17 December 2007

Pinotage -- South Africa's Home-Grown Identity

“Pinotage is not merely a European grape transplanted to a new hemisphere. It's a native [which] could establish South Africa not only as a major winegrowing region but also as a region with a home-grown identity,” says Lolis Eric Elie in New Orlean’s ‘Times-Picayune’, adding “If only the grape could make good wine consistently.”

On a recent trip to South Africa, Elie “did a blind tasting of several bottles of Pinotage and one Pinotage blend. I tried to include all of the versions of Pinotage available in New Orleans these days. There are not many.”

Zonnebloem 1997 Pinotage was the favourite. “The nose was very much like what you'd expect in an Amarone: prunes and old leather. The fruit had all but subsided, leaving a hint of red berries, but mostly dark, dried flavors and slight petroleum perfume. This wine demonstrates how better Pinotage can age for a decade or so, but even by the end of the tasting this wine was losing its structure, leaving behind bright, almost sour flavors. At 12.5 percent alcohol, it exemplifies the taste of Pinotage made in the Old World, European style.”

Morkel's 2005 Bellevue Estate “exemplifies the other, newer approach to Pinotage. The wine spends 12 months in American oak barrels. From this wood, it gets an eggnog scent on the nose. It is well balanced with ripe tannins and a little acidity. Though it's 14.5% alcohol, the flavors are so integrated as to not be overpowering.”

Elie remarks on the differing styles found in the tasting – “there's another dichotomy besides the Old World vs. New World, austere vs. powerful debate. The grape can produce highly tannic, acidic wines that taste sharp and harsh, like a bad Sangiovese. But it also can produce light, berrylike wines that resemble nothing so much as a Beaujolais. Those two wines have nothing in common and, it would seem, the two visions of Pinotage they parallel have little in common from a flavor perspective also.”

Graham Beck’s 2007 Pinno from “has 14.5% alcohol, but it is not a big, powerful wine. It's full of strawberries and driven more by acidity than tannins. It's a good, crowd-pleasing party wine,” and Uiterwyk's DeWaal 2005 Pinotage “parallels the nutmeg and Beaujolais flavors of the Pinno. It has nice, soft tannins, with tart cherry flavors on the front end and a bit of tar on the finish. It has 14% alcohol.”

But Southern Right’s 2005 Pinotage got the thumbs down being “full of smoke on the nose, and every bit of its 14% alcohol level was evident from the initial whiff, turning into harsh tar on the tongue, overpowering the fruit flavours,” and Fleur du Cap’s 2006 Pinotage also failed to please because while its “combination of flavors is interesting, they were not especially tasty.”

Elie has a refreshingly positive take on Pinotage and the full article, which is online here , is well worth reading.

As Elie says -- “So much rides on the shoulders of Pinotage.”

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks for this post Peter. I love Zonnebloem's Pinotage - the '95 was the very first Pinotage I ever tried and fell in love with. I agree that Zonnebloem's Pinotage is a "classic, Old World" type of wine in every way. I severely regret the discontinuation of this fine wine from the LCBO - it has not been available for a long time, yet it used to be on general list for $12.95 for years.