31 January 2011

Picnic at Warwick Estate

To Warwick Estate on the R44 north of Stellenbosch towards Paarl. This time last year they had builders constructing a new tasting facility and now it is complete. From the noise, dust and bulldozers then I had expected wholesale destruction and rebuilding, but that has not happened.

The old historic barrel cellar has been most sympathetically modified to include a delicatessen and much expanded tasting room displaying Warwick’s current and library wines for sale.

The wooden deck I remember from my first visit in 1996 is still there, overlooking the lake and there is a new open area shaded by trees under which tables and chairs are dotted.

Near the lake are shelters woven from branches in which you can picnic with foods from the delicatessen and fresh baked ciabiatta bread. A cleverly designed cardboard box contains a cold meal for two: open it to find small jars of chutney, dips, hummus, couscous, salmon smoked on the farm over wine barrels, charcouterie, cheeses and more and to finish off there’s incredible brownies and a bag of Maynards Wine Gums to take away.

But what about the wines? Warwick are known for their ‘Old Bush Vine’ Pinotage and the latest vintage release, 2009, is on track to be one of the best. Deep plummy yummy fruits on the front are followed by rather firm tannins on the finish. The wine spent 14 months in second and third fill 225L barriques and I think it needs a little more time in bottle for the fruit and tannins to meld.

To my surprise while I was in the tasting room a party from The Circle of Wine Writers arrived for an invited tour and tasting. Many were friends with whom I had visited other wine regions and they insisted I join them for a tour of the vineyards in Warwick’s safari truck and Managing Director and co-owner Mike Ratcliffe kindly invited me to picnic with them afterwards.

Mike's new intensely planted trellised Pinotage vineyard is now coming on stream and he remarks that the ‘Old Bush Vine’ labelling is now more of a brand name because grapes from trellised vines were also used. Production has increased to meet growing demand. Mike revealed that some Pinotage grapes had been partially dried and blended in to give added complexity and that this year he was experimenting with making an Amarone style Pinotage. But he said that he was always experimenting and admitted most didn’t work out the way he hoped.

I also tasted Warwick’s ‘Three Cape Ladies’ 2007 Cape Blend. I had enjoyed this a few days previously at a braai with friends. Originally a blend of three varieties, this vintage contains a fourth — a dash of Merlot. The other three are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Shiraz. It is a popular and classy wine, like good Bordeaux with a richness and sweetness you don’t find in claret.

Mike mused if the name required him to use just three varieties or whether his mission was to make the best wine he could for that vintage and he felt that if a splash of Merlot (he thought maybe 5%) improved it, he should go ahead. Mike said he was going to increase the percentage of Pinotage from next year now that he had more producing vines.

Mike was in a philosophical mood. He posed a question about whether old vines produced better wines than young vines that started a long discussion among the wine writers. But he soon was back to business when viticulturist Ronald Spies, who’d walked us through the vineyards, arrived with bunches of Pinotage grapes. They tasted so ripe and sweet, but Mike detected unripe stalks and said he’d instruct that their imminent picking was delayed for another week.

Warwick are proud that their Bordeaux blend Trilogy has just been selected by The Wine Society for aging. Several thousand cases would be held back for some years until judged nicely mature for release; this was the first South African wine to be treated this way.

Cellar Door prices: Warwick ‘Old Bush Vine’ Pinotage 2009 costs 95R, Three Cape Ladies 2007 is 105R and Trilogy 2008 is 235R. Warwick Wine Family Club members get 20% discount.

Warwicks vineyards looking towards the Simonsberg mountains

30 January 2011

Avoid Headaches, Drink Pinotage ?

Scotland’s Perthshire Advertiser is recommending readers to drink Pinotage at New Year celebrations to avoid getting a hangover.

“Each vineyard has its own method of fermenting their harvest, with producers introducing sulphates to the wine mix as a preservative. But sometimes levels can be too high, causing the dreaded hangover.

Welgegund Pinotage from South Africa as an example of a wine that can help maintain a guilt-free diet, citing far fewer toxins in its content to pollute the human body than are contained in more commonly found brands.”

