29 June 2009

Cheap Pinotage is Getting Better

My long held belief that cheap anonymous Pinotage should be avoided is under review. Sure there is inexpensive good Pinotage made by experts like Andries Blake at Swartland Winery and Zakkie Bester at Riebeek Cellars but in my tours of the web I sometimes encounter lousy reviews of the Pinotage variety based on one $5 bottle of wine bearing a shipper’s brand name that doesn’t appear in Platter or have any information about where it was made. If the maker doesn't want to be identified then I don't have much faith in the brand.

Last week in Exeter at the Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant I saw Rouwkes Drift Pinotage listed at £9.95. That is a pleasantly low price for restaurant. But was the wine drinkable?

Indeed, it was an enjoyable, clean, fresh modern fruit driven wine with pleasant red cherry flavours.

The wine was came from Malt House Vintners, which is the wine range exclusive to Booker , a a wholesaler supplying restaurants and independent stores and they suggest a retail price of £5.29 per bottle.

But I couldn’t discover who actually made the wine. The identification number A938 is owned by Constellation, the world’s largest wine company. Constellation’s South Africa wine brands include Kumala and Fishhoek, brands which also featured on Bookers list.

As the best Pinotage’s are getting more expensive, its good to find that the cheapest ones are getting better. Well done Malt House Vintners and especially the Taj Mahal.

But I’d still like to know the wine’s identity….

Rouwkes Drift Pinotage 1997
WO Western Cape

28 June 2009

Tasting the 2009 Vintage Pinotage

The Pinotage Association gathered on Thursday, 18 June, for an early vintage tasting in the Doornbosch Agricultural Hall, Stellenbosch. Nikki Lordan of WINE.CO.ZA reports:

It was with insightful reports on changing climate conditions, the 2009 harvest and why this one is supposed to be the "big one", that we sat down at the annual Pinotage vintage tasting in Stellenbosch. The fact remains - the weather is still acting strange, but Pinotage seems to love it. "The good, cold winter allowed the vines to rest properly, while the dry weather and rainfall in December, kept the foliage fresh and provided sufficient water and flavour development during the berry forming phase, which resulted in smaller berries," said Leon Dippenaar, Breedekloof viticulturist.

The first four of the thirteen pino's were placed in front of us. Blindtasting, I might add - for the extra touch of objectivity and surely to make some sparks fly between winemakers all cradling their vintages like newborn puppies. As all senses involve a wine tasting of the highest standard, the Pinotage Association made sure all five were involved. With Steve Hofmeyr and Jakkie Louw ensuring our auditory senses were alert and all is South African, we could finally set off to write down our praises (and criticisms) of the chosen wines in a well-laidout booklet.

Thirteen tank and barrel samples formed the basis of this year's Pinotage tasting. Comments that flew across the room, as each table had a chance to give a summarised opinion, were mostly that the wines were confectionary, with strong aromas of fruit conserve, dried banana and sweet mocha. "All of these wines are commercial, easy drinking wines. As winemakers we're being a little shy on our tannins and structure. Pinotage is a thick skin grape and has the potential to become more than a New World style wine," commented Anthony Hamilton Russell.

According to De Wet Viljoen, presenter for the event and chairman of the Pinotage Association's organising committee, the annual tasting serves as a barometer for the rest of the year, as well as an indicator of how the wines are going to show when bottled.

All in all, everyone seem excited about the 2009 vintage Pinotage as different climate conditions seems to be the make or break of this wine.

Thanks to Nikki Lordan and WINE.CO.ZA

Pictured are Leon Dippenaar, De Wet Viljoen (front), Ilse van Dijk and Francois Bezuidenhout (rear)

Emile Joubert at Wine Goggle has another view of the tasting - here

24 June 2009

Video: Gerda Willers and Allee Bleue Natural Sweet Pinotage

At the London Wine Fair I tasted a sample of scrumptious new sweet dessert Pinotage from Allee Bleue in Franschhoek.

I asked winemaker Gerda Willers to tell us how she created this nectar and what it will cost to buy when it is released.

22 June 2009

Video: Ses'fikile Pinotage

Nondumiso Pikashe, one of the owners of Ses'fikile Wines, talks about their Rain Song Pinotage.

