newsletters have literally infuriated Pinotage makers and the print magazine seems to miss no opportunity to take a dig at the variety. It’s a rare issue that doesn't have an anti-Pinotage letter. One was from a man who had taken a mouthful of a Cape Blend from a friends glass; he didn't like it so felt compelled to write to WINE to complain about Pinotage. Another called for all Pinotage to be uprooted as it’s an 'embarrassment to our country". If you're surprised that no-one has written in response, well they have, but printing pro-Pinotage letters doesn't seem to match WINE’s current direction.

Since 1997 WINE has promoted a Pinotage Champion Award, in association with the SPAR grocery chain, but the competition was abruptly junked this year in favour of a similar Shiraz challenge. In its place was ‘Value for Money’ Pinotage, awarded to 2002 vintage Pinotage costing under 40 ZAR that scored highest in the magazine’s tasting over the previous year.

Editor Fiona McDonald says “There’s a level of excitement and enthusiasm about Shiraz and its potential that Pinotage cannot match”

Congratulations to the three winners of WINE’s new value for money award

  • Du Toitskloof 2002 (28 ZAR)
  • McGregor 2002 (24 ZAR)
  • Lutzville ‘Most Westerly’ 2002 (18.40 ZAR)

Meanwhile in the rest of the world, Israel has produced it first Pinotage “not only a rousing success in its own right but perhaps the very best wine ever from Barkan” winery , and Muddy Water winery in New Zealand claims Pinotage “could be to New Zealand what Zinfandel is to California."

Christian Eedes, whose opinion is "Pinotage is so 1990s", said in February 2004 "Cape Blends in general, might be superficially entertaining but they ultimately lack the depth to count amongst the truly great wines of the world." In July 2004 the International Wine & Spirit Competition declared the worlds best blended red wine is a Cape Blend. That is the best of any red blend from the 30 countries who entered the competition.

03 August 2004

What's in The World's Best Red Blend?

Kaapzicht Steytler Vision 2001, which contains 40% Pinotage, is the worlds best red blend. It won the international Trophy for the Best Red Blend in the 2004 International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) competion, announced in London in July. IWSC boasts the most highly qualified group of international judges of any wine and spirit competition in the world.

“We make sure that our 40 Masters of Wine and our prominent trade judges from all over the world are balanced by knowledgeable consumer judges," said David Wrigley, Master of Wine and Chairman of the Technical and Judging Committee." All judges, including the Masters of Wine, must go through an induction process and a trail judging day before they are allowed to officially judge on a panel”.

Kaapzicht Steytler Vision 2001 is a Cape Blend containing 40% Pinotage, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot.

Danie Steytler, owner and winemaker of Kaapzicht Estate said “Most winemakers and marketers agree that a so-called Cape Blend should contain at least 30% Pinotage, but I wanted to make our homegrown red wine grape variety even more prominent, therefore the 40% Pinotage. South Africa must have its own unique red blend rather than always imitate other countries. This award is a blessing from God and one will always be grateful.”

"My viewpoint is that if you want to make a top blend you must select the very best wines. The blend is as good as the building blocks you use. One thing is for sure, South Africa’s homegrown Pinotage is an excellent variety to use in top quality red blends. This highest international award at one of the world’s most prominent wine competitions confirms it,” says Danie. The specific Pinotage vineyard which was the source for these award winning wines, was planted by Danie’s father, George Steytler, in 1970. It is a bush vine cultivated in Clovelly soil on the northeasterly slopes of the Bottelary Hills.

“In the cellar the wine was pumped over the skins softly but continuously for many hours and many days to obtain maximum colour and flavour extract. After three years it is now showing its full potential - wines made in this way need time in the bottle. It will probably reach its peak in 2007,” says Danie.

According to the judges, the Kaapzicht Steytler Vision 2001 is an excellent example of the blender's art. "A complex elegant refined wine with lovely backbone and structure. The blending skills extend to the fine use of oak. Rich fruit is beautifully balanced throughout". The same wine also received a double gold medal at the 2003 Michelangelo International Wine Awards.


Kaapzicht also won international trophy for the Best Pinotage at the 2004 IWSC with its Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2001.

