28 February 2007

Oh Dear, Auberge!

L’Auberge du Paysan Pinotage vineyards Increasingly wineries are opening restaurants ( see Red Leaf and Green Pinotage ) but how about a restaurant with its own vineyard?

I have long been keen to visit
L’Auberge du Paysan because it owns the small vineyards growing on three sides of its attractive old Cape Dutch building. Pinotage bush vines produce the house wine for the restaurant, and it is the only place where one can get the wine.

But, sad to say, although just a few paces separate the vineyard from restaurant, the wine does not travel. But it is not a question of distance in metres but in years. Because the wine being served in 2007 is from the 2000 vintage and frankly, it is way too old. It has a stinky volatile nose, and although the wine doesn’t taste quite as poor, it is thin and lacking in fruit or life. The problem is the wine is oxidised; I returned the following day and tasted another bottle which was the same. The corks used are twin-tops which are designed for wines for early use not for being aged this long. The policy of the restaurant – they told me – is to wait until they have sold their entire stock of 2000 before bringing out the next vintage.

Somewhere there are store rooms full of later vintages. The 2007 Platter guide rated the 2004 L’Auberge du Paysan Pinotage as 3.5 stars and said the 2005 has “lively strawberry fruits and savoury overtones”, and the 2006 is currently being bottled. But when these wines will be available in the restaurant I can’t guess, because I can’t see anyone ordering the 2000 vintage a second time.
Beef Mignons and L’Auberge du Paysan Pinotage house wine

The French accented food is tasty and well presented, and the service is competent. But no wine represents a restaurant more than its house wine, and when it is not only has the restaurant’s name on the label but its own home grown wine inside the bottles it should not disappoint. I do not understand why their entire vintage range is not available. Why not let diners have the choice of young and old and the opportunity to buy a couple of bottles for comparison.

Oh, and please get some decent wine glasses - cheap thick Paris goblets are just not good enough for a restaurant of this calibre.

27 February 2007

There is no Secret!

“There is no secret,” insisted Francois Roode, winemaker at Diemersfontein. (pictured). I had managed to trap him at the rear of his cellar with his back to the wall and barrels stacked either side blocking him in, and before he could get past me and back to the vintage he’d have to tell me the secret behind Diemersfontein’s cult ‘coffee and chocolate’ Pinotage.

“Anyone can make it,” Francois told me. “All they need is the fruit from the old dry-farmed bush vines grown on the farm plus some from nearby Wellington vineyards. “Grown without any watering, the berries are tiny with thick skins. Very distinctive flavours from Wellington terroir.”

“And?” I prompted. “Well,” replied Francois “ there are certain staves we use, they are called “Mocha toasted”. Last year the delivery by ship was severely delayed because of storms at sea and we experimented with some alternatives, but we realised we needed these special ones so had them air-freighted in just in time.”


“Um – the yeast we use is important in developing the right flavours. And of course one cannot discount the winemaker’s techniques. But, seriously, anyone can make it.”

I tasted some of the new 2007 Pinotage, it was, of course every young and not yet exhibiting the overt coffee (or maybe I should say mocha?) and chocolate tones of previous years. “It still has to go through malolactic fermentation”, Francois told me, but the flavour changes day by day.”

But Francois is quietly confident he has another winner on his hands, and the 2007 vintage will keep the legion of fans for this most distinctive wine very happy.

“But really,” he insisted, “there is no secret.”

21 February 2007

Red Leaf and Green Pinotage

Beyerskloof Winery has just opened a new visitor centre and restaurant, and being the home of Pinotage, the variety features throughout the Red Leaf restaurant’s menu. The signboard at the entrance announced it was the home of the Pinotage Burger and it seemed churlish to order anything else.

When I arrived yesterday owner/winemaker Beyers Truter himself was behind the bar prising the cork from a bottle of fizz. He poured glasses of deep pink sparkling Pinotage wine and pressed them in our hands. I don’t think you’ll find Beyers staffing the bar on a daily basis – but yesterday was special because the New Zealand Crusaders Rugby XV, in South Africa for the tri-nation Super 14 match, had taken over the rear patio and as an ex-rugby player himself, Beyers wanted to make them feel at home.

But Beyers found time to show us his new cellar, built under the restaurant.. There’s a lobby filled with Beyers memorabilia, his political election posters, framed rugby shirts, awards and photos galore leading into bins containing thousands of library wines resting in a welcoming cool 16 degrees.