According to Russell Wallace of Excel Wines who markets Welgegund Pinotage, “mass producers need to add so much sulphate to their yield is because they use machinery to pick the fruit, and often rotten fruits slip through the quality control process. Additionally, sulphates rid the harvest of bacteria left behind from pests including wasps, lizards and birds.

“Smaller producers do all their harvesting by hand, so have a much better quality control procedure when it comes to picking only the best fruits, and do not require excessive amounts of sulphates to cleanse what’s going into the wine.”

I am all for people drinking Pinotage and I’m sure Welgegund make an excellent one, (which I have not yet encountered).

But the claims in the article are nonsense.

Most South Africa wines are made from handpicked grapes — especially Pinotage. There is an embarrassment of unemployed labour ready, able and willing to harvest grapes and many Pinotage vineyards are planted as bush-vines which can not be machine harvested.

There is no reason grapes that have been machine harvested to be inferior to hand harvested. In both cases it is the quality check on grapes arriving at the winery that matters. Increasingly farms are using sorting tables to hand select berries that go forward for wine making. A machine may pick rotten grapes, but then so may workers who are paid by the weight of the grapes they pick.

Good looking bunches of grapes are just as liable to have bacteria from insects lizards and birds.

But the real nonsense is equating sulphites with headaches. Many years of medical research has failed to find any link between the two.

The article alleges that large producers use more sulphites. However sulphite levels in wine are limited by law and few wines come close to them. The European Union limit for red wine is 160 mg/L. The largest producer of Pinotage is Beyerskloof who publish the scientific analysis of their wines on their website. Their standard, large volume Pinotage 2009 has just 41 mg/L Free SO2 and 87 mg/L Total SO2.

What gets you drunk and gives you a hangover is alcohol. Please enjoy Pinotage at New Year and anytime and avoid hangovers by drinking in moderation.

28 January 2011

Hill & Dale, Blogging and Diam

The winelist at Gordons Bay Spur is not overlong but they seem to have upped the choice.

Usually I take grateful advantage of their no-cost corkage policy and take in bottles I have acquired in the wine-lands but Wednesday night we were late back from the SA Wine & Food Bloggers meeting in Cape Town where I sat next to Sarah Graham of ‘ A Foodie Lives Here’.

Sarah tells me she has a contract with Random House to produce a cook book which is brilliant news, but not as brilliant as the news that she is also going to produce a baby. As to which will arrive first, I don’t know. But since babies don’t wait and publishers seem to take ages, I think baby will win!

So straight into Spur — which got a name check from our speaker, blogger 'The Squashed Tomato' herself Linda Harding, that implanted the thought of baked potato and New York strip in my partners subconscious — and I ordered Hill & Dale Pinotage 2009.

Now — two things. Note the origin, Stellenbosch, and the cork. Hill & Dale was introduced as a second label for Stellenzicht. If ‘mass market’ isn’t the right word, ‘large volume’ and ‘entry-level’ will do. Or even the new buzz word ‘life-style.’

But this doesn’t look like your usual large volume label. It is Stellenbosch Wine of Origin, a classic area for Pinotage and one where grape prices have increased to a level that some other producers can no longer get enough Stellenbosch Pinotage and have had to source elsewhere, changing their appellations to the catch-all and basically meaningless ‘Western Cape’.

Secondly: note the word DIAM on the cork. DIAM is what is known as a ‘technical’ cork. It is made from cork — it is not plastic — that has undergone a patented process in which cork is ground into granules which are cleansed by supercritical carbon dioxide before being reassembled into a cork closure. The closures are guaranteed to be free of TCA and they are not a cheap option.

They look similar to the cheap agglomerate closures which are corks made from the remainders of cork manufacture but differ in that the name DIAM is printed on them and when you smell them they are completely neutral—there is not a trace of that dirty smell you can get from cork and which transfers to wines. So DIAMs are, for most wine lovers, the preferred closure that is not a screwcap.