The Steytler family has been cultivating vineyards and making wine on Kaapzicht since 1946, and these two international awards and history being made with the Vision 2001, came at a very appropriate time. Kaapzicht this year is celebrating their 20th anniversary since the very first wines were bottled on the estate under the Kaapzicht label in 1984. Up until then all the wines were sold in bulk to the wholesale wine producers.

The specific Pinotage vineyard which was the source for this and the winning Vision blend, was planted by Danie’s father, George Steytler, in 1970. It is planted to bush vines cultivated in Clovelly soil on the northeasterly slopes of the Bottelary Hills.


01 August 2004

Anthony Hamilton Russell Excites!

Hamilton Russell Vineyard’s reputation is built on their Burgundian style Pinot Noir and Chardonnays. For more than 20 years they’ve been recognised not only as South African icons but among the best anywhere.

But owner Anthony Hamilton Russell is also passionate about Pinotage which he releases under the Southern Right label and he will shortly announce a new Pinotage label – Ashbourne. Anthony attended our February Pinotage tasting in Cape Town and invited me to visit his cellars to taste some of his wines.

Anthony is surprising young for a major winery owner, always impeccably dressed and intense where Pinotage is concerned. “I believe so much in the potential of the variety”, he stated, “and I just wish people would put more effort into making Pinotage. It’s unique to our country and adds to the world of wine.” I mentioned WINE magazines flirtation with Shiraz. Anthony was definite that “Shiraz is not the answer for South Africa! Anyone trying to put Pinotage on the map is more innovative than those trying to rip-off Australian Shiraz.”

Hamilton Russell Vineyard’s cellar is set among his vineyards on a cliff high overlooking the town of Hermanus in Walker Bay. Part of is sunk under ground and the upper floor has doors under the eave at each end to let air circulate. Unfortunately the thatched roof was made at too low an angle and the huge supporting logs are forcing the walls apart. Underground the air is cool, the walls stained with fungus and it could be a centuries old cave in France.

In 1998 Southern Right purchased a 113 hectare farm in Walker Bay. Anthony is convinced that Pinotage needs a cool climate for slow ripening to encourage fruit complexity and tannins, and performs best on clay soils. He has identified areas of stony clay-rich Bokkeveld shale soils on the farm to plant his Pinotage vineyards. He also sources grapes from four nearby vineyards previously planted as joint ventures with the farmers.

Southern Right’s first Pinotage was the 1995 vintage. Just 162 cases were made, and the aim is to increase production to an eventual target of 10,000 cases. 2003 vintage saw 6450 cases.

Southern Right 1995 13.18% Pinot Noir nose, deep black core, browning. Light
bodied, touch of kelp and iodine. The fruit for this wine came from Beaumont and
it was aged in new Alliers oak.

Southern Right 1997 12.42%
A musty brettanomyces nose which cleared leaving a soft and attractive wine, backed with sweet fruit, light bodied and elegant.

Southern Right 2002 14.34%
Bright red colour, warm coconut nose, soft bodied with light red-currant flavours.
Beautifully balanced. This has a WO Western Cape as some of the grapes were
bought in.

Southern Right 2003 13.69%
Bright clear ruby colour, soft full nose, surprisingly light, enjoyably easy drinking with a long lingering aftertaste and a backbone of tannins. WO Walker Bay, from Southern Right’s own and partner vineyards.

Ashbourne 2001 13.9% barrel sample
This comes the Bastenburg block. It’s a single vineyard Pinotage. It's not been racked and has a funky nose, high acids and flavours of cherry and a hint of iron, medium aftertaste, dried berries and tannins and a dry finish.

Anthony says his intention is to make a “quirky individual wine that some will like, but others won’t. It’s not enough to be pleasing; you have to have excite someone. Controversial wines do this”. Anthony is considering blending in a tiny – less than 2% - of Roobernet, a very new grape variety developed in South Africa by crossing the historic red-juiced Pontac and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bastenburg 2003 tank sample, not yet filtered
Exuberant purple red, immensely enjoyable quaffable wine with rich berry fruits, spicy rounded and soft, fruit tannins on the end. Anthony is looking for some “more complexity and refinement.” He doesn’t want it to go “overripe with excessive alcohol and wood.”

Anthony says Pinotage has all the quantities to make a world class wine, and world class wines are the only ones he’s interested in making.