30 July 2008

Babich Winemakers Reserve 1999

Less than 150 years ago the land where this vineyard is now planted was under water. This is New Zealand’s Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay, on the east coast of the North Island. 150 years ago this was a flat coastal plain over which a wide river's many channels meandered on their way to the sea. An earthquake in 1867 tilted the land and the river changed course leaving the river bed dry.

Under a thin layer of topsoil the ground is composed of gravel pebbles that go down for many metres, sometimes interspersed with layers of silt and clay, all deposited by the river over aeons. Vines planted on these beds of flat smooth grey oval gravel pebbles must search for sustenance far down in one of the islands of silt and clay. The land doesn’t hold water and so drip irrigation is a must for vines to survive. Poor soil means less vigorous growth, small berries and more intense flavours. The unique terroir with temperatures 3°C higher than surrounding areas, close proximity to the sea and its cooling effects and the skill of grape growers combine to produce what many believe are New Zealand’s best wines, including Babich Winemakers Reserve Pinotage.

The family owned Babich Wines was founded in 1916. Babich now own vineyards in four regions of New Zealand with the majority of them in Hawkes Bay on the east coast of the North Island, where the Gimblett Gravels are.

In the Cape in 2001 we held the first international Pinotage tasting and to everyone’s surprise, by just one point, Babich 2001 Winemakers Reserve came top. “But this is Pinotage!" exclaimed Chairman of the Pinotage Association Beyers Truter who had been certain that it was South African.

The back label says “Enjoyable now, it will improve for several years in the cellar.” It is now seven years later, the wine is nine years old. How has it held up?

Babich Wines
Winemakers Reserve
Pinotage 1999
Gimblett Road Vineyard
Hawkes Bay 14% abv

Dry raisin nose, maybe a bit Port like, but on the palate there’s an initial burst of sweet blueberry flavours. It is a big wine, really spicy and tangy and there is there is an underlying layer of Christmas fruitcake. Soft, barely present vanilla tannins with a lick of caramel and warm rich blueberry ripeness. This is a delicious wine, but it is probably time to drink up should you have any left.


28 July 2008

Quote of the Month - July

"Although I have never won a Pinotage Top 10 award, I am hoping I will eventually make a success of it. It's such a wild, noble, challenging grape. Like a race horse, it can smell fear on a winemaker at 20 paces." - Flagstone's Bruce Jack quoted in Wineland Magazine, May 2008.

(If you're wondering why this wasn't the QotM for May, it is because I have only just received the May issue here in England.)

25 July 2008

10 Years Ago

"Passionate about Pinotage" is what we were called in July 1998 by the the South African newspaper The Dispatch and which we reported in our newsletter of that month.

We're still passionate and have just published the July 2008 issue of the Pinotage Club newsletter.

This has been emailed to everyone on the newsletter mailing list, and it can be viewed or downloaded from here or by clicking on the cover image.

Most computers will already have the Adobe Reader software necessary to read PDF documents and if not it can be downloaded free of charge from http://www.adobe.com/products/reader/

24 July 2008

Ses’fikile Has Arrived

Nondumiso Pikashe (pictured right) is one of the four owners of Ses’fikile. “We are a group of black women who want to change the face of wine in South Africa which is male dominated,” she told me. “We want to be brought into the mainstream of South Africa, and that is why our wine’s name is Ses’fikele because it means ‘we have arrived’".

I tasted Rainsong 2006 Pinotage. Rainsong is the branding used for Ses’fikile entry level wines; there are three tiers of wines, with Folklore in the middle and Matriarch at the top.

Rainsong Pinotage 2006
WO Swartland 14% abv

Good deep colour and a ripe rhubarb nose, and cherries and berries follow through on the palate. Soft tannins, fruity and tangy with a good finish.

Ses’fikile is a 100% black and female owned BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) project working in partnership with Flagstone Winery where the wines were made under the supervision of Bruce Jack.

Ses’fikile wines, although not the Pinotage, are available in the UK exclusive to Marks & Spencer’s, and in the Cape can be tasted and bought from Flagstone Winery tasting room.