Ses'fikile, which means 'we have arrived', is a 100% female Black Economic Empowerment owned company. The other two owners are Jacky Mayo and Nomvuyo Xaliphi. The wines are made in co-operation with Flagstone winery, and pretty darned good.

In the UK Ses'fikile wines are exclusively listed by Marks & Spencer, though not, as yet, the Pinotage.

19 June 2009

Win a Case of Hill and Dale Pinotage

If you are in South Africa* you have a chance of winning a case** of Hill and Dale Pinotage in a competition held by food24.com

All you have to do is submit a recipe for a stew that will complement the wine. Closing date is end of the month. Full details of the competition are here
Hill and Dale is a second label for Stellenzicht and is made by the same winemaker, the talented Guy Webber.
*the rules actually say the competition is open to all South Africans, it doesn't specify their location.
**the rules don't state whether a case means 12 bottles.

16 June 2009

Pinotage in the Blogs....

Andrew Barrow of Spittoon has posted a report of his recent visit to Beyerskloof. He says

While age worthy it is the younger Pinotage single varietals that impressed during the cellar tasting. With ripe, sweetish upfront fruit, good structure and length they have structure and drinkability with the Beyerskloof Reserve Pinotage being singularly impressive.

He also enjoyed the Pinotage Burger! See his report here

Peas on Toast doesn't seem to have heard of the worldwide airport ban on liquids in hand baggage and had two bottles of Diemersfontein Pinotage confiscated, an act that
was nothing short of the most sacrilegous sacrilege on the planet.
Her friends in Istanbul will be disappointed but at least the airport security team had something decent to drink with their dinner.

Diemersfontain Pinotage was the secret ingredient that helped the Cherryflava team in South Africa win first place in their annual potjiekos competition.

We made our famous lamb and mushroom pot, laced with a bottle of DiemersfontainPinotage and fresh organic ingredients.

Mike Rosenberg at Naked Vine released his inner Shatner trying the Golden Kaan range. He paired the Pinotage 2006 and Shiraz 2007 with a spiced lamb dish and found that

the Pinotage was much more interesting. I thought it stood up to the spices in the marinade and the sauce, and the flavors in the wine itself stood out.

And Yoav Shapira was pleasantly surprised by Souther Right's 2007 Pinotage The 2007.

I expected it to be more blunt, since it's so young. But it was very smooth.
Almost too smooth.

15 June 2009

"Comprehensive, excellent and fascinating book"

Richard Auffrey is a journalist who writes a restaurant and wine column for the Stoneham Sun newspaper in Massachusetts.

He bought a copy of my book via Amazon.com and posted a detailed review in his Passionate Foodie blog.

He says :-

"This is a very comprehensive book, covering so many different aspects of Pinotage, from its origins to its future. I learned plenty about this grape, much of the information probably not available elsewhere.

Peter also helps to clarify the facts behind the myths surrounding Pinotage. I enjoyed the stories about Pinotage wine makers and wineries.

Overall, I was very pleased with this book and certainly recommend it.

Peter May has written an excellent and fascinating book about an intriguing grape and I recommend you check it out."

Read his full review here

12 June 2009

Pieter Malan on Simonsig Redhill -- and a response!

Pieter Malan is one of the three brothers who own Simonsig. Francois toils in the vineyards, Johan works in the winery so I see Pieter most often as he is responsible for marketing and so travels the world living out of suitcases to attend wine fairs. Here he is last month at the London wine fair talking about Simonsig's Redhill Pinotage 2006.

Redhill is from a single vineyard and is aged in oak barrels. Simonsig's other Pinotage is one of a few unwooded examples.
Alex Lake, below, tasted the Redhill 2006 at the Pinotage Top 10 stand that I was manning; this is his reaction to the wine.


10 June 2009

Idiom Cape Blend with owner Alberto Bottega

Idiom 2006 was clear winner of WINE Magazines June issue tasting of Pinotage blends. It was the top scoring wine, the only one with four stars. WINE described it as ‘Pitch black. Appealing oak on nose. Subtle and restrained on the palate with dark fruit.”

Idiom owner Alberto Bottega talks to me about his Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Merlot, Petit Verdot blend.

