20 November 2009

Five Decades of Pinotage

Beyers Truter, Chairman of the producers Pinotage Association and owner of Beyerskloof Winery, invited a group including winemakers and journalists to his beach side house in Vermont, near Hermanus, this week for a tasting of Pinotages covering five decades from the 1960’s to now. Among those present were Pinotage winemakers Abrie Beeslaar (Kanonkop Estate), Etienne Louw (Altydgedacht Estate), Hannes Storme (Ashbourne, Southern Right), DeWet Viljoen (Neethlingshof Estate) and writers Christian Eeedes, Emile Joubert, Fiona McDonald, Neil Pendock and myself.

There were five flights of wines, one for each decade, starting with the 1960s. The first varietal Pinotage that was commercially available was the 1959 vintage released under Stellenbosch Farmers Winery’s Lanzerac brand.

The tasting was chaired by Pinotage Association Executive Committee member Duimpie Bayley CWM

Abrie Beeslaar pours Lanzerac 1963 for Beyers Truter and DeWet Viljoen shares a joke with Fiona McDonald while pouring the Lanzerac 1969

Lanzerac 1963

Clear brilliant brick colour but not looking as old as its years. The wine has been decanted so there hardly any sediment in the glass.

The nose is of a mature long aged wine and reminiscent of toffee.

First impression on tasting is of a thin wine, soft with cough drop and savoury flavours -- Neil Pendock thought "umami" -- and high acidity. It has a surprisingly long finish.

Lanzerac 1969

Deep red core, bricking at edges and some fine grainy black sediment – though I had a pour from the last of the bottle.

Lavender fruit on nose.

More fruit on this wine, red currants and berries, lick of cedar and again high acidity.

The wine is sweet and drinkable with fruits though thinning.

This flight was a real surprise. Two wines made more than forty years ago from young vines of a new variety, and made for immediate drinking have shown an amazing staying power. Duimpie Bayley says they have been stored in optimum conditions -- around 16 degrees -- in an underground cellar. The corks were in good condition.

Duimpie says they used to harvest between 22-24 brix so the finished wine would be about 12-13% abv and “they had a formula, or recipe, in that they’d regularly add a pound (456 grammes) of tartaric acid to a leaguer (575 litres) of juice. In those days no fining was done, they’d age in large 1,000 and 4,000 litre wooden barrels.

Duimpie worked at Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (SFW), who owned the Lanzerac brand and introduced Pinotage to the market. The first Pinotage was in a claret shaped bottle but from the 1960 vintage they used a bowling pin shaped bottle for the range as it was new and fashionable though not without its problems.

“Bowling pins are designed to fall when knocked and then to tip over neighbouring pins,” said Duimpie, “and when running the bottling line with these bottles when one tipped it brought them all down. There was a lot of down time and staff were always having to be righting fallen bottles.”

The labels were pink because it was the favourite colour of SFW's chairman and pink was used to brand SFW, even to painting their delivery trucks what Duimpie called 'nipple pink'. The package was used until well into the seventies.

Second flight was from the Seventies.

Swartland Winery 1971

Golden red colour with lots of fine gritty sediment.
Sweet berry nose
Sweet berry fruit on palate, good body and a spicy long finish with some acids coming through at the end.
Very drinkable and enjoyable wine with long long aftertaste, though food is needed to alleviate acids at very end.

The wine was made at the Swartland Co-operative in Malmesbury but Gevul en Verouder (bottled and matured) by KWV in Paarl

Zonnebloem 1974

Premium brand for SFW, the grapes coming from Kanonkop and Bellevue.
Attractive red-gold colour, but acrid and acidic at first taste. There are some fruit and herb notes there, but too acidic and sour for me to enjoy.

Meerendal 1976

Meerendal was one of the pioneering Pinotage vineyards and I was looking forward to this wine which had a dark dense black red colour. However a stinky VA (volatile acidity) nose and an unpleasant sour taste showed this wine was spoilt and not drinkable

Stellenryk 1976

Pale, pinking at rim. An aged smell of sweet soft toffee. Restrained, not getting much flavour, some noticeable alcohol and stone developing at end.

Simonsig Estate 1978

Pale browning red colour with a shy, porty nose. Perky up-front fruit acids with caramel and a dusty wood tannin finish. A restrained wine whose fruit had declined.
Some tasters thought they detected Cabernet Sauvignon in this wine, but this was the only label which proclaimed it was "100% Pinotage", a statement that got Simonsig in trouble with the authorities at the time because of the implication that others were not. And indeed, the rules did not then, and still do not, require that a varietal contains nothing but the variety named on its label.

Zonnebloem 1984

Medium dark red, brown pink rim and a cheesy nose. Medium body with sweet thinning cherry and red plum fruits and a floral end that become attractively spicy on a very long finish.

Zonnebloem 1988

Red, brick rim, thin sweet nose, some grippy tannins and fresh fleshy fruits. Nice wine.

Kanonkop Estate CWG 1994

A barrel selection bottling for the Cape Winemakers Guild auction.
Purple dense opaque core, subdued nose, restrained and elegent.

Lavenir Estate CWG 1997

A barrel selection bottling for the Cape Winemakers Guild auction.

Deep red paleing at edge. Cherries on the nose, dense closed fruit at first opening out into ripe cherry flavours, lively acids and soft tannins, a very nicely balanced wine.

Kanonkop Estate 1999

Young purple colour, soft warm nose, generous rich sweet fruits of forest favours. It has a spicy almost Christmas cake richness.
I remember when this wine was first released thinking how soft and approachable it was, unusual in Kanonkop whose wines then needed some years in bottle to be approachable, and I though this was a slight wine that wouldn’t last and I didn’t buy any. I was so wrong. I’ve tasted this twice wine over the past couple of years and it is delicious.
Beyers recalled it had 18 months in 80% new oak, 20% second fill.

Kaapzicht Estate ‘Steytler’ 2001

Dense black with red rim that stains the glass, lively expressive fruits, spiciness and soft old leather, Delightful wine. 15%abv

Simonsig ‘Redhill’ 2003

Opaque purple black with sweet candy nose. Beautiful silky mouthfeel with flavours of black cherries and succulent plums. A rich opulent wine with dense fruit balanced by harmonious acids and tannins. This is a stunner, and my favourite drinking wine of the tasting, just ahead of the 1999 Kanonkop.

Beyerskloof ‘Diesel’ 2006

Bright cherry red colour. Tasting very young in the line-up, the “fruit and oak are still finding themselves” as Abrie Beeslaw, sitting next to me, put it. I think this wine suffers in comparison following the Simonsig and with some grippy tannins from its 21 months in new oak it is a work in progress needing more time.


  1. Hi, is there any value in a bottle Stellenryck 1976 pinotage.

  2. Dear Unknown,
    Basically it is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.
    There are so many variables; email me a the address given on the right under my photo, tell me where you are and I'll give you a detailed reply.