29 November 2007

Saddle aromas are not Pinotage

In a recent letter to UK trade magazine “Harpers”, Nigel Logan asked for an explanation for the underlying aromas of plastic, hung game, and Elastoplast that are frequently said to be characteristic of Pinotage, but which Nigel said he found on many South African red wines.

Master of Wine Igor Ryjenkov from Toronto replied, blaming it on a robust and “particularly resistant strain of Brettanomyces”, which he was told by Bruce Jack of Flagstone winery at a question-and-answer session in Canada in 2004.

This strain of yeast, writes Igor, “is present in the majority of South African vineyards as a part of the ambient yeast cocktail. While usually preferring much less sugar-rich mediums, in South Africa it goes to work right after harvest, wherever there is any juice present. It is much more sulphur-tolerant, and is even active at the pH levels believed to be sufficient to stave off the Brett activity.

With the reduced arsenal of weapons against this strain of Brett, the role of cellar hygiene, plays an even more important role, as does temperature control at all the stages of the grape-to-wine conversion. Greater attention than usual has to be paid to curb this yeast activity at early stages of winemaking, which are normally considered safe from Brett infection, as any lapse in vigilance results in Brett activity”

However, South African winemakers are aware of the problem and are combating it. “The wine consumer is soon to learn that “sweaty horse” or “saddle” aromas are not a part of the Pinotage varietal character, or true South African terroir,” says Igor, adding that “cleaner wines showing purer varietal expression, if welcome by consumer at large, will further complicate the life for wine-trade students and other blind-format tasters.”

27 November 2007

Pinotage planted in Cyprus

Northern Cyprus joins the family of places growing Pinotage. Chateau St Hilarion recently planted 100 vines in a trial of the variety’s suitabilty. Chateau St Hilarion winery, in Northern Cyprus, is advised by international consultant Keith Grainger (picture right) .

Keith tells me that Pinotage’s ability to ripen early before the scorching temperatures of late summer was a factor in choosing Pinotage, which he thinks could be a promising variety for the Mediterranean island.

Text and photograph Copyright © Peter F May 2007

19 November 2007

Kerr Farm Delivers

I feel I already know Jaison Kerr (pictured right) when I see him standing waiting for Sue Courtney’s shocking yellow roadster to growl to a halt at Kerr Farm vineyard, but I have only met him via his blog where he has chronicled the life of his Pinotage vineyard.

Sue and I have come from lunch at a rather pretentious café at Soljan Vineyards and I’m keen to view Jaison’s vines, the stars of his blog. But first Jaison seats us in his garden by a brick pizza oven under a corrugated iron roof that loudly spangs as it expands and contracts when passing clouds block the bright sun. From the heat of the wood oven he slides out baked stuffed peppers on toasted ciabiatta. Tiny slivers of chile give a zing to the stuffing mix of cherry tomatoes, olives and capers and they are so deliciously fresh and flavoursome I wolf mine down, wishing that the executive chef and his brigade of cooks responsible for pre-assembled sandwiches, pre-cooked and frozen ingredients offered at lunchtime was here to taste some real food. “It’s a Jamie Oliver recipe I saw on his TV programme last week,” Jaison modestly says.

Jaison drives us through vine rows to the old vineyard. Pinotage was planted here in 1969 and, at 38 years, these are probably the oldest Pinotage vines in New Zealand*. But they are in poor health, finally succumbing to attack by ‘Lemon Tree Borer’, a moth pest whose tiny holes can be seen in the trunks of these venerable vines whose new leaf growth has withered yellowed leaves. “I’ll soon have to pull them up,” Jaison tells me.

Jaison bought the property in 1989, and moved the 1910 wooden farmhouse there on a trailer. The first vintage from Kerr Farm was in 1995; previously the grapes were sold to other wineries. The wines are made by Shane Cox at his winery.

Back in the garden Jaison opens some bottles. His 2006 vintage hasn’t yet been labelled so Jaison has written ‘P06’ on the bottle in silver ink. “I do this on bottles I bring to the tasting room, and soon customers were coming placing orders for ‘P01’ etc,” Jaison tells me. “So I decided to change the labels to match.”

Kerr Farm ‘P06’ Pinotage 2006 13.5%
This has been in bottle for six months and isn’t likely to be released for another six months. It is purple colour, with a fruity flavour of slightly unripe raspberries; it’s clean with good acidity and a crisp finish. “05 vintage was similar,” says Jaison, “The acidity just drops out.”

Kerr Farm ‘P05’ Pinotage 2005 13.0%
There’s a purple rim. The wine is light-bodied with redcurrant flavours; it is well balanced with a little acidity on a good finish.

Kerr Farm ‘P04’ Pinotage 2004 13.6%
With its dull browning-red colour this wine looks considerably older than just a year more from the preceding P04, and it tastes old with some funky tones. It is mature and losing its fruit. Jaison tells me that it is sold out at the farm. If you have any left in your cellar I’d suggest it is now time to drink up.