09 June 2009

Karikari Pinotage 2007 is Wine of the Week

Sue Courtney has chosen the 2007 Karikari Estate Pinotage as her wine of the week. - see here

After tasting through all Karikari's Pinotages from their first 2003 vintage release she said

"It's an evolution that leads up to the blockbuster Karikari Estate Northland Pinotage 2007. Deep black red coloured with a violet sheen, it's savoury and spicy on the nose with chicory / mocha / chocolate and smoked meats in unison - fresh - voluptuous - tantalising. Youthful and primary to the taste with lots of underlying acidity - tannins are amazingly supple and svelte and have a fine texture while the flavours has a meaty savoury depth and bittersweet red fruits - but it's juicy and full of sweet berry and cherry too.... tasty, sweet-fruited and a little spicy - momentarily Aus Shiraz comes to mind - but it's too savoury and gamey to ever be that. Don't like Pinotage - then try this. It's simply excellent."

I too highly rate Karikari. I tasted a tank sample of this wine in December 2008 as reported here, and my video of winemaker Ben Dugdale talking about his Pinotage is here

Kanonkop & Beyerskloof makePremium Pinotages

The best Pinotages are going to get less good in order for the cream of the crop to be bottled separately as 'super-cuvees' at super-expensive prices.

Currently Kanonkop Pinotage costs around 18 pounds in the UK or 170 R from the winery, Beyerskloof’s top Pinotage is their black label Reserve at 8 – 11 pounds in the UK or around 100 R at the winery.

But they won’t be the best wines for much longer. Kanonkop and Beyerskloof both intend bringing out premium ‘super-cuvees’. I guess they’ve been spurred on by seeing newcomers like Ashbourne (24 pounds), Laroche’s L’Avenir Grand Vin (a stonking 27 pounds) and Francois Naudé’s own label (400 R) come on the market.

But if you’re already making the best Pinotage how do you encourage the punters to pay more? Seems like barrel selection is the answer. Identify a special barrel and – instead of using it to improve the rest – bottle it separately and price it accordingly.

Beyerskloof got two wines into the 2008 Pinotage Top 10; the Reserve and a new label called Diesel. Diesel, named after owner Beyers Truter’s recently deceased favourite hound, was a barrel selection. It was placed in a standard bottle and the normal black ‘Reserve’ label was tweaked with Diesel replacing the word Reserve.

Diesel will be the name of Beyeskloof’s new flagship Pinotage. It will have a new label and a heavily impressive new bottle. And will cost as much as three times the price of the Reserve, according to June’s issue of The Drinks Business. Retailing it at around 30 pounds brings it into line with L’Avenir Grand Vin.

But what about the Reserve? What about the standard Kanonkop? I reported back in April 2007 Kanonkop owner Johann Krige’s reaction to a question about whether they’ll be a ‘Reserve’ Kanonkop. Johann stepped in to answer vehemently that there never will be. “Kanonkop wines are the best we make,” he stated. “We only make the best. We don’t make second best wines.” But the experimental wines they have made at Kanonkop from 50 year old plus vines are “mind-boggling” according to Johann.

So does releasing a limited bottling of a special barrel selection automatically mean the standard label is not the best? It’s a moot question which they are tussling with at Kanonkop, as Johann admits in the video below taken at last months London wine fair. He wants to expose the wine to imbibers – maybe these wines will not be sold but poured at tastings

I’m torn. Pinotage is a great wine, so you would expect there to be premium priced bottles and people willing to pay the money. Problem is that I’m not one of them. Much as I like to drink the very best Pinotages, thirty quid a bottle is a bit too much for my pension. And I’m not sure how I feel about the concept of wines whose prices are yanked sky high even although they cost no more to make just in order to have a prestige premium priced wine.

As always the market will decide.

08 June 2009

Canada's Hillside Estate impresses

Adrian Bryksa was impressed by Hillside Estate's first Pinotage release which he reviewed for Canada's R4NT.ca, and rated it 90 points:

"I think Canadian red wines sometimes have a tendency to be a bit on the thin side but this Pinotage was an exception. On the nose, there was notes of fruit, earth, tobacco, and game. I could be nuts but there was some teriyaki beef jerky. In the mouth, this wine displayed cherries and cocoa with a full mouth feel with seamlessly, integrated tannins. The finish on this wine was long and memorable. This wine is in my top 10 Canadian wines."