Beyerskloof, with its red Pinotage leaf logo, is the single largest brand of Pinotage wine, and has just released an amazing 1.5 million bottles of their standard 2006 Pinotage. How to make wine in such quantities at such a keen price (33 Rand at the farm) and maintain quality is Beyers’ skill. Beyer’s doesn’t agree with machine harvesting. “There’s people out there crying for work”, he says. “If I need to harvest, I can get 100 pickers straight away. And it doesn’t matter if its Saturday or Sunday – they want to work.” It is not just harvesting. “We took fifty people and trained them to prune and layer vines and they did a perfect job. I gave each of them a certificate that they can show to any wine farm in the future. It says Beyerskloof trained them and that they can do the job. It’s little enough, but it helps.”

Beyers isn’t resting on his laurel. “You can’t stand still’” he says. Coming soon is a white Pinotage in the style of the light Portuguese Vino Verde, (the green wine, as in fresh and young) – he’ll be calling it Pino-Verde. "I'll give it a little petillance," he says. And a serious Methode Cap Classique sparkler is on the way.

Boot Camp

Beyers tells me he is planning on a winemakers boot camp where anyone who wants to learn how to make wine will be welcome. "I'll set up some tents, they'll be in teams working and sleeping together. They'll do everything - starting the yeasts, crushing etc and we'll mark the teams each day with prizes for the winning team. It'll be like army training," Beyers laughs, and reminisces about his days in the Army.

The new tasting room and restaurant were designed by his wife Esmé and took a year to build. Its colour is the pale grey of polished concrete, livened by clever lighting and stunning photographs of the farm, and featuring Beyerskloof's red Pinotage leaf logo.
Pinotage Burger

Back in the restaurant, my enormous Pinotage Burger (right) arrived. It is a thick ground lamb meat patty on chargrilled aubergine and pepper, topped with Pinotage cooked onions and enclosed in a large fresh bread roll, with some tasty huge fried potato wedges on the side and a garnish of salad. And, currently on offer, each burger comes with two free 25cl mini bottles of 2005 Pinotage. We saved those for later and enjoyed a 2001 Pinotage Reserve. This was a Top 10 winner in 2002, and had matured superbly, with sweet fruit at the front over soft oak and a long long finish. I wish I could pour a glass of this for every Pinotage sceptic.

With a Pinotage Brandy Tart, with a side of purple Pinotage flavoured ice-cream I was replete.

There’s a new 'must visit' destination on the wine route: Beyerskloof and the Red Leaf.

17 February 2007

Veraison in NZ

Veraison -- by Sue Courtney Sue Courtney visited Kerr Farm in Kumeu, New Zealand today, 17 February, just as their Pinotage grapes reached veraison -- and if that is a term new to you, then Sue will explain all if you click here and show Kerr Farm's spiffy new label design for the 2004 Pinotage. Jaison Kerr, who purchased the vineyard in 1989, says "The Pinotage 2004 called "PO4" is so good we designed a new label for it."

Meanwhile, I am in South Africa where the early ripening Pinotage is mostly picked and already fermenting, but I was intrigued to read a snippet in an article about picking Shiraz by J P Rossouw, of the release a single vineyard Pinotage from Meerendal. The wine, called 'Heritage Block' Pinotage 2005 comes from a vineyard planted in 1955, thus the vines were 50 years when the grapes were harvested, and they must join Bellevue Estate and De Waal's 'Top of the Hill' vineyard as the oldest in the world. Meerendal has been added to on my list of wineries to visit and I must taste 'Heritage Block'.

photo of Pinotage Veraison at Kerr Farm was taken by and is (c) Copyright Sue Courtney and is used with her kind permission.

12 February 2007

Delheim is in the Pink

I think one of the hardest jobs for a winemaker is making the final blend from the various wine constituents. Even a 100% varietal wine is a blend from different tanks and barrels.

Delheim Winery pioneered Pink Pinotage, and today I was able to taste this years vintage from three tanks. Winemaker Brenda van Niekerk (pictured) told me that this year they started picking the grapes on 10 January -- very early as a result of the heat wave the Cape was having.

I found the first tank was a beautiful, almost fluorescent pink, quite lively with pear drop flavors, the second a darker pink had some crisp acidity and the third seemed to me just perfect, fruity dry and a good balance of fruit and acids. But, unlike Goldilocks, one can't just pick the favourite. And Delheim's Pink Pinotage is made off dry, and so soon Brenda and her colleagues will be blending and tasting and blending to get a wine better than the sum of its components that matches Delheim's house style and will continue to delight the regulars of this popular wine. And then their job isn't finished because they will make another Pink Pinotage for Woolworths own label and to their specifications.

And the red Pinotage? It is currently undergoing malolactic fermentation and wasn't ready for tasting.

And, off subject, but I also tasted a really cracking tank sample of a Columbar. This is another under appreciated variety (also known as Columbard and French Colombard) and --wow -- if you like a racy crisp mouthfilling white wine with passion fruit and guava flavours this is it. I'd bottle it as is, but Brenda will blend in some Muscat and Chardonnay to make an off dry low alcohol (less than 10% abv) wine for Woolworths South Africa where it will sold under the name Bianca Light.