Jaison is a fan of Pinotage. “It has thick skins, proof against humid conditions,” he tells me. “Kerr Farm has built a reputation for Pinotage, and we are building up its reputation in this area.

Kerr Farm also produces a racy crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a barrel fermented, barrel aged Chardonnay. If you are in the Auckland area, don’t pass through without visiting.

*If you know of older Pinotage vines in New Zealand please contact me.

And this is the vehicle that Kerr Farm uses to deliver :)

10 November 2007

Ascension Vineyard - The Parable Pinotage

My first day in New Zealand and I’m having lunch with a glass of Pinotage made from grapes grown on the neat rows of vines I can see on the low slope rising up from the edge of the winery restaurant. (picture: Peter May, right in the vineyard with owner Darryl Soljan)

I arrived just before midnight, fourteen hours previously after a door to door journey of 29½ hours, most of which was on an aeroplane.

I’m with Sue Courtney, publisher of http://www.wineoftheweek.com/ and wine and food writer for the Rodney Times newspaper, and we’re dining at the Oak Grill restaurant of Ascension Vineyard which Sue is reviewing for her paper. The newly themed restaurant aims to bring the vineyard into the kitchen by grilling food over wine soaked oak chips cut from old wine barrels, and the mouthwatering smell of charcoal barbequed meats is in the air as we climb out of Sue’s bright yellow MGTF convertible.

Each dish has a recommended wine, and by co-incidence our choices each suggest Ascension’s ‘The Parable’ Pinotage. Sue has gone for grilled lamb steaks in Moroccan spices, I’ve picked a lighter choice of wild hare pie.

The sun is bright, it’s war, the sky is clear blue, I’m lunching in a winery restaurant and there’s a glass of Pinotage in my hand. It doesn’t get much better.

Ascension Vineyard ‘The Parable’ Pinotage 2006

The red colour has a purple tinge, the wine is medium bodied with dominant cherry flavours, there’s a lot of fruit and while it has had spent nine months in oak barrels (50% French 50% and American “to give it a lift”, a third each new, first and second fill) the oaking is subtle, giving some underpinning structure. Sue detects some leather, but I don’t; I think it is an enjoyable fruit-led wine and order another glass. The meaning of the ‘Parable’ name is explained on the back label as ‘placing two or more objects together and biblically “and earthly story with a heavenly meaning”’

A youngish man has been clearing tables of dirty plates; he’s not in the waiters’ black uniform but wearing a t-shirt and jeans and I assume he’s been brought in to help out as the restaurant is packed on this lovely Saturday. But when we’ve finished our meal he comes over, holding a bottle, and greets us. It is the winery owner, Darryl Soljan and he’s brought a bottle of the 2000 Pinotage, which was the very first wine released by Ascension and made from the Pinotage vineyard which they planted in 1996.

Ascension Vineyard Pinotage 2000 13% abv

Pale red colour that is browning. Light bodied, soft cherry flavours reminiscent of an old Pinot Noir, but with a sweetness on the finish. Very attractive, soft gentle wine. The characteristic Pinotage sweetness makes this wine, but it is probably passed it’s peak and should be enjoyed soon.

Ascension Vineyard is in the Matakana wine region, a short drive north of Auckland.

07 November 2007

Winning Stellenzicht "Expresses Itself"

“I think I’m creating a tradition that is going to have to be maintained,” grinned the affable Guy Webber after his Stellenzicht Golden Triangle Pinotage 2006 made it into the ABSA Top 10.

This is the fourth selection for Stellenzicht, and Guy’s personal sixth triumph in this competition, so it’s no doubt that the pressure is up to keep on winning.

Guy says that the ’06 Pinotage is quite different from its predecessor: “It’s quite lean, more in the classic Old World style. I didn’t change my recipe though, besides using a little less new wood, I simply let the wine express itself.”

Courtesy of Distell

New Zealand - Here I Come!

I am thrilled that tomorrow morning I will be travelling to New Zealand for a tour of winelands and wineries with the Circle of Wine Writers, kindly organised by the New Zealand Winegrowers.

New Zealand has the largest Pinotage plantings outside South Africa; the pity is that so few NZ Pinotages are exported. Most of the few NZ Pinotages that I have tasted have been good -- indeed it was Babich's Winemaker's Reserve Pinotage which came top in the international Pinotage tasting we held some year ago in Cape Town.

I am delighetd that this coming weekend I will at long last meet Sue Courtney, publisher of www.wineoftheweek.com who has been a good friend of the Pinotage Club for many years and Sue has generously has organised some visits to Pinotage wineries near Auckland and a tasting of NZ Pinotages.

I will be blogging when possible while I am in NZ and normal service should be resumed in December after I return home, via a stopover in Singapore.