Hillside Estate Pinotage
Vintage: 2007
Region: Naramata Bench, British Columbia, Canada
Price: $34.95

Read Adrian's full article here


05 June 2009

Video: DeWet Viljoen tells the secrets of Lord Neethling 2005 Pinotage

As we are talking about Neethlingshof Estate, let's hear what winemaker DeWet Viljoen has to say about his 'Lord Neethling' 2005 Pinotage of which he is very proud. DeWet talks about what he did differently for this excellent vintage.

As you can see, I tasted the wine and it was just like DeWet described it. Delicious. Now, where can I buy it?


04 June 2009

Good Lord! The critters are coming!!!

What is your thinking on what the American’s call ‘critter’ wines? Critter wines are those with animals on the label. There was a flood of them in a decade ago including the hippo on Fat Bastard, the kangaroo on Yellow Tail and the goat on Goats do Roam. These three wines were justifiably very successful and inspired tanker loads of ‘me too’ critter labelled wines but few of them reached the quality of FB or GdR and critter labels became, in many consumer’s opinions, a sign of a cheap mass-branded wine.

Which is why I was amazed to hear that one of South Africa’s top wines, which has a name that others would kill for, is considering losing its name and adopting a critter label…

Yes, it is Neethlingshof who are intending abandoning their premium Lord Neethling brand for critters. Pictured is a mock-up of the replacement for the Lord Neethling Pinotage label. Many wineries encourage birds of prey to their vineyards. The Owl Post on the Pinotage label refers to those erected to encourage owls into the vineyards. Another label in the range that I saw showed a rare wild cat in mid-air leap plucking a bird out of the sky. Not the owl, I think.

I suppose the thinking went something along the lines of ‘it was ‘time for a change’ (the never ending cry of new brand managers who want to make their mark), the success of other ‘critter’ labels (although they’re not so fashionable now and are considered downmarket) and a chance to leap on the sustainability wagon (while possibly upsetting bird and furry animal lovers). And maybe the argument that a ‘Lord’ was elitist and old fashioned.


I am no marketing expert, but … If you have a premium wine doesn’t the ‘Lord’ name make it clear that this is the top win ein the range? Does Owl Post immediately identify a top wine?

Is ‘Lord’ old-fashioned? Surely the great thing about this name is that it is ironic! Neethling was nicknamed ‘lord’ because of his airs and graces. What a great back story! I think the existing label is fine, but if they want to ‘get down wiv d’ yoof’ how about cartoon illustrations of ‘Lord’ Neethling in different situations with a back label giving the story behind it.

Looking at CellarTracker.com, which indexes more than 13 Million bottles, I see acres of owls including Barking Owl, Burrowing Owl, Thirsty Owl, Owl Hill, Night Owl, Hoot Owl, Naked Owl, Owl Ridge, Owl Creek, Winking Owl, Barn Owl, Mr Owl, Owl Box, and Winking Owl.

But Lords? Just four: Lord Rutherford , Lord Culpeper Lord Botetourt and Lord Baltimore.

I’ll make two predictions. Firstly, no matter whatever label is slapped on the bottle the wine inside will be continue to be excellent. Winemaker DeWet Viljoen doesn’t get the acclamation he deserves but he’s making some cracking good wines under the venerable ‘N’ label.

Secondly, Lord Neethling will return. It is too good a name to disappear under a menagerie

Note how even the Neethlingshof Estate name is being down played. Sigh ....


02 June 2009

M'Hudi Pinotage, Oupa and M&S

Oupa Rangaka of M'Hudi was in ebullient mood at last months London Wine Fair but when he said that every loved his Pinotage I just had to ask him about Marks & Spencer ...

Oupa hadn't seen the BBC TV programme about him that was aired in the UK in March (see here) which made suspense of a visit of Marks & Spencer's wine buyers and whether they'd add M'Hudi Pinotage to the other two M'Hudi wines that they stock.

Assisting Oupa is Sheila Hlanjwa of Lathithá Wines who had the stand next to Oupa.