(note for non SA readers -- Woolworths in South Africa is a up-market store specialising in clothing with a food & wine department. It is the equivalent of the UK Marks & Spencer)

09 February 2007

Pink for Valentines Day

That day is almost upon us, and as I look out at the heavy snowfall covering everything with white and merging into the freezing fog in the near distance so that it seems I am in a white cocoon my thoughts turn to a warming mouthfilling red Pinotage.

But if you're looking for pink, Pinotage makes a most attractive wine . Award winning Pinotage makers Stormhoek have put a special Big Love cartoon label on their pink Pinotage, and are currently touring UK branches of Tesco promoting it. It is also available in Pick'n'Pay branches in South Africa

Wine Diva Caroline Lowings has chosen Spier Discover Pinotage Rose as her Valentines Pick of the Week; she finds it "a delicious profusion of candy, strawberry and lingering berries."

The last Pinotage Rose I had was Sperling and Sperling Pinotage Rose, made at Delheim Estate by Canadian winemaker Ann Sperling of Malivoire Wines in Ontario together with Victor Sperling of Delheim. It had a delightful rosy colour, natural Pinotage sweetness makes this dry wine very approachable drunk on its own as an aperitif. It is available in Ontario LCBO stores.

Back home, this is my Muller Thurgau vine.....
but I'm smiling because, if they've cleared the runways of snow, I'll be flying to Cape Town tomorrow, and I have a lunch booking at Delheim Estate for Monday where I might just order a bottle of their Pinotage Rose. Because it is going to be hot there!!

08 February 2007

Two Pinotages Tasted

I came across these tasting notes for two wines I had with dinner last year.

Groot Constantia Pinotage 2003 (WO Constantia)

Beautiful deep black/red colour. There's a silky mouthfeel and a delicious rich depth, with plum, cherry, cinnamon and spices. Wonderful complex and rewarding wine.

Lindhorst Pinotage 2004 (WO Coastal)

Plummy colour, fruits of the forest nose. There's lots going on here, its an exciting elegant wine, complex and mouthfilling with cherries and spices on the back palate

05 February 2007

No Weedy Wines Here!

2001 Hidden Valley Pinotage is one of the Pinotages that are stocked by the Ontario monopoly LCBO and thus available to Gordon Stimmel of the Toronto Daily Star who finds Pinotage 'weedy', see here

I opened my only bottle of this wine and found it had a dense garnet colour, with a little smokiness on the nose and front palate, but with a core of concentrated dense red fruits - black cherry and mulberry , a there is a little spice and tobacco and some soft drying tannins on the finish. Lovely stuff.

Hidden Valley's vineyards are in Devon Valley, access to which is along a no-through road that terminates at JC le Roux Sparkling Wine Cellars. Along that road is the sign shown here on the left. It always amuses me that there is such a large sign for a hidden valley. But the name comes from the owner of the vineyard and winery owner, Dave Hidden.

Some other Pinotages I've had recently were

2005 Southern Right Pinotage - Little staining of glass, light bodied and a tangy finish. This is an almost delicate wine with purity of fruit, certainly no block buster and seems like Burgundy is the inspiration.

2005 Groot Constantia Pinotage - There's a European feel to this wine, quite restrained with a good balance of red plum fruits and tannins and a very long finish.

2001 Bellevue Estate Pinotage - Black dense cherry and blackberry fruit flavours, tobacco underneath, hint of eucalyptus and with a very long finish. A very enjoyable serious wine made from 58 year old bush vine grown on sandy soil, aged 10 months in 50% new 300l American oak barrels. 13.5% abv. ABSA Pinotage Top 10 winner in 2002.

03 February 2007

Weedy Pinotage?

I have heard all sorts of criticism of Pinotage, but I have never before heard it described as 'weedy'. However, Gordon Stimmel writing in the Toronto Daily Star says "And shiraz is becoming a hallmark high-quality red, which will, I hope, replace the still too weedy Pinotage (a crossing of pinot noir and cinsaut grape vines) that has for too long been the dominant signature red grape of South Africa."

But he does find one expression of the variety he likes - "Delheim 2006 Pinotage Rosé ($12.95, 87) with its gentle rose petals, lime peel, cranapple and strawberry stylings."

Mike Tipping, in The Press (York, England) admits that "South Africa's pinotage grape is not everyone's cup of tea, but I like it. Beyerskloof Pinotage 2005 (Sainsbury's £5.99, 18/20) is astonishingly good for the price. It's spiky stuff, with smoky oak, brambles, chocolate and aniseed."