21 July 2008

Fairview Primo 2000

This is a single vineyard wine from grapes grown on a farm named Primo located near the Fairview winery. Charles Back, owner of Fairview, has written on the back label of this wine that he ‘spent a large part of my life in pursuit of locations that express the uniqueness and show stopping ability of this variety’ and that this wine is the result of such a meeting with Jan Greef who grew the grapes.

So it’s eight years old now. There is a churn of emotions when opening an old bottle which you have kept through the years gambling that it would repay the investment and deferring the guarantee of instant enjoyment with the prospect of a better drink down in the future. And when the bottle is the only example you own then you both fear that the wine will be past it or not yet reached its peak.

Primo 2000
WO Coastal 14.5% abv

I couldn’t wait longer to taste the Primo. The wine will keep, but it is delicious drinking now. My first love was Claret – the red wine of Bordeaux – and I aged them but often was disappointed as they lost their fruit becoming dryly thin. Pinotage often changes character with age, losing the vibrancy and exuberance of young Pinno and taking on the mantle of an aged Claret yet retaining a fruit core. Good robust colour, nose of a mature wine, restrained Victoria plum flavours, elegant wine, delightful.

16 July 2008

Mellasat 'M' 2003

M’ is the flagship wine from Mellasat Vineyards in Paarl. ‘M’'s maiden 2003 vintage is a blend of three assertive varieties, Shiraz, Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon. Owner Stephen Richardson, an Englishman who farms in Norfolk, says ‘M’ “brings together the excitement of Shiraz, the uniqueness of Pinotage and the nobility of Cabernet Sauvignon.” With just 21% Pinotage to 64% Shiraz and 15% Cab, it doesn’t meet the standard ‘Cape Blend’ description but it is unlikely you’d find a similar blend elsewhere.

I first tasted this wine when it was released 12 months ago and thought it needed more time and it still seemed very young yesterday.

Mellasat ‘M’ 2003
WO Paarl 13.5% abv
Deep red colour. Initial taste impression is of a sweet softness with youthful berry fruits aplenty. There’s some creamy vanilla flavours and cedar wood on a lingering finish. It is not high in alcohol, but at times tasted a bit hot. I do wish I had kept this
wine for a few more years, because while it is pleasurable drinking now, I don’t think it is anywhere near its peak and I believe ‘M’ 2003 will mature into a very classy wine.

Mellasat’s intriguing name is an anagram of the first two letters of the Richardson family's first names.

2003 is the current vintage of ‘M’ and it is available in South Africa and the UK; stockist details on the Mellasat website.

14 July 2008

Quality Drink Award for Pinotage

Pinotage won the £5-£9.99 category in the UK 2008 Quality Drinks Awards. The winning wine is Morrison's ‘The Best’ South African Pinotage. This is an own-label for Morrison's supermarkets, made by Bellevue Estate where it is available as part of their new empowerment project wine range under the Sizanani label.

Judges commented on the wine “This is something of a ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ style of wine – but this one’s a winner”, “It is lovely, smooth and fruity”, and “the acceptable face of Pinotage.”

The annual Quality Drink Awards are dedicated to promoting and rewarding excellence and innovation in the UK alcoholic drinks market. This year's event once again recognised outstanding products within the industry and acknowledged the top performers across 21 hotly contested categories.

10 July 2008

98 Points and Double Gold for Vino Con Brio

Vino Con Brio are celebrating that their 2005 Pinotage scored 98 points and won Double Gold and Best in Class awards in the "Alternative Red" category of the California State Fair Wine Competition.

The formal announcement will be made at this evenings California Grape and Gourmet charity event in Sacramento

The California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition is the oldest and most prestigious wine competition in North America and is open to California bonded wineries selling retail. In 2007, 661 wineries entered 3,029 varieties of wines into the annual judging contest.

Vino Con Brio, in Lodi, has North America's largest Pinotage vineyard and their first vintage was 2000. Mike Matson planted Pinotage after he discovered that Lodi had a very similar microclimate to Cape Town. The two areas share the exact same numbers on heat summation tables.
Congratulations to Vino Con Brio!

