29 January 2008

Off to the Cape

Protea, national flower unique to South Africa

Today I am flying to the Cape where I intend to drink a lot of Pinotage, eat good food, visit wineries, enjoy the scenery, and generally have a great time.

These are some of the things I'm looking forward to

Good food and wine, such as the enjoyable 'Rich Man's Fish and Chips' with tartare sauce and tomato salsa for lunch at the Marine Hotel in Hermanus with a bottle of Villiera 'Tradition' Brut Cap Classique methode champenoise fizz -- made with some Pinotage in the blend :)

Beautiful vineyards

And lots of wine !


28 January 2008

Xai Xai can't meet demand for Pinotage

Pinotage at Xai Xai, New York City's only South African Winebar, has been so popular that they sold all their stocks less than two months after opening.

"The waiter told us that demand was so high for Pinotage that [Fairview Primo 2002] was the only one left at $78. They discounted it to $50, " reports Knight. "It was really good. Soft, with hints of berry - the age really mellowed out what I expected - with supporting tannins and a plush finish. It was wonderfully balanced, even getting better as it sat in the glass. Reminiscent of a fabulous Oregon Pinot Noir without the big bite."

Pinotages listed by Xai Xai include Darling Cellar's 'Onyx', Bellevue Estate's 'Tumara' and Ken Forrester 'Petit Pinotage'

25 January 2008

Delheim in the Pink

Delheim are picking Pinotage in their vineyards today as their Pinotage is picked as the best in Germany.

The picture above, taken this morning, shows Delheim's winemaker Brenda Van Niekerk (second left) and her cellar team standing in front of a hopper full of just picked Pinotage grapes about to be tipped into the de-stemming machine.

Delheim co-owner Nora Sperling-Thiel says "the grapes are perfect for Pinotage Rosé."

And it is Pinotage rosé that Delheim pioneered and have had great success with, further bolstered with the news this morning from Germany where trade magazine Weinwirtschaft reports that Delheim's was voted by the trade as the best rosé on the German market in 2007, beating all other rosés on quality, sales performance, value and image.

Libby's Pride 2006

Libby's Pride is a new label from Elizabeth Peterson (pictured right). Her maiden vintage, the 2006 Robertson Pinotage, is made by Wickus Erasmus of Le Grande Chasseur Estate. The wine underwent malolactic fermentation, and a years maturation, in French oak barrels.

I found it very very soft and jammy. Attractive to the new wine drinker market that it is aimed at, but I would prefer a little more structure; it's rather flabby and one dimensional and I didn't pick up any oak effect.

Producer: Libby's Pride
Vintage: 2006
Winemaker: Wickus Erasmus
Variety: Pinotage
Appellation: Roberston
Price: £6.99

23 January 2008

Stormhoek Pinotage -- lets drink it!

My thoughts are with everyone connected with Stormhoek -- those poor unfortunates at Orbital who put so much effort into making the brand a success and then who lost their jobs at Christmas, and the people, such as Krisjan van Rooyen and Basjan Manus, farming grapes and making wine in the Cape while worrrying about their future.

An announcement is imminent about who has bought the brand in the UK, and we wait to hear whether they intend continuing the 'off the wall' marketing initiatives that has characterised Stormhoek so far.

Consumers should currently be on the receiving end of an intense five week marketing campaign for specially labelled pink Valentines Day wines, but this seems to be still-born in the wake of Orbitals crash. So it seems Stormhoek or their new distributers will be left with pallet loads of pink to shift when the dust settles.

Trying to do my own little bit to help, I though I should scoop up some Stormhoek Pinotages. It is unusual for a red, but I rather like their clear glass bottle (pictured above). But it is what is inside that counts.

I get a very smoky, almost barbecue smoke* nose that follows through on the palate where there are black fruits, cherry and dark plain chocolate flavours, and its a bit meaty and chewy. Good balance, bit short finish. A wine that cries out for a hefty meat dish and thus an ideal braai wine.

Producer: Stormhoek
Vintage: 2006
Winemaker: Graham Knox
Variety: Pinotage
Appellation: Western Cape
Price: £5.99
Best Before: November 2008

*"why should the word smoke possess only the name 'smoke', when from minute to minute, second to second, the amalgam of hundreds of odours mixed iridescently into ever new and changing unities as the smoke rose from the fire"
(Patrick Suskind, 'Perfume')

19 January 2008

Pulpit Rock 2005

This is Piet Kleinhans, winemaker at the newish Pulpit Rock winery in Swartland. His first two Pinotages achieved Top 10 wins in 2006 (for the 2004 vintage) and 2007 (2005 vintage).

The 2004 vintage created quite a stir at the tastings I presented at the London International Wine Fair, and the Chairman of the Central London Wine Society, a noted Pinotage sceptic, even insisted that I include it at the next tasting of South African wines that I presented to their club.

So I was keen to taste the 2005 vintage when I met Piet at the Wines of South Africa tasting in London a few months ago.

Very dark black/red colour; really upfront fruit with intense sweet berry and redcurrant flavours and tannins coming through on the finish. Piet told me that it had spent 15 months in new oak barrels, 70% French 30% American.

I am not surprised that it went on to impress the Top 10 judges.

This is delicious drinking now. I wonder if anyone will keep it long enough to see what its like in 5 years?

Producer: Pulpit Rock
Vintage: 2005
Winemaker: Piet Kleinhans
Variety: Pinotage
Appellation: Swartland
Price: £9

15 January 2008

Farewell, Sentinel

What happened to Sentinel? The winery was owned by Cape wine figures Walter Finlayson and Rob Coppoolse. That they made good wine is not in doubt. This 2003 Pinotage is garlanded in awards – in 2004 the Pinotage Top 10, Trophy at Capital Fairburn and a Veritas Silver.

I did not meet a local that liked Sentinel's ‘castle’ perched on a ridge overlooking the R44 just north of Stellenbosch. However my spirits are always lifted by its incongruous vision, stonework lit golden by the sun, towering over vineyards. Around the base were historic muzzle loading cannons rescued from wrecks of wooden warships on the seabed that had foundered along the coast.

Now the property and vineyards have been acquired by neighbouring L’Avenir who will remodel the castle and use it for their tasting room. Which is another shame as I enjoyed tasting wine in L’Avenir’s winery barrel cellar next to a lake, although the tasting room staff no doubt found the cellar depressingly cold and dark.

This 2003 Sentinel Pinotage is intensely dark and opaque. It is mouth filling, dense and ripe with a balance and depth, offering fruit of the forest spiciness with tobacco leaf. It is soft, tangy, and a bit chewy with a whiff of leather on the dry finish. An excellent example of the art of Pinotage.

Farewell, Sentinel. I’ll miss you.

Producer: Sentinel Vineyards
Vintage: 2003
Winemaker: Adele Dunbar
Variety: Pinotage
Appellation: Coastal

The Sentinel Castle
(originally a fruit packing plant and soon to be L'Avenir's tasting room)

09 January 2008

President Picks Pinotage

Warwick Estate were the official wine supplier for the 13th International Investment Council dinner held in George last month.

Warwick’s ‘Old Bush Vines’ Pinotage was the preferred choice Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, and he took the opportunity to carefully study the back label, pictured right.

Warwick Estate’s Managing Director Mike Ratcliffe says the ‘Old Bush Vines’ Pinotage “went down a treat.”

Picture of President Thabo Mbeki taken from Warwicks blog at www.warwickwine.blogspot.com is Copyright © Warwick Estate and is used with kind permission.

08 January 2008

Stormhoek -- "Opportunity for Reinvention"

Stormhoek are putting a brave face on the collapse of parent company Orbital Wines. “From down in South Africa, we view this as an opportunity for reinvention.” Using computing terminology they are calling it “Stormhoek 2.0.”

“In three short years, Stormhoek has grown from zero to about 200,000 cases in the UK market,” says a statement posted today on the Stormhoek website, “For those members of the wine trade fraternity who may suffer in Orbital’s reorganization, we are sorry and we are working with them to minimize any problems. We hope that we can make it up to you in the future with mutually beneficial business.”

Meanwhile “back at the vineyard, we are busy thinking about harvest and the more mundane things we need to do to get wines made and in the hands of customers around the world.”

07 January 2008

Stormhoek "In Administration"

Stormhoek, famous for their unconventional marketing via blogging (not to mention an easy drinking, modern style Pinotage) have collapsed "into administration" reports UK's Off Licence News after cash-flow problems.

The administrator is said to be looking for a buyer for the company as a going concern but all ten off the staff, including founder Nick Dymoke-Marr, failed to get Christmas pay cheques and were handed redundancy notices this week.

A truly sad setback for such an innovative business. I wish all the staff the best for 2008.

Meeting the Meerkats

I blogged about Meerkat Pinotage some time ago.

Schalk (left) and Tiaan Burger

So I was really pleased to, at long last, taste it and meet the owner and winemaker, father and son team, Schalk and Tiaan Burger of Welbedacht Wines.

TV wildlife programmes made Meerkats such a hit with the viewing public after showed them standing upright on their hind legs looking into the distance like opera goers at Gyndeborne that I wondered how Schalk managed to copyright the meerkat name for his wines. “I registered the name years ago, just in case, because I thought I would make a good label,” he explained.

Meerkat is used as a second label, but although not registered as an Estate Wine, the wine is all grown and made on Welbedacht.

“It is meant to be an easy drinking, gregarious wine,” says Schalk. “The Meerkat, the Pinotage and,” he says, pointing to himself, “Schalk Burger are all indigenous to South Africa. And all are gregarious!”

It is easy to see why Meerkat Pinotage has found so many friends. The 2006 is instantly approachable, being very fruity, doesn’t taste overly dry (it has 2g/L RS), and there’s some soft wood tannins (50% had stave treatment). A quaffable and gregarious wine.

01 January 2008

Spier Private Collection 2002 -- Wow!!

Lets start the new year with a brace of 2004 Top 10 winning Pinotages. First Spier Private Collection 2002


2002 might have been a difficult vintage in the Cape but this wine is a triumph. Deeply flavoured, savoury with tobacco leaf and dried herbs. It develops in the glass, providing a (restrained) roller coaster of flavours. There’s cherry and blackberries on top, with some muscular tannins lurking underneath. There’s a depth and structure to this wine and as we finish the last glass its opening up offering an intriguing dark chocolate bouquet. If I’d had another bottle I’d have been tempted to pull the cork there and then. But better still to keep it a couple more years.

I so enjoyed the Spier that the following evening I opened one of my all time favourites, La Cave 2003. But I was disappointed that choirs of angels didn’t sing this time. Maybe this was an off bottle, maybe the wine is entering a dumb phase, but the fruit was subdued and acids were to the fore. Drinkable but not, this time unfortunately, a wow.

Comparing the labels, while La Cave shows the winery name, location and website & email addresses, the Spier wine gives no such information, just the name Spier.

Producer: Spier
Designation: Private Collection
Winemaker: Frans Smit
Variety: Pinotage 94% Cab Sauvignon 6%
Appellation: Stellenbosch

Producer: Wamakersvallei Winery
Designation: La Cave
Winemaker: Chris Roux
Variety: 100% Pinotage
Appellation: Swartland