It is always a pleasure to drop into the tasting room of Bellevue Estate , managed by Randall Peceur pictured (right) with owner Dirkie Morkel.
Bellevue, who now label their wines, for trademark reasons, under the Morkel name, have a special place in Pinotage history. Not only was their wine the very first commercially released Pinotage in 1961– under the Lanzerac label, but the same vineyards are still producing prime Pinotage and they are the worlds oldest documented Pinotage.
If you are not already confused by label names, then prepare for two more from Bellevue. First is a new empowerment project wine range - Sizanani. This has a striking label of a tree silhouetted against the sunset and the Sizanani Pinotage 2003 is really very drinkable with soft sweet rounded plum and berry fruits from Bellevue’s young vines. And it is not just me that liked this wine. The buyer from the UK Morrisons supermarket chain just loved it and immediately scooped up two containers worth for their own range labelled ‘Morrisons The Best’. Their tasting note for the 2005 reads "A medium bodied, fruity red wine with subtle hints of wood smoke, vanilla and typical jammy mocha Pinotage flavours. Enjoy on its own or a perfect partner to grilled salmon, sausage casseroles or stuffed mushrooms."
There are two vintages currently available of the Sizanani Pinotage, 2005 and 2006. I think the 2006 needs a little more time, being a little youthfully disjointed with some crisp tannins, but I’ll be popping along to Morrisons on my return to the UK for the 2005 (even though Morrisons label design is not a patch on the Sizanani). At Bellevue the Sizanani is a bargain 22 Rand, in Morrisons the Brits will be paying 6.99 GBP (about R99)
Bellevue’s Morkel Pinotage 2005 costs R70 and this is a stunner: really ripe, full bodied, some typical Pinotage sweet mouth feel and there’s quite some complexity there with tannins on the finish. This comes from 30-50 year old bush vines and spent 12 months in 50% new American oak barrels. (whereas the Sizanani/Morrisons used oak staves).
Bellevue Estate’s top Pinotage honours Pieter Krige (P K) Morkel who was responsible for conversion of the farm to a wine estate, a famous Springbok rugby player and the man who went out to buy Gamay vines and came back with the new Pinotage variety.
The P K Morkel Pinotage is barrel selected from the very best wines, usually – but not necessarily - from the original old block. “The important thing is that this wine is the very best from this estate, not which block it comes from,” Dirkie told me. “I am a viticulturist, and some years one slope has better conditions and produces a better wine. That is why I am still considering the pros and cons of registering the old block as a single vineyard.”
The 2003 P K Morkel Pinotage was a finalist in the 2006 Pinotage Top 10 competition. It offers attractive sweet ripe fruits on the front palate followed by smooth spices, a little coffee and vanilla and a very long finish. “It is feminine and elegant”, says Dirkie. It aged 12 months in new French oak, and is available from the cellar at R90.
The 2004 P K Morkel Pinotage is not yet released, but Dirkie kindly gave me an advance taste. This wine spent 18 months in barrel and at this early stage its tannins are quite apparent, especially on the finish. It does open up in the glass where it develops rounded blackberry flavours, but whereas the 2003 is immediately appealing, I think the 2004 needs more time before drinking. However I passed a glass to a friend who preferred it to the 2003 saying it had more flavour and character.