No weediness there, nor in this match for haggis as the anonymous 'Wine Seller' in Scotlands Daily Record reports: "The Bay Pinotage 2003 (South Africa) £5.99 - Coop. This is from Hamilton Russell Estate, one of South Africa's best wineries. It's big with dark, spicy, smoky fruit and sweet oak notes to balance. This needs food and is a perfect match for haggis."

I am off now to open a 2001 Hidden Valley Pinotage. It is one of the Pinotages stocked in the Ontario Monopoly store LCBO where it costs what looks like a very reasonable $22.95 (£9.85) - I recall Hidden Valley costing £16.95 in Sainsbury's several years ago. Not that I have seen it anywhere on the shelves recently.

02 February 2007

Ashbourne -- Same Same?

Anthony Hamilton Russell and Talita Engelbrecht of Hamilton Russell Vineyards (with a good book) Rarer than hens teeth, more tasted and talked about than drunk, 2007 sees a new vintage of Ashbourne released. The first was the 2001 vintage, now along comes 2004. Have I tasted it? Heck no -- none had arrived in the country in time for their recent UK agents tasting.

But South African food and wine writer JP Rossouw went to the Hamilton Russell Vineyards launch earlier this month. He writes in his blog "The 2004, to my palate, reminds me much more of pinotage, with more primary fruit. I would be surprised if this wine does as good a job of being the “fine wine without an obvious mother” that the 2001 was. Fuller fruit expression with more of pinotage’s ripe winegum notes open into a wine that is again very well-styled and age-worthy, but less mysterious. And perhaps this is a very good thing for the variety."

For JP, the 2001 " is a wine that you could secretly show in the company of Bordeaux blends – indeed few pick it as pinotage. This makes it something of a Pyrrhic victory for the variety. At once a wonderful wine and one that does not taste like any other pinotage, it presents little for the pinotage mainstream to cling to and is difficult to harness for the greater marketing of the grape."

Which again raises the question, what is Pinotage supposed to taste like? Far too many people first tasted Pinotage as an old fashioned nail-varnish and bitter monstrosity, and that is what they think the variety is. When you can get them to taste a decently made wine they say, well OK, but it doesn't taste like Pinotage.

Read the Dallas Post review of Fort Ross Pinotage and ask yourself if you'd guess the wine in question was Pinotage just by reading the review on its own. Why don't California and New Zealand Pinotages suffer from bitterness and nail varnish flavours?

Asbourne is a project by Anthony Hamilton Russell who firmly believes in Pinotage and the wine is unusual in that it doesn't name a grape variety. Anthony wants people to judge the wine on its merits.

JP remarks on a stylistic difference between the 2001 and 2004 Ashbournes, and I wonder if this old news item holds the answer. "An impressive flagship Ashbourne 2001 is made from 100% Pinotage from HRV’s Bastenburg vineyard. But grapes will be sourced from Southern Right’s site from the 2004 vintage." (Kim Maxwell writing on www.wine.co.za)

*and frequently Ashbourne is kept under the table and poured only for the great and good.

01 February 2007

Virginia's Grayhaven releases Pinotage

Grayhaven Winery, in Central Virginia, USA, is about to release their first varietal Pinotage, but it hasn’t been easy, as Max Peple-Abrams told me.

"Our first Pinotage planting was in 2000," she says. " We lost every single plant - ouch. We scrambled and found another 30 vines and they all survived. We graft our own now and haven't had any problems....save for Japanese beetles and birds and drought and monsoons and all the lovely things mother nature throws our way in the great state of Virginia .... one can certainly understand why Thomas Jefferson didn't quit his day job!

We have less than 1/3 acre of Pinotage vines here and have to supplement with Pinotage grapes grown in California. We graft off our existing vines every year to increase our production - it's slow going. To meet the current demand for our Pinotage, we are looking to eventually have about 2000 vines. We thin our crops pretty well so the quality is high but our yield is less than 1/2 of what a large commercial vineyard would get from the same vine count.

Max's parents Charles and Lyn Peple founded Grayhaven in 1978, and Max fell in love with Pinotage after travelling in South Africa. She says “my husband is a native South African who grew up in Johannesburg & Cape Town. I spent several years trying to locate Pinotage nursery stock US when I found a few hundred in New York state. I think it's amusing that so many SA wineries are trying to distance themselves from Pinotage just when the rest of the world is getting a taste for it .... crazy people. Anyway, we hope you'll make it to Virginia some day and stop by for a visit. In addition to our 100% Pinotage, we'll be releasing an amazing 50/50 blend this year of Pinotage and Touriga.”

Grayhaven Winery’s location and details are on their website at www.grayhavenwinery.com

I’ve really enjoyed my times in Virginia and am looking forward to returning and tasting Virginia Pinotage – see also here