So, not your usual life style wine packaging. That Hill & Dale are serious about quality is obvious. But is the wine any good? No worries here. Big juicy soft clean fruity wine with underlying oak tannins that slips down very easily. It is an ideal wine for a steak house and reasonably priced at 69R.

Genial Guy Webber is the winemaker behind Hill & Dale and his monthly musings can be read on his blog On The Couch with Guy Webber.

(by coincidence, the following day I attended a tasting in the winelands at one of the Cape’s leading wineries. Seven wines were presented to a group visiting from the international Circle of Wine Writers. Two of the wines were closed with screw caps. Of the other five wines, three were corked — a 60% failure rate. We were at the winery, the owner was pouring and replacements were to hand. But how many bottles with bad corks had already gone out to consumers? Talk again to me about the ‘romance of cork’.)

24 January 2011

Kanonkop 2009 - a bud ready to flower

Friday afternoon an hour before closing and Kanonkop’s normally sedate tasting room is busy. All seating is occupied and groups of people are standing swirling glasses, discussing wine and ticking order sheets. Counter staff are hard pushed to fill tasting glasses, answer questions and take orders on a till that is playing up.
“It has been like this all day,” says Anita Heyns who has run Kanonkop’s tasting room for as long as I can remember. She is trying to find the wooden case for a Methuselah (5 litre) bottle of Pinotage that has just been snapped up.

I wait for the purchases to be made and collected and the room starts to empty. Winemaker Abrie Beeslaar has brought to work his new baby daughter to show his colleagues and while they cuddle her he comes over for a chat and pours me a taste of Kadette 2010 Pinotage Rose which I’d tasted a tank sample of at the London Wine Fair in May. With some bottle time this dark pink wine was drinking well. “It had minimal skin contact,” said Abrie, “less than two hours. Just the time it took to fill the press — it has 55% free run juice. As soon as it was full we pressed it off the skins. Pinotage has this tremendous colour.” The wine is made dry; there is just 2 g/L residual sugar but the 14% abv “gives an impression of sweetness,” according to Abrie.

The red Kadette 2009 is very impressive. Made from a blend of 46% Pinotage, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc this vintage is a step up, being much more serious. There’s less upfront obvious fruit and a classic linearity. “We make it the same as the other wines,” Abrie told me. “The difference is that we use the young vines and older barrels.” 60,000 cases were produced and the UK Sainsbury supermarkets will be listing it.

To my surprise the tasting counter had open bottles of 2000 Pinotage. Abrie told me that for the past decade Kanonkop had been holding back supplies with the intention of being able to offer ten year old bottles. “Few people have the chance to taste aged Pinotage,” says Abrie, “and yet it is a variety with great aging potential so we wanted to be able to promote Pinotage by releasing some ten years old. Next year we will have the 2001 vintage available alongside the 2010 and so on.”

Kanonkop Estate Pinotage 2000 vintage was perhaps not an ideal example of the variety’s aging potential as the wine was pale, light bodied and had lost its primary fruit. All the same it offered rewards for aficionados of aged wine, with a delicate red berry flavours and a long aftertaste . “I think it is now showing its Pinot Noir heritage,” said Abrie. “2000 and 2002 were our toughest vintages. In 2000 we had bush fires and when the wine was young you could taste the smoke.”

Kanonkop had been hosting some trade tasting events elsewhere in the winery that Friday and when I mentioned that 1999 was my all time favourite vintage an opened leftover bottle was found.

Kanonkop Estate Pinotage 1999: In contrast to the 2000 this looked youthful with a dense deep black-red colour with a red rim and a soft warm sweet nose. I’d last tasted it in 2008 with Beyers Truter when my notes read “concentrated dense fruit, great complexity and it is just so drinkable” which is just as true now. Lovely wine, how I wish I had some.

I had come hoping that the 2009 Pinotage was released, and it was. Based on experience it won’t be available in the UK until next year: the 2008 had just appeared on the Wine Society Christmas list and I have a case at home. “It needs another year in bottle,” advises Abrie.