07 July 2008

Scali 1999

Scali 1999 created quite a stir when it came top in a blind tasting in Cape Town in February 2003 organised by David Brice at the Wine Cellar.

Very few people had heard of Scali. It was a new label, the first vintage from Willie & Tania de Waal who sold most of their crop to a co-operative but had retained a little for themselves. They made only Pinotage and Syrah and fermented each in large open topped wooden vats making just 25 barrels of each. Willie told me they wanted to restrict production to just what Tania and he could make on their own without any assistance. The name is based on the Afrikaans for the local shale soil type.

I thought the 99 Pinotage had a sweet smoky nose, bags of sweet fruit, refreshing summer pudding flavours and a medium aftertaste. But when I later tasted the 99 it seemed to have entered a dumb period. Would it ever recover or just die?

Last night, five years later, I opened another bottle to find out.

Scali Pinotage 1999
WO Paarl 13.67% abv

It is holding up well. Very soft and smooth, no noticeable tannins, bit of acidity, sweet subdued fruit. Reminiscent of an aged claret. Excellent food wine.

06 July 2008

Pinotage - "leaves you in utter exhilaration"

"If film were wine, “Transit Prisoner” would be a Franzia. Franzia is an average wine, popular, simple and fits the purpose. It is worlds apart from Pinotage, a smoky, rich and elegant wine that leaves you in utter exhilaration. I personally prefer the Pinotage."

Joseph Fahim sums up his review of the movie "Masgoon Transit” (Transit Prisoner) in Egypt's Daily News 4 July 2008


04 July 2008

Inkspot - Darling of Origin ~ Darling by Nature

I've been reading Oscar Foulkes blog as he tells of his travels around the world marketing Cloof wines, so it was good to meet him at last in London.

Cloof are in the Swartland region in an area around the village of Darling that achieved Wine of Origin Ward status in 2003. Darling of Origin ~ Darling by Nature is now Cloof's slogan.

I visited Cloof some years ago and was shown around by winemaker Christopher van Dieren who came from Belgium. I'm glad to say he's still there and has come up with some interesting new wines, including The Very Sexy Shiraz , The Dark Side Cabernet/Shiraz , 'a wine with curves where others don’t have places' and Inkspot Vin Noir.

"We're having fun," Oscar told me, "if you can have vin rouge, why not vin noir?"

Cloof Inkspot Vin Noir 2005
And intensely black this wine is. It is 78% Pinotage, 12% Shiraz, 10% Cinsaut. The oldest vines were planted more than forty years ago. Oscar says the bush vines are not irrigated and thus their roots descend more than 8 metres looking for water, and yield less than a litre per vines. Add to that, 30% of the Cinsaut juice was removed before fermentation (it went to make a pink wine) and you get a concentrated wine. I'm getting a tannic nose, and powerful mouthfilling flavours of liquorice, smoked meats and macerated cherries with some wood tannins on the finish. "There's a lot of structure from the Pinotage," says Oscar, who tells me that Platter awarded it 4 stars in the 2008 guide.

Cloof seem to have a pretty slick sales operation, the wines are widely distributed, and you can buy through their websites in South Africa and the UK. I'm presenting more tastings soon and I think I'll try ordering from the UK site. Inkspot retails at around 45R in ZA and £8.99 in the UK.

02 July 2008

Tasting Notes from the 2008 Samples Tasting

Winefly has very kindly let me post her tasting notes from the 2008 tank sample tasting mentioned in my last post.

She writes:-

"Another year has passed as the invite to the 2008 Pinotage Vintage Tasting popped-up in my inbox. I thought back to last year’s tasting and all I remember was purple-teethed people, with their noses in their wine glasses and commenting in what they smell, did not smell and wanted to smell.

The wines that were presented in 2007 are mentioned in a previous post, but from what I can recall the wines did not impress me much. But I thought what the hell, what do I have to loose? So I took my tastebuds on a pino-mission.

Well, well, well, what do we have here? The 2008 vintage showed much more potential than last year. Although the room was still filled with purple-teethed, wine-sniffing, commentators the quality of the wines made it all the worth while.

