31 December 2012

Pinotage in 2012

2012 saw Pinotage consolidating its position in the world of wine. We reported it growing commercially in Switzerland, Maryland USA and Queensland, Australia, also on an experimental basis in Ohio, USA. Virginia planted more, as did California, although the status of the oldest vineyard there is unknown after the owners, Steltzner, sold their Napa Valley winery. 

Meanwhile, California's Loma Prieta winery 2010 Pinotage was festooned with a dozen gold medals and decided to graft over a Pinot Noir vineyard to Pinotage.

Decanter awarded its best red varietal over £10 Trophy to Bellingham Pinotage 2010, and Barkan had double success when their Pinotage won the Grand Champion Trophy for the Best Israeli Wine in Competition and Best Kosher Israeli Wine at the Terravino Mediterranean International Wine and Spirit Challenge.

Leading international mail-order wine merchant Laithwaites launched an own label £65 single vineyard Pinotage made by  Flagstone which was criticised by journalist Christian Eedes as maybe “a little too perfect”.

Diemersfontein winery brought their popular Pinotage on Tap  festival to England for the first time and were rewarded with a stunningly beautiful summers weekend without a cloud in the sky.  

A rapt audience heard about and tasted Pinotage at my presentation to the American Wine Society annual conference in Portland, Oregon.

Flagstone and Aaldering both launched white Pinotages, entering the category invented by Mellasat whose Enigma has for years had the market to itself.  

During the year I drank many great Pinotages and tasted many more. I was going to list my ‘most memorable’ or ‘wines of the year’  but there are too many. So I’ll just capriciously mention one that got away – the beautiful Houdamond 2009 (Bellevue Estate, rebadged for UK Marks and Spencer) that was served at my wine tasting club’s annual dinner and dance. M&S branches were cleared by club members days afterwards and I managed to get only a few bottles and now have just one left. 

Michael Fridjhon, writing in Business Day over Christmas, notes that New World wineries with an established track record get less respect than fashionable newcomers. 

So let me respect two long established wineries.  In the past couple of days I enjoyed Uiterwyk Estates DeWaal ‘Top of the Hill’ 2006 and Kaapzicht Estate ‘Steytler’ 2002. Both were ripe claret in style, four square and linear. Steytler's back label suggests a drinking window of up to eight years after vintage but this wine is just delicious ten years on. ‘Top of the Hill’ is a single vineyard bottling from the oldest Pinotage vineyard and at six years the wine is still a youngster.

Enjoy a Pinotage Packed 2013!


Peter May

09 December 2012

IWSC & Cape Blend WInners

Congratulations to all at Kaapzicht Estate for winning the 2012   Abraham Perold Trophy for Pinotage at the International Wine & Spirit Competition with Kaapzicht Estate ‘Steytler’ Pinotage 2008, of which the judges said:

Opaque with bright purple rim. Intense nose packed with ripe berries where raspberry features strongly along with plum and prune. Big and burly in the mouth with a load of new oak. Lots of spice. As big as it is it has fine balance and well ordered tannins. Approachable now yet has lots of potential over next six to ten years.


Congratulations are also due to the three winners of the 2012 Absa Cape Blend Competition

Beyerskloof Faith 2009
KWV Perold Tributum 2010
Windmeul Reserve Cape Blend 2010

02 December 2012

Visiting Fort Ross Vineyards, California

Fort Ross Vineyards are just north of the Russian River where it flows into the sea. After a few miles of driving along the twisty coastal highway, Route 101, with its distracting dramatic coastal scenery, and going around hairpin bends where the road is shored up against slippage you come to Meyers Grade Road, which surprisingly is a better road to drive on than the main coastal highway. There’s a small sign on Rte 101 pointing to wine tasting 3.5 miles along the road, and that is Fort Ross.

The property is large, a hundred square acres, spread over the top of the high hills. After entering by the Fort Ross sign you drive along a narrow path, through an electric gate and past a pond to the tasting room on the edge of a steep drop.

The smart building was opened just three months before we arrived and is managed by the affably professional Damien who pours with panache.

I met owners Linda and Lester Schwartz, transplants from South Africa, who had also transplanted Pinotage bud-wood direct from South Africa, rather than acquiring vines from commercial nurseries. This process took five years of quarantine before they could start to plant.

Lester drove me to see the vineyards, through forests thinning because the once dominant Tan Oak trees are dying of a virus. On steep slopes are clearings where Lester planted his vines. He’s had to terrace the steepest hills and some of the vineyards reminded me of those lining the Rhine in Germany.
The vintage has passed and the leaves are golden yellow. Here and there is a  bunch of Pinotage grapes left by the pickers and now wizened. We chewed them and experienced a sweet jammy flavour. There were also grapes from a second flowering, green at the time of harvest, and now ripe but dismissed by Lester as no good. But they did taste good to me.

At the top of one hill is a reservoir. Lester wasn’t allowed to place it lower down where it would collect run-off water, but can only collect what rain falls into it. Which seemed to be a lot.

We were promised far distant views from the highest peak but as the car strained up a near vertical dirt track between vines we saw clouds moving rapidly in the trees on surrounding hills and within moments the sun had vanished and visibility closed in. We had to descend before rain made the tracks unsafe.

Back in the tasting room, which has great coastal views when clear of clouds, we tasted three Fort Ross Pinotages. The wines are made by Jeff Pisoni, of Pisoni Vineyards and Winery but not here at this building which is too remote.

Linda told me she only releases her wines when she considers them ready. 2007 is the most recent vintage; also available is 2005 and 2006. Linda says Pinotage is tannic and needs time for the tannins to soften.

2005 – Just released. Soft, very soft with a gentle spiciness

2006 – Tad sharp edge to it and a tannic finish, I’d give it little more bottle age.

2007 –  Mature nose but this is fruitier spicier with brighter tannins. Fort Ross kindly supplied their 2007 vintage for my Pinotage seminar at the American Wine Society conference where it received many compliments.
It was great to meet Linda and Lester after communicating with them over  many years via email and to taste their Pinotage at last after reading so many complimentary reviews of them. 
I want to return during summer and see the views from the top of the vineyards and drink more Fort Ross Pinotage..