Kanonkop Estate Pinotage 2009: Dense impenetrable black, big and soft approachable tannins with fruit appearing in the mid-palate, a refreshing food friendly acidity and an after taste that just lingers. This is going to be a stunner. Abrie says that they used more fruit than usual from the older vineyards and that gives subtlety to the flavour and the long aftertaste.

I bought some bottles and opened one Saturday night with a Spur steak fillet and enjoyed it immensely even though too young. Spur doesn’t run to decanting, and the wine is young, but it is like a bud that will open and flower, and I reckon if (like me) you can’t wait then try opening it a few hours before drinking or decant it because by the end of my meal the wine in my glass was starting to open up.

The 2009 Pinotage is 185 Rand a bottle at the winery and the 2000 is a little more at 210 Rand. The Kadette Pinotage Rose is 52 Rand and Kadette Red is 65 Rand.
Another reason to visit Kanonkop, should you need an excuse, is that signed copies of my book Pinotage: Behind the Legends of South Africa's Own Wine are on sale in the tasting room.

23 January 2011

Pinotage for Partridge

Anthony Rose in The Independent (UK) recommends Pinotage with game birds such as partridge, in particular

"the 2007 Signatures of Doolhof, Pinotage, Doolhof Estate, Wellington,£14.50, Berry Bros & Rudd (0800 280 2440), is in a different league from common or garden Cape pinotage, with a richness of plum and strawberry fruit concentration and a stylish vanilla oak veneer, a revelation for anyone who can't bring themselves to believe that pinotage is occasionally capable of making delicious red wine."

21 January 2011

Ashbourne 2007 is released

The latest Ashbourne Red is now available for sale at 400 Rand a bottle from the farm. 2007 is the fourth release of Anthony Hamilton Russell's iconic and rare homage to Pinotage.

Anthony says: "It was always our aim to create something entirely new, based on a “redefined” expression of South Africa’s fascinating grape Pinotage. We wanted to create a benchmark that didn’t attempt to replicate the established benchmarks of other wine regions (See the attached background). If we are not excited by the wine, we do not release it and no 2002, 2003 or 2006 was released.

"True to the Ashbourne character, the 2007, although unquestionably “classically” styled, is very hard to place and is a highly individual wine. It is simply Ashbourne and should be enjoyed as great red wine without attempting to pigeonhole it.

"The Ashbourne 2007 does not attempt impact and appeal through high alcohol and could be regarded as surprisingly low alcohol for a South African red at only 13.23%. The pH is also surprisingly low for a South African red at a very healthy 3.26. In 2007 the chosen blend was 82% Pinotage (a blend of three of Ashbourne’s most interesting Pinotage vineyards), 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Shiraz."

Available production is 9468 bottles

12 January 2011

Pinotage is taking off

"Pinotage is taking off," says sommelier Brian Murphy.

"Now that the vines are older this wine [Koopmanskloof 'One World' 2008 organic,biodynamic and Fair Trade certified Pinotage] is getting better and stronger. When it's cold outside you want something stronger in a wine. Pinotage is great with barbecue or anything grilled. It would also be great with chili."

From article by Beverly Firme in Bethesda, Maryland's news site ChevyChasePatch.com January 11.

Not only Pinotage is taking off: I will be flying to the Cape later today for an extended trip.

05 January 2011

Pinotage – from Reviled to Revered

Interesting article by industry expert Michael Fridjhon in the latest WINE magazine which starts "The turnaround on Pinotage – from reviled to revered – has been remarkably swift."

Fridjhon goes on to say that while Pinotage is a difficult grape from which to make wine "This is a little like blaming a fast car for handling badly. Brilliantly designed vehicles create the illusion that the driver knows what he’s doing, but there does come a point where the better driver does the better job."

The evidence for the turnaround is that " it garnered more gold medals this year at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show than any other category" and the "number of stellar-premium Pinotage-based wines" now on the market that have continued to sell at high prices each year, showing that "the wines are living up to their pretensions."

Fridjhon finishes by asking that its time for thevariety "to be accorded a degree of respect."

The article is currently online at www.winemag.co.za/article/a-long-road-2011-01-03
unforgiving variety