I’m not gonna elaborate about the detail of the tasting, but I will give you information about the wines tasted. Again it was a blind tasting and we had 13 wines to work through.

Delheim Pinotage 2008 (Barrel sample)
Alc 14.46, TA 5.85 g/l, RS 1.43 g/l, pH 3.71
The wine is spicy, with a good balance of wood on the nose and palate. The tannins are soft and velvety. Wine was in new wood for four months.

Cilmor Winery Pinotage 2008 (Tank sample)
Alc 14.53, TA 5.82 g/l, RS 23 g/l, pH 3.65

Lots of berry and fruit on the nose, but had harsh green tannins and an almost bitter finish. The wine showed more blue hues of colour than a normal Pinotage and did not get a good response from the group.

Beyerskloof Pinotage 2008 (Barrel sample)
Alc 14.45, TA 5.1 g/l, RS 2.05 g/l, pH 3.85
This wine delivered plums on the nose and good acidity. French oak - 30% second-fill and 70% new oak.

Riebeek Cellars Pinotage 2008 (Tank sample)
Alc 14.9, TA 5.3 g/l, RS 1.56 g/l, pH 3.76
Floral notes and coconut on the nose. This wine showed complexity that came from the use of chips and had a long finish.

Bon Courage Pinotage 2008 (Barrel sample)
Alc 14.0, TA 5.8 g/l, RS 3.5 g/l, pH 3.5
The tannins were a bit rough on the wine's nose and did not pull through on the palate. Fruit and mint was detected.

Lyngrove Pinotage 2008 (Tank sample)
Alc 14.6, TA 5.4 g/l, RS 1.8 g/l, pH 3.6
This wine showed a lot of mocha coffee and deep cherry flavours. The wood was very prominent - staves were used during malolactic fermentation.

Landskroon Pinotage 2008 (Tank sample)
Alc 14.5, TA 5.9 g/l, RS 2.3 g/l, pH 3.5
Floral and abundance of fruit on the nose; shows good concentration.

Namaqua Pinotage 2008 (Barrel sample)
Alc 14.66, TA 5.38 g/l, RS 2.19 g/l, pH 3.83
This wine really came through with sweet flavours on the nose, coconut, stewed fruits, vanilla and mocha coffee. The palate delivers what the nose promises with a hint of toast.

Diemersdal Pinotage 2008 (Barrel sample)
Alc 14.5, TA 5.9 g/l, RS 2.3 g/l, pH 3.5
The wine was elegant, but a bit thin. We found fynbos on the nose, and the fruit was well integrated. The tannins were a bit harsh and green, but the wine had a good aftertaste.

Clos Malverne Pinotage 2008 (Tank sample)
Alc 13.78, TA 5.72 g/l, RS 2.43 g/l, pH 3.55
We found this wine a bit green and it was almost as if the wine had a perfume flavour to it. Floral and fruits were also detected with hints or strawberries.

Rico Suter Wines Pinotage 2008 (Barrel sample)
Alc 14.2, TA 4.21 g/l, RS 1.33 g/l, pH 4.13
We found the pH on the wine quite high and it lacked in acidity. It had meaty, earthy tones and the colour showed more blue hues than a normal Pinotage.

Windmeul Cellars Pinotage 2008 (Barrel sample)
Alc 14.78, TA 5.08 g/l, RS 2.26 g/l, pH 3.77
Fruit and berries on the nose and I also found this wine slightly sweet on the palate. This is a well made wine although the wood was a bit rough but it should settle with time.

Stanford Hill Pinotage 2008 (Barrel sample)
Alc 15.12, TA 4.65 g/l, RS 2.73 g/l, pH 3.94
The alcohol in this wine is quite high and we could tast it. Lots of stewed fruits on the nose and the aftertaste was slightly bitter. The tannins were good and some people also found raisins on the nose and palate.

All I want to add is, 2008 is the year that SA has the potential to convince the world that Pinotage is indeed a variety to reckon with. "

Many thanks, Winefly!!

Above text and pictures are (c) Copyright Winefly

Winefly lives and works in the heart of the Cape Winelands and blogs about what she's seen and tasted at http://wineflyselection.